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Exclusive: Packer-wake Saga Dates To Davis, Led To Hall Of Fame Flap

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff

April 12, 2004 WINSTON-SALEM — Billy Packer's relationship with the Wake Forest family has often been a strange one. One might think that a player who helped lead the Demon Deacons to their only Final Four in 1962 would spend the rest of his life on the A-list, but not so with Packer. His long-time role as one of the most recognized color commentators in college basketball frequently has put him at odds with many Wake followers. Over the years, they've criticized him for not pushing or supporting Wake Forest enough from his platform on CBS, especially when the national spotlight hones in on him at the NCAA Tournament. In fact, goes the cry, he's often overly critical of his alma mater, perhaps for fear of not appearing to be a neutral journalist. This year's Sweet 16 game between Wake Forest and St. Joseph's became just another brick in that wall. The story going in was Packer's well-publicized criticism of No. 1 seed St. Joseph's, which began with his snippy on-camera exchange with popular Hawks coach Phil Martelli on Selection Sunday. But the story coming out of the Wake-St. Joe's game, at least for many Wake fans, revolved around his on-air comments critical of the Deacons, especially freshman point guard Chris Paul. As it turns out, there's an interesting and controversial chapter to the Packer-Wake Forest saga that somehow has remained out of the media spotlight for the last four years. The ACC Sports Journal recently learned just how far a disgruntled Packer went to break his ties with his alma mater, fracturing a relationship that only recently began to be rebuilt. By choice, Packer, one of the best basketball players in school history, is no longer a member of the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame. Wake inducted Packer, who averaged 14.8 points per game for the Deacons from 1960-62 and ranks among the top 25 scorers in school history, in 1977. CBS still includes the reference in his bio, and an active link on the official Wake Forest website still listed him among the inductees in early April, but Packer hasn't been a member of the school's Hall of Fame for at least four years. "You would have to ask Wake Forest about that," Packer said during the NCAA Tournament. "I don't have anything else to say about it." Wake Forest officials recently confirmed Packer's status but declined to offer details. "It was his decision. … He just decided to withdraw his name from the Hall of Fame," Wake athletic director Ron Wellman said. "Billy and I obviously had discussions about why, but those discussions are best left between the two of us." "While Billy's name is not listed in the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame, he is an illustrious alum, a proud member of back-to-back ACC championship teams," said Dean Buchan, Wake's assistant AD for media relations. "He remains a good friend to Skip Prosser, as well as the entire Wake Forest athletic family." Sources told the Sports Journal that Packer asked to be removed from the Hall in 2000, mainly over a disagreement about the school's treatment of Charlie Davis, who at the time was an assistant athletic director at Wake. Davis starred at Wake Forest, peaking in 1971 when he became the first black player to be named the ACC player of the year. His career free throw percentage of 87.3 remains the conference record among players who have completed their eligibility, and his career scoring average of 24.9 is sixth all-time in the league. Davis returned to Wake in 1989 as a member of the sales and marketing staff and continued his education, getting a master's degree in 1997. From 1995-2000, he served as the assistant AD for student-athletic enhancement and community programs, helping build Wake's athlete outreach program in the Winston-Salem area. But as positions within the athletic department opened and were filled, it became apparent to Davis and his friends, including Packer, that Davis wasn't going to move up the ranks. He wanted more opportunity and responsibility, and he didn't think he was going to get it. In June 2000, Davis and Wake split, and it wasn't particularly amicable. "Unfortunately, in the manner that I have departed," Davis said then, "I haven't had an opportunity to talk to a number of friends." At the time, Packer affirmed that he had become an advocate for Davis in his complaints against Wake. He also said the agreement between Davis and the university didn't permit either side to comment on the resolution of the situation. Davis was hired at Bowie State in Maryland, then became the athletic director at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. Reached recently, he confirmed Packer's situation, although he wouldn't give details. "I do know that he is not in the Hall of Fame anymore," Davis said, "and from what I understand this happened about four or five years ago." Davis did offer some background on Packer's motivation, though. "Billy and I go back a long ways, actually back to when I was a 17-year-old skinny freshman from Harlem," Davis said. "I consider him like an older brother to me, and we are like family along with his wife, Barbara. I do know that Billy is very loyal to his friends and has been that way for as long as I've known him." Packer, an All-ACC player in 1960 and '61, graduated from Wake Forest in 1962 with a degree in economics. He returned to the school in 1965 and spent five seasons as an assistant coach, first for one year