MONDAY, MARCH 18, 2002
Dolphins Honor All-Time Hoops Legends
by Peter Casella, JU Public Affairs
All you have to do is walk into Swisher Gym, preferably when no one else is there, and gaze at the jerseys hanging on the walls. Grab a seat in the bleachers, close your eyes and let time melt away as you envision the legendary JU Dolphins basketball players who used to wear the life-sized versions of those jerseys on the court once again.
The memories are almost black and white as No. 52 pours in shot after shot. No. 53 defies gravity as he almost brushes the rafters while swatting away yet another opponent's shot. No. 24 grabs the blocked shot in mid-air and scampers for a twisting lay-up. On the other end of the court, No. 43 grabs a rebound and fires an outlet pass to start a fast break. No. 32 fights traffic in the lane and crashes the boards for a crucial tip-in. No. 4, racing down the court after a steal with a defender matching every step, pulls up and pops in a 15-footer from the right of the key.
Some memories are meant to last a lifetime.
The six legendary JU players who retired those numbers were back in Swisher Gym on Saturday, Feb. 2, for "Legends Day," a celebration of JU basketball history. Those Dolphins legends - No. 52 Roger Strickland, No. 53 Artis Gilmore, No. 24 Rex Morgan, No. 43 James Ray, No. 32 Otis Smith and No. 4 Dee Brown - were honored during a halftime ceremony. All six stayed after the game to sign autographs and reminisce with fans. The game attracted the largest crowd since the team moved back to historic Swisher Gym in 1999.
The program also recognized the Dolphins No. 1 fan, Willie Byrd. Byrd can just about count on one hand the number of JU home games he's missed since the program began.
When talking about JU basketball history, the obvious highlight is the 1969-70 team that defeated the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in the Mideast Regional Championship and advanced all the way to the NCAA title game against John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. By the time they won the Mideast Regional, the team had so captivated the city, players needed police cars to get them through the crowd at the airport and back to Arlington.
"For this small university to knock off a Kentucky team coached by Adolph Rupp and the No.1 team in the country, and then to beat Iowa from the Big Ten, was an incredible Cinderella story," said former JU forward Rod McIntyre, now a local attorney. "I've heard the final against UCLA regarded as the day Jacksonville stood still."
Ironically, the only team to beat the Dolphins that year was Florida State - led by current Dolphins head coach Hugh Durham. FSU won 89-83 in Tallahassee, but JU got its revenge with an 85-81 victory at home.
"It didn't catch me by surprise," said Durham. "They had a legitimate team that nobody knew about."
With the Dolphins completing their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1995, the legends credit Durham with turning the program around by giving it some much-needed stability.
"They're certainly moving in the right direction," said Gilmore. "They've been able to accomplish an awful lot under Coach Durham. They just need to continue and not lose their focus."
For the current crop of JU Dolphins, Legends Day allowed them to see the grand history of the program, a perspective that will help them focus on a return to basketball greatness.
JU Dolphins Legends
Roger Strickland (No. 52) · Position: Guard · Years on the team: 1960-63 · Career highlights: All-American in 1962, 1963. Holds top scoring average in JU history (27.3 ppg.). Holds team records for single-season scoring average (32.6 ppg.) and points in a season (783). Has team single-game record for assists (20). Was L.A. Lakers' top pick and seventh overall in the 1963 NBA Draft. · Current Occupation: Retired Vice President of Marketing at BellSouth Telecommunications1969-70 JU Dolphins...Where Are They Now?
Rusty Baldwin, point guard, former dentist in St. Petersburg
2001-02 MEN'S BASKETBALL