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WARNING: Never go to lunch with this former Duke U basketball coach if you're hungry

July 20, 2018

 


          

 

 

      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

 

jivin'.)


      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

 

with him."


      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

 

coach.


       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.'"

 

Swish.

 

 

 

 

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