under Jack Murdock then for four with Jack McCloskey. While a member of the staff, Packer helped recruit Davis to the Demon Deacons. Packer, who remains a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and has received the Curt Gowdy Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame, earned a sports Emmy in 1993 for his work with CBS, where he's worked for 23 seasons. In recent years, some Wake Forest officials have worked to repair the relationships with Davis and Packer. The Deacons scheduled North Carolina A&T in basketball and will give the school its first football game against a Division I-A program this fall. Third-year basketball coach Skip Prosser, perhaps understanding the influence Packer can have in the hoops community, has led the charge to bring him back into the fold. Packer even spoke at the Demon Deacons' basketball banquet last year. "He was the (master of ceremonies) at our basketball banquet, and we sat together at dinner," Wellman said. "And Billy did a wonderful job at the banquet." Still, some things may never change, which isn't a surprise to those who know the loyal and steadfast Packer. When Packer was asked recently if he would ever want to be reconsidered for the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame, he paused, then emphatically said: "No." Said Wellman: "He's expressed no interest in (getting back into the Hall), and it's not something we are anticipating." Gillen Reversal Infuriated Boosters CHARLOTTESVILLE — With six weeks remaining in the regular season, Pete Gillen had no future as Virginia men's basketball coach. The Cavaliers had lost five games in a row and, by all accounts, the decision had been made: He would not return for a seventh season. The decision was made with the feeling that Virginia could not save its season, that the Cavaliers were not capable of winning six of their last 10 games, three of them over teams ranked among the top 15 in the country. Nevertheless, even when Virginia went to Villanova for a second-round NIT game, the feeling among informed UVa boosters was that nothing had changed — that the power brokers had decided that Gillen was not the coach to take Virginia into its new 15,000-seat building and that even a buyout of more than $6 million was worth the price. When it was announced 12 days later that Gillen would, in fact, be staying, many of those power brokers were furious — not so much that Gillen was returning, but that athletic director Craig Littlepage had gathered support for a tough decision and then been unable to pull the trigger. By that point, there had been a shift among rank and file UVa fans. Out of more than 500 respondents to a survey on roanoke.com, more than 63 percent said they approved of Gillen's return. Of course, those internet readers aren't the people charged with raising money for Virginia's new arena, priced at $130 million. UVa has raised approximately $80-85 million for the project, meaning another $45-50 million could get the job done. However, if UVa is required to take out bonds and needs 10-15 years to repay them, remaining costs could come to $100 million. In comparison, the projected Gillen buyout — even at $6 million or more — looked like chump change, but UVa may have saved money by keeping Gillen. Amid widespread speculation that the deal had been restructured, both Littlepage and Gillen cited the Freedom of Information Act for their unwillingness to comment. Gillen inadvertently may have given the media the answer when he said he thought an agreement might be reached March 30, but that attorneys had not been able to iron out the details until March 31. Unless the contract was rewritten in some fashion, what kind of agreement would be necessary if Gillen still had seven years remaining on a contract paying him about $900,000 per year? UVa insiders had been saying that the Cavaliers would try to get off by paying only the cash portion, $700,000, of the remaining contract. Even if that were the case, Gillen was leaving a lot of money on the table by accepting anything less than a steep buyout. He wanted to return to Virginia so badly that he did not pursue the opening at St. John's, although some of that reasoning might have been out of respect to Manhattan coach and former Gillen aide Bobby Gonzalez. Quotes from Virginia president John Casteen accompanied a university news release, and it's likely that Casteen, who pushed for Gillen in 1998, came to his support this time. Observers of the ACC expansion process know just how unpredictable Casteen can be. It also has been speculated that Littlepage, who once was fired as the head coach at Rutgers, did not feel comfortable canning a coach who had taken his team to postseason play in five straight winning seasons. Four UVa freshmen each played more than 300 minutes this past season, and Gillen is excited about a recruiting class that includes one of the nation's premier point guards, Sean Singletary from Philadelphia. "There was a strong feeling the team was building momentum as the regular season wound down," Littlepage said. "This year, (Gillen) had some very obvious challenges. Number one was turning around some of the things that had happened in the previous year, in terms of conduct issues and so forth. I would have to give him very high marks for taking very seriously the message that character counts." Indeed, there were none of the off-court incidents that resulted in since-departed guards Keith Jenifer and Jermaine Harper getting arrested during the 2002-03 season, or Harper, Elton Brown and Travis Watson oversleeping at Florida State. Gillen