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



      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



       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.'"







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