It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they'll answer essay questions like the standard: If you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. If we could host a hoops-centric dinner party, who would make our guest list?
This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.
Location: 60 West Bistro and Martini Bar in Louisville, Kentucky, where a caricature of my likeness, along with a hundred others, rests on a Maker’s Mark bottle on the wall. Good drinks, good eats, good atmosphere. No table needed. We would sit at the bar to include the occasional input from bartender Rob Baker, whose drive-by humor often leaves you laughing moments after he has already moved on to another patron.
Clarence “Big House” Gaines: He deserves admission based on having one of the coolest nicknames in college basketball history. But that is not why I would invite him. Watching his teams at my mother’s alma mater Winston-Salem State was my introduction to college basketball. Had Gaines, who passed away in 2005, coached in a different era, he probably would have been lured by a Division I power and been as celebrated and recognized as anyone. Instead, he spent his entire career -- from 1946 to 1993 -- at Winston-Salem State. He won the 1967 Division II national championship with a team that included Earl Monroe, and when he retired with 828 wins in 1993, he was second only to Adolph Rupp.
David Thompson: All basketball junkies have that one player from a previous generation they wish they could have seen play live. Thompson, during his time at NC State, is that player for me. I can remember countless barbershop conversations (more like I would silently soak up the older guys arguing) that played out like the boxing dialogue from “Coming to America.” Whenever the North Carolina fans among the patrons would bring up what Michael Jordan was doing in Chapel Hill, there was always someone who countered with, “You must not remember David Thompson.” Thompson could just as soon fly over defenders as he could dribble past them wearing a No. 44 jersey that happened to match his vertical leap. He was in fact the man who inspired Jordan to fly.
Don Haskins: If for no other reason, I would like to tell Haskins thank you. He always deflected credit for having the courage to start an all-black starting five, but in 1966 that couldn’t be taken for granted. The impact of Texas Western’s (now UTEP) upset of Kentucky in the national championship game can never be underestimated. It helped usher in the integration of programs in the South like Kentucky that still resisted the idea. Haskins would also be my link to the early days of college hoops, having played for Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State).
Ralph Sampson: Back before the 3-point line allowed guards to take over the game, having a big man like the 7-foot-4 Sampson meant your team dominated. It’s still surprising that Virginia never won the national championship during his tenure. (The Cavs did win the NIT title in 1980.) Few players can relate to being a living legend the way Sampson was. He seemed to carry with grace the burdens of the spotlight from being one of the most heavily recruited players ever through his playing years. I once stood in line, with virtually an entire coliseum, trying to get Sampson’s autograph. Like a flock of sheep, the crowd followed his every move. I haven’t seen a college player set off a frenzy like that since.
On the menu: I’ve never had anything on the menu I didn’t like; in fact, eating there got me to like Brussels sprouts. I’ll have the shrimp burger and imagine everyone would find their stomachs satisfied. Surely Big House wouldn’t complain.