Once again, a slew of former Friars returned to Providence to honor the past and the air was dripping with tradition. Among the players were notables like Joe Hassett, Otis Thorpe (in his first ever return to Providence), Ricky Tucker, Harold Starks, Delray Brooks, Quinton Burton, Bruce Campbell, John Nolan, Jim Benedict, Donnie Brown and Ernie Lewis.
The evening began with a 6:00 cocktail hour and fans and players took their seats for the festivities at 7:00. Greeting fans at their tables were programs for the evening, along with mini-basketballs that had the event name and faces of the three honorees embossed and printed on them, at each setting.
The program began with a video tribute from Lenny Wilkens and short clips of Walker, DiGregorio and Barnes in action, and then each honoree was presented by a special guest speaker. To start, Dave Gavitt had prepared remarks about Walker, whose family, including his son, Steve Malloy, were present.
"Back in those days," said Gavitt. "you had the head coach and one assistant coach. Part of the job of the assistant coach was to coach the freshman team. We had a tremendous freshman team with Jimmy, Dexter Westbrook, Mike Riordan and Steve Sarantoupolos, four scholarship players. We swept through our schedule and our last game was against Brown. We won and after the game, Jimmy and Mike, who were the leaders of the team, presented me with a watch, which is still one of my most prized possessions. On the watch, they had engraved, 21-0. I said to them, how did you know we would end up undefeated? They said, hey, we had that watch engraved when we were 17-0."
Mike Riordan accepted the honor for Walker. Riordan had been a teammate and close, personal friend of Walker's. "I remember when I played for the Knicks," said Riordan. "We were going to play Detroit and Red Holtzman said to me, you played with the Walk, how do we guard him, what are his weaknesses? I said, he has no weaknesses, the only way to deal with him is to deny him the ball. That would be the job of the guy guarding him all game. We had a great defensive guard at the time, Walt Frazier, and he said ‘I got (Dave) Bing'."
Kevin Stacom had the honor of presenting Ernie DiGregorio and Stacom recounted the first time he, as a transfer student from Holy Cross, met Ernie D. "I was in my dorm room," said Stacom. "And Ernie showed up at the door with a basketball under his arm and asked if I wanted to play a little. It was raining outside and I thought to myself, OK, this is the test. That year was the first year that PC started admitting females, and Ernie told me to follow him. We went into the girl's dorms, and one of the girls starting freaking out and yelling, There's boys in here! There's boys in here! Ernie said we'd better get out, so we took off. The next day, Ernie gets called into the Dean of Discipline's office, and the first thing he says is, Where's Stacom?"
DiGregorio spoke about hard work and the desire and confidence to be great. "I've always had doubters," said Ernie D. "But I figured if I practiced ten hours and the other guy was practicing two hours, I'd be better. So I was out there shoveling snow off my court to practice. When I went on a date, I'd have the basketball on the front seat of the car next to me. I'd pick up my girlfriend and throw the ball in the back seat. Then, when she'd leave, I'd put the ball back in the front next to me.
"When I was a sophomore, we had a game in Alumni Hall against the great Doctor J. We won the game and I scored 34 points, and I thought to myself, If I can score 34 points against the great Doctor J, the sky is the limit. After that, I was playing for the BR. The bankroll."
Former teammate Alan Baker, a Washington DC high schooler who had played his high school ball for John Thompson, spoke eloquently about his relationship over the years with Marvin Barnes. "Marvin is the most honest human being I've ever known," said Baker. "He was also not the nicest guy on the court. We were roommates and great friends, and I remember, he'd say to me, Baker, you know when we step between the lines, I'm going all out. And I thought, Great, I'm going to get trashed and that's not going to help my minutes."
Marvin was the final speaker and is a natural comedian. Only Marvin can get away with some of the comments he made to the appreciative crowd. DiGregorio's acceptance speech had gone on for quite a while, and Marvin responded by saying, "Man, I've got to go to the bathroom! I didn't think I'd ever get up here." He spoke about his three wives – "It wasn't ALL my fault!", and in particular, his first wife's great cooking. "My wife's Portuguese cooking back then was so good... it got me rollin' and by gametime I was speaking Japanese, because when the final buzzer sounded, I was saying "Sionara!" to the competition." He particularly thanked his mother, Lulu, and his sister, both of whom were present, and he spoke with honesty about his personal demons. "I've gone down the wrong path in my life, and a lot of it was because I didn't have my support system, Ernie, Kevin, Alan, Tom Walters, with me. I fell in with some bad people." But even in speaking about his bad times, Barnes can always find the humor. "Getting my PC jersey up there in Dunk is a great honor. I knew I'd see my name in lights one day, I'm just glad it wasn't on America's Most Wanted."
Next on the agenda was a presentation of a specially commissioned painting of the three honorees that will hang in the new $200,000 Hall of Fame in Alumni Hall, and all attendees received a free print of the painting. The evening closed with a half hour long video of the three guests of honor, featuring action footage and interviews, and a short panel discussion led by John Rooke.
As the evening closed at around 11:00, guests were heard to remark about what a first rate evening this had been. Special kudos go out to Steve Napolillo, Arthur Parks, and all of the behind the scenes Friars who pulled off an evening of impressive memories. The weekend will conclude with an alumni game on Saturday, along with a raising to the rafters of the jerseys of Walker, DiGregorio and Barnes at the Villanova game. A long overdue, but welcome event.
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