will have good talent next year in spots 1-12, but the Cavaliers tied for seventh in the ACC this year and it's possible that nobody ahead of them will experience a big dropoff. Then there's the matter of recruiting, with rival coaches pounding the stability issue. Clearly, there will be changes and not merely "cosmetic changes," as Littlepage put it. Gillen would not go into specifics, but sources said the Cavaliers plan to upgrade their non-conference schedule. Also, the crosshairs are firmly focused on a staff of Walt Fuller, Rod Jensen, Scott Shepherd and Alexis Sherard. It will be a miracle if that group returns intact. Prior to their arrivals at Virginia, none of the four members of Gillen's staff ever had served as a head coach or full-time assistant in a high-major Division I conference. Fuller, 39, joined Gillen's original UVa lineup in 1998-99 after stints as an aide at Drexel and William & Mary. Shepherd (37) and Sherard (34) arrived a year later, Shepherd after serving as the head coach at prep power Hargrave Military Academy and Sherard after one season as an assistant at Binghamton. Jensen, 50, joined the Cavaliers in 2002-03, after 19 years (the last seven as the head coach) at Boise State. "I have not demanded changes, but we have talked about them," Littlepage said. "Whenever you fall short of what it is that you have as a goal, you have to look at everything. Certainly, he needs to consider the organization of the staff and the roles of the staff." Littlepage did not give a certain record as acceptable for 2004-05, but even Gillen knows what it will take. "Our goals are a lot higher than going to the second round of the NIT," Gillen said. "My goals are. Our team's are. I thought we did a good job (in 2003-04). Unfortunately, the rules of college basketball are, 'NCAA or nothing.' And our goals are a lot higher than just making the tournament." Former ACC Writer Defines Duke? Out of the mountains of pro-Duke and anti-Duke material written during this year's NCAA Tournament, our favorite came from CBS.Sportsline.com college basketball writer Gregg Doyel, formerly of the Charlotte Observer. Here's an abbreviated version of his column, for those who may have missed it: Over the course of (Mike) Krzyzewski's 24 years at Duke, there has been much to like. There also has been much to dislike. For the past seven of those years, I've had a front-row seat, and to this day I'm not sure which side of the Duke fence to call home. I like that Coach K had the nerve, more than 20 years ago, to speak out against the officiating double standard enjoyed by North Carolina legend Dean Smith. I dislike that Coach K, now a legend himself, seeks that same officiating double standard through intimidation — and has the nerve to say he doesn't seek it, or get it. I like that the NCAA never sniffs around Cameron Indoor Stadium, aside from its investigation of ex-Blue Devil Corey Maggette's $2,000 in cash payments from club coach Myron Piggie. I dislike it that Duke's response was upraised palms as if, aside from Maggette's association with a known scumbag, how could Duke know anything like that might have happened? I like that Coach K wants his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren to sit as close to the Duke bench as possible. I dislike that Krzyzewski curses like Eminem, loudly enough for fans to hear. I like that Coach K's players graduate, and that before the NBA made such a stand obsolete, that Coach K refused to hang a banner from one of his championship teams because one player hadn't graduated. I dislike that his players tend to major in the same subject, and that some have graduated in only three years — an eyebrow-raising achievement considering the academic reputation of Duke and the time constraints on players. I like that in press briefings Coach K will say more in 10 minutes than most coaches say in 30. I dislike it that his accessibility has gone down in proportion to his job security going up. I like that Coach K truly cares for his players after their playing days are finished, even guys like Maggette and William Avery, whose early NBA departures rocked the program. I dislike that in recent years some of his players' parents have been moving to the Durham area with their sons and getting jobs with companies run by Duke boosters. I like that Coach K does cool stuff like donate $1 million for a scholarship in his mother's name. I dislike that he sends out a press release to announce it. I like that Coach K routinely stops the Cameron Crazies when they start a particularly cruel chant about an opposing player or coach. I dislike that Coach K routinely criticizes the Crazies for getting too "comfortable" with Duke's success, as if a million consecutive sellouts and fans camping out for weeks for certain games isn't enough. I like that Coach K never uses the media to criticize his players. I dislike that he uses the media to mollify his team's reserves, perhaps in an effort to keep them from transferring, by talking up a player who had nothing to do with that evening's Duke blowout. I like that Coach K genuinely seems to abhor the influence of sneaker-funded street agents. I dislike that Coach K makes more money from his Nike contract than anyone in the game. I like that Coach K always credits the other team after a Duke loss, and if he blames anyone, he blames himself. I dislike that when he withdrew from the team in 1994-95 with exhaustion and back pain, Duke petitioned the NCAA to make sure the team's 4-15 finish was credited to interim coach Pete Gaudet.

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