Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gervin's Greatness Just Part Of EMU's Hardwood Heritage

When does an NBA Hall-Of-Famer designated as one of the 50 greatest players in professional basketball history not qualify was a lock as his college's greatest player?

When your name is George Gervin and your alma mater is Eastern Michigan University, that's when. Gervin was honored at EMU yesterday with an honorary degree at halftime of Eastern's game with St. Bonaventure. Before you get upset with my question, be careful not to misconstrue the premise behind the question. I'm not saying Gervin isn't EMU's greatest player. Gervin's basketball resume is the most accomplished of any player to ever wear EMU's verdant green and white. I'm saying there's a handful of other players who could arguably lay claim to the honor based on their total body of work at EMU.

It also means Eastern Michigan has been able to land some of the most overlooked talent in a region already nationally-recognized as a hoops hotbed. Eastern's basketball record book could easily make one scratch their head and wonder aloud, 'How did these players end up at EMU?' Reality reveals different players end up at a school like EMU for different reasons. Sometimes it's grades, a player's size or abilityjudged to be a bit below a bigger school's standards, which is the case the majority of the time. Other times, however, it's a dynamic coach who can recruit, like a Jim Dutcher or Ben Braun, or a player and a teammate, like the Thomas twins from Lansing and Detroit Northern's Lorenzo Neely. Sometimes it's simply a player's desire to stay close to home.

Gervin grew homesick for his native Detroit at Long Beach State University and transferred back to EMU to play for Jim Dutcher along with fellow King grad Gary Tyson. While Gervin's story is unique, there's literally no end to the stories that brought so much talent to EMU.

Carl and Charles Thomas, who grew up in Lansing in the shadow of Michigan State University, joined Neely at Eastern after Ben Braun's relentless recruitment. Derrick Dial was the unfortunate recipient of the NCAA's ill-fated Prop 48 statues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dial, who graduated from the scholar-acclaimed Detroit Cass Tech, became Eastern's No. 3 all-time scorer in school history with 1,891 points, earned a top 10 spot in blocked shots and become school's all-time career, season and single-game leader in made three-point field goals with 214.

There was Brian Tolbert, brother of Michigan recruit and University of Detroit star Tony Tolbert. Michigan State kept Tolbert in the fold for a possible scholarship until Southgate Aquinas product Jon Garavaglia won the state's Mr. Basketball award. The Spartans awarded the scholarship Tolbert coveted and Tolbert enrolled at EMU, where he scored 1,726 points, including 36 versus top-ranked Connecticut in the 2nd round game of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, the most points scored by any player in that season's tourney. Tolbert is 2nd all-time in made three-point attempts with 204 treys. Mr. Basketball winner Garavaglia? He's conspicuously absent from the MSU record book in nearly all categories for game, season or career.

And then there was Boykins, the 5'5 magician who Sports Illustrated named the county's best player under 6'0 in the periodical's 1997-98 college basketball preview issue. The recruitment of Boykins had an entire school's fan base scratching their collective heads. It had come down to the national signing day in 1994 at Boykins' high school in Cleveland, where Braun and Kent State's Dave Grube awaited the diminutive guard's answer to a scholarship offer from each school. Legend has it that Grube looked at Braun and said, "Well, either one of us will be brilliant or one of us will be fired." One year later, Grube was cannedfrom his contract at KSU and after Bruan's team had reached the MAC championship and accepted a bid to the NIT.

Boykins missed catching Kennedy McIntosh for the school's scoring record by a scant eight points, earning 2,211 points to McIntosh's 2,219 career total. Boykins would have started every game in his four-year career had it not been for EMU coach Milton Barnes, who took over EMU's reins after Braun accepted an offer from the University of California-Berkeley. Barnes, in a desperate attempt to prove himself a willful leader, benched the guard for the first five minutes of a non-league game his junior year. Barnes' tenure is a bad memory at EMU while Boykins is oft-remembered for his outstanding play-making and scoring ability.

So while EMU has struggled to regain it's former hardwood prowess over the past 10 years, much like the University of Detroit-Mercy, the school has a history and alumni list that brings with it as much cache as any mid-major school in the country.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 fro Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's first book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, features pictures from the archives of The Oakland Press.

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Blogger sarah said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


December 30, 2008 at 9:35 PM 
Blogger The Write Referee said...

Thanks for taking the time to post, Sarah.

December 31, 2008 at 9:24 AM 

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