I had one of the best experiences of my life last Friday.
The men’s basketball All-Century Team was honored in a banquet, which featured the best 25 players and four coaches in Saluki basketball history.
It was a group of 29 people who each touched the program in different ways. The team was filled with former NBA players and others who have been successful on and off the court.
The biggest name on the team was former Saluki and New York Knicks forward Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Frazier was not able to attend the weekend festivities. I assume because he was shooting another Just for Men commercial with Keith Hernandez.
As a southern Illinosian I was privileged to watch players like Kent Williams, Bryan Mullins and Troy Hudson growing up. Each player whom I interviewed was a new voice that I had only seen on the court.
Darren Brooks was the player I looked forward to meeting the most. Brooks could do it all — he was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year twice.
I watched the 2011 Hall of Fame interview Brooks had with Mike Reis on YouTube; I still get chills. Brooks is beyond humble and has said over and over he did not expect to receive the recognition he earned.
His skills on the court can’t and won’t be matched. As a guard, he was supposed to distribute the ball and he did. He’s fourth in assists but he’s also 12th in rebounds. Yes, his 1,671 points are fifth all-time, and that’s not too shabby.
Charlie “Chico” Vaughn is the top scorer in SIU history with 2,088 points. Vaughn died in October. I had the honor of knowing Vaughn and had the privilege of calling him and his brother, Junior Vaughn, my friends.
Junior Vaughn attended the banquet Friday to receive the plaque in his brother’s honor. I spoke to Junior and he said he had no idea the amount of people his brother touched in his life. He said any time someone would ask his brother about his life, all he would say is he played basketball. Junior said he had not been inside SIU Arena to see his brother’s jersey hanging in the rafters so I took him inside to show him.
During halftime of the game against Missouri State Saturday, they honored the recipients once again. It takes a lot to bring me to tears, but if it involves sports, I turn into a small child who just got his pacifier taken away.
Watching Rich Herrin’s reaction as the crowd cheered for him was priceless. It was indescribable. The gratification on his face is something I will carry forever.
SIU men’s basketball is going through a rough patch but if the All-Century team showed me anything, it is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even in down years, the team still has bright spots. With three freshmen starting the past few games, the future is looking upward, and the fans will always be there to support the team.
Tyler Dixon can