Retired Georgia Tech coach and South Carolina player Bobby Cremins was the keynote speaker recently during the celebration of the Raleigh Sports Club’s 50th year.
During those 50 years, the club has hosted some of the biggest names in sports including Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Red Grange and local favorite Choo Choo Justice.
Few have more of a connection to basketball royalty in the Triangle than Cremins. In fact Cremins played under the legendary Frank McGuire at South Carolina. McGuire had coached North Carolina to the national championship in 1957.
Cremins blamed himself for the 1970 ACC championship double overtime loss to Norm Sloan’s NC State. Only the tourney winner went to the NCAA tournament at that time.
“I wish now that I had handled that loss better,” Cremins said. “I couldn’t accept the loss and I responded very poorly. I ran away because I didn’t want to deal with it. Thank God I eventually came back.”
His pro career didn’t last long. In fact, he was the last player cut by Bones McKinney, legendary Wake Forest coach, who was then the coach for the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
At 27, he became the youngest Division I coach at Appalachian State. “I wanted to stay in the South but I didn’t realize that Boone was the South Pole,” he said.
When Sloan left State in 1980, Cremins tried to get that coaching job. When Bill Foster left Duke that same year, Cremins tried to get that coaching job. Future legendary coaches Jim Valvano and Mike Krzyzewski got those positions.
He said he argued to Duke AD Tom Butters that Krzyzewski would be a terrible choice to make because Army had a losing season.
Cremins applied for the Georgia Tech job the next year. The Jackets had joined the ACC and Cremins saw an opportunity to get back in the ACC to get redemption for the ACC championship loss to NC State.
Former UNC Athletics Director Homer Rice, then the AD at Georgia Tech, hired Cremins. “This time nobody wanted the job so I got it,” he said to the laughter of the audience of more than 240.
He got to coach in the Triangle three times a year against Krzyzewski, Valvano and UNC’s Dean Smith.
Cremins said it was such a shame that Smith’s health has declined. “He’s a great man and I miss talking to him and playing golf with him,” he said adding that Smith set the bar high in the ACC.
But he said that Coach K had broken through the bar set by Smith and, in his mind, ranks behind only former UCLA coach John Wooden as the greatest basketball coach of all time.
Valvano’s career, which included a national championship in ’83, of course was cut short by cancer. “Jim Valvano lived in the future. He saw things before they happened,” Cremins said adding that the V Foundation that Valvano started on his death bed has raised more than $100 million for cancer research.
Georgia Tech wasn’t mentioned in the same breath with State, Duke and Carolina. That is until 1985.
“The key obviously was recruiting.” Cremins said. “Getting players like Mark Price and John Salley, quality kids, and getting them to play together with chemistry was most important.”
In ‘85 Cremin’s Yellow Jackets won the ACC regular season title and then the ACC tournament title when they defeated North Carolina for the third time during the season in the finals.
Legend has it that, after winning the championship, when the team bus passed the old coliseum where South Carolina fell to NC State in the 1970 ACC tourney, Cremins asked the bus driver to stop. He got out with the trophy in hand, gave the coliseum “the bird” and yelled, “I finally got you, you son of a bitch.”
“Yes, we did get that ACC championship in 1985,” Cremins said in closing his remarks. “I got my redemption.”
The 300-plus member Raleigh Sports Club, which meets weekly on Wednesday at the Highland United Methodist Church, was originally established with 12 original members. The members get the opportunity to listen to some of the most influential college and professional sporting figures first hand while recognizing local athletic and academic achievement.