WARNING: Never go to lunch
with Bucky Waters when you're hungry.
I made that mistake recently when the former
Duke University basketball coach and I went to a fine
Italian restaurant in Durham, and I realized that after
almost an hour, I'd only eaten a couple of bites.
Once Waters starts talking about his life, fork and
food may go untouched.
I picked him up at his home in Durham,
and when he sat down in my untidy car, he saw
on the floor a lone tennis ball. That led to a
hilarious story about the times football star Franco
Harris and he played tennis with
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Waters, at 82, is still fit and elegant, with a
bearing befitting someone with
the government handle Raymond Chevalier Waters.
As my buddy Dwayne Ballen and I discuss often
when making up lists on this and that, there are
only two men who've ever worn a turtleneck and
sport coat as well as Waters - Richard Roundtree
and Steve McQueen. That's Shaft and Bullitt,
respectively. (See the above picture if you think I'm
After we got to the restaurant, he told about his
hardscrabble childhood in Camden, N.J., and an
early encounter with his high school basketball
coach, Jack McCloskey.
"He grabbed me by the collar one day and got
right in my face and said 'You've got enough talent
to get out of here, and I'm not going to stop until you
do,'" Waters recalled.
After the waitress brought our food, he asked if I
minded if he blessed it before we began eating.
He then unleashed into the heavens a short,
powerful grace that had even the people at the next
table staring, mouth agape.
He told me about one of his
childhood friends, Eugene Maurice Orowitz:
"We called him 'Oogie'," Waters said. "In high
school, he was one of the best javelin throwers in
the country. [Oogie held the national high school
record for years.] One day, when he was in
junior college, his roommate had a tryout for a play,
but the person who was supposed to read lines with
him didn't show up. He asked Oogie to go read
He did, and he impressed the director: Oogie
became Michael Landon.
Even though I was enthralled, Waters
would occasionally apologize for monopolizing the
conversation: I assured him I had no stories
to rival his.
If you're really hungry, you don't want him to
start talking about the great basketball players he
coached at Duke and West Virginia universities -
and certainly not two he almost coached.
"Bill Bradley had already signed a grant-in-aid to
come to Duke; we didn't find out until the first day of
school that he had enrolled at Princeton," he said.
It was such a last-minute decision, he said, that
the school didn't even have a dorm room ready for
the future Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Senator when he
arrived from Crystal City, Mo.
"He spent the first week or two sleeping in the attic
at the basketball coach's home. I asked (Duke head
coach) Vic Bubas if he wanted me to go up
to Princeton and get him. He shook his head and
said 'That's a family matter.'"
Turns out that Bradley's father, a high school
dropout - who nonetheless became a bank
president - "thought of college as Harvard,
Yale and Princeton," he said.
It is impossible to imagine a college head coach
today being so magnanimous that he'd let a two-
time high school All American player change his
mind like that without kicking up a fuss and
possibly preventing him from playing elsewhere.
He then told about how, as head coach at West
Virginia, he'd recruited Pete Maravich.
"We were talking on the phone," Waters recalled,
"and he said he really wanted to play for me. His
father, Press, came in, took the phone from him
and hung up."
Maravich ended up at Louisiana State University,
where he averaged more than 40 points per game
during his collegiate career.
How did LSU snatch Pete from Bucky?
Simple: by naming Press Maravich its head
There was not a smidgen of bitterness in his
voice as he told of losing two of the greatest
college players to ever lace up a pair of Converse.
Indeed, because of his fondness for telling a great
story, there was a twinkle in his eyes as he related
two stories that would've had some coaches trying
to overdose on Gatorade.
Perhaps because he lost two players such
as Maravich and Bradley, Waters said some fans
would tell him that he wasn't a good recruiter.
"I'd point to Dottie" - his wife of 62 years - "and
say 'I recruited her.'"