Hall of Fame finally takes notice of Phelan

October 30, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

Nine of the 10 coaches with the most wins in college basketball history are in the sport's Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The lone exception is Mount St. Mary's Jim Phelan, and that oversight could end next spring.

The Basketball Hall of Fame yesterday announced nominees for 1992 induction, and Phelan is one of six coaches on the list. To be elected, a nominee needs 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee, and the results of that vote will be announced in January. Enshrinement ceremonies are scheduled for May 11 in Springfield, where basketball began a century ago.

Phelan's 38th season at the Emmitsburg college begins Nov. 23 at Maryland. His career record is 687-328, and only seven other college coaches have more wins. He is No. 9 in all-time games coached, with 1,015.

Clarence "Bighouse" Gaines, the still-active legend at Winston-Salem (N.C.), is the all-time leader in games coached, with 1,225, and his 816 wins trail only the 875 racked up by Adolph Rupp. Gaines' teams were eliminated by Phelan's in the NCAA Division II tournament in 1985 and '86, and he gives the nomination his seal of approval.

"He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," Gaines said of Phelan. "I don't see how he can miss. He's coached long, hard and successfully, and he's a model for the younger guys."

Phelan and Mount St. Mary's made the move up to Division I in 1988, and this will be the first season they will be eligible to represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament. The Hall of Fame process adds to a winter he was already anticipating.

"I'm excited, thrilled," said Phelan, 62. "Until it was mentioned to me this summer, I never really thought of the Hall of Fame, not in my wildest dreams. It's certainly a milestone for me, and anyone who has been in the game as long as I've been appreciates the significance. Of course, getting elected is another thing."

Phelan's case was taken to a screening committee by Hall of Famer Paul Arizin, a friend dating back to their grade-school days at St. Monica's in south Philadelphia. Phelan played collegiately at La Salle, and was the top star for the Marine Corps before Arizin overshadowed him there.

Phelan came to Emmitsburg in 1954 with the idea of coaching at Mount St. Mary's for a few years, but he quickly developed a small-college power and the Mountaineers won the NCAA Division II title in his eighth season. That 1961-62 team beat Sacramento State in an overtime championship game.

Of the 1,015 games he has coached, Phelan listed other personal favorites.

"My first game [in 1954] was at St. Francis, N.Y., and we won," Phelan said. "In 1957 I returned to Philadelphia and we beat Villanova [86-70] at the Palestra."

The final rounds of the NCAA Division II tournament are held at Springfield, and Phelan doesn't have many fond memories of his visits there. His 1981 and '85 teams reached that level. As athletic director, he regrettably made the move to Division I after all of the traditional rivals in the region had done the same.

Last season's 8-19 record was Phelan's worst since his 1971-72 team went 6-17. With the Mountaineers completing their Division I probationary status, Phelan red-shirted injured guards Kevin Booth and Doug John, and basically wrote off the season.

"I'm antsy to get started again," said Phelan, who needs only 13 victories to reach the 700 plateau. "I wasn't upset last season because it was affecting my winning percentage. That particular team not winning was upsetting enough."

The other coaches nominated for the Hall of Fame are St. John's Lou Carnesecca; Jack Ramsay of the Portland Trail Blazers; Tex Winter, currently an assistant with the Chicago Bulls; former Marquette boss Al McGuire; and the late Phil Woolpert, who ZTC guided Bill Russell and San Francisco to NCAA titles in 1955 and '56.

Eight players were nominated, including Connie Hawkins, Dan Issel, Bob Lanier, Calvin Murphy, Paul Seymour and Walt Bellamy, who played for the Baltimore Bullets from 1963-65, and women players Lusia Harris and Nera White. The Hall of Fame currently includes 179 individuals and four teams.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL'S WINNINGEST COACHES

Name .. .. .. .. .. Victories

Adolph Rupp .. .. .. 875

*Clarence Gaines .. 816

Phog Allen .. .. .. 770

Hank Iba .. .. .. .. 767

Ed Diddle .. .. .. . 759

Ray Meyer .. .. .. .. 724

*Dean Smith .. .. .. 717

*Jim Phelan .. .. .. 687

John Wooden .. .. .. 667

Bloomer Sullivan .. 662

* -- active

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