Former Georgia basketball coach Hugh Durham and Dominique Wilkins, his prized pupil, were among eight inductees into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City on Friday night.
Appropriately, Durham and Wilkins, who together led the Bulldogs to numerous significant firsts, together were Georgia’s first inductees into the Collegiate Hall of Fame.
“You look around and it has only happened once, I think, Coach (Dale) Brown and Shaquille at LSU,” Durham said. “Dominique and I have remained close through the years. Today, he probably would have only played one year at UGA, but he played three years back then. He is the foundation of Georgia Basketball. We can take credit for bringing him in, but he is the face of Georgia Basketball. It’s going to take a lot of pride to go in together.”
Durham arrived in Athens in 1978 and was charged with turning around a program that hadn’t finished .500 in more than a decade. Georgia finished 14-14 and 14-13 in Durham’s first two seasons before Wilkins arrived as a McDonald’s All-American and the most celebrated recruit in the program’s history.
Wilkins was tabbed SEC Player of the Year as a freshman in 1981 while leading Georgia to a 19-12 finish and an appearance in the NIT, the Bulldogs’ first-ever postseason bid. Wilkins was tabbed All-America a second-straight time in 1982, the same season he helped lead Georgia to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Wilkins departed after that season and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft before enjoying an illustrious professional career that included being a nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection.
Durham remained in Athens for 17 total seasons and is Georgia’s winningest coach ever with 297 victories. He led the Bulldogs to the 1983 NCAA Final Four in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. All told, Georgia reached postseason competition 11 times under Durham.
Durham arrived in Athens as a well-established national name as head coach at Florida State from 1967-78. He led the Seminoles to 230 wins an NCAA runner-up finish in 1972 when they lost to UCLA, 81-76, in the national championship game. Later, he won 106 more games at Jacksonville University.
“You stop and see the people being inducted around you and you step back and go ‘What am I doing with this group?’” Durham said. “It’s a great feeling, but it really is a surprise. As far as families, I’m sure they’re proud. I’m sure they are proud to be a part of it. When you’re a coach, you stand here and think about the reason you’re here. If you didn’t win games, you wouldn’t be here. If you didn’t have good players, you wouldn’t win games. If you didn’t have good assistants, you didn’t have good players. If you didn’t have an administration that wanted you to do well, then you wouldn’t have good assistants. That’s the long way of saying there are so many people you represent when you’re standing up here. I reflect back on that and the relationships really are special.”
Wilkins was dubbed the “Human Highlight Film” while in Athens, a nickname that has followed him from being Georgia’s career scoring leader when he departed college to 26,668 points and an amazing 24.8 career scoring average in the NBA.
“It’s mind blowing,” Wilkins said Friday. “It’s a special moment in my life to go in with Coach because he is like a father to me. You talk about being chosen from 350 D1 schools and to be chosen as one of the greatest. I can’t even tell you how that feels. It’s special because it’s the highest collegiate award you can get.”
A large contingent approaching 50 of Bulldog supporters was in attendance, led by current head coach Mark Fox and J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity. Former players included Mark Slonaker, the captain of Durham’s first team at UGA and later an assistant coach on his staff; Derrick Floyd and James Banks, stars on Georgia’s 1983 Final Four team; and Chad Kessler, father of current Bulldog Houston Kessler. Also in attendance was Rhea Kessler, wife of the late Alec Kessler, who was a first-team All-American and all-sports Academic All-American of the Year and led Georgia to its only regular-season SEC title in 1990. Support staff members Dave McGrew (sports information director), Sandi Behr (administrative assistant) and Lewis Gainey (assistant athletic director), as well as student managers John Bateman and Greg Daniels, joined that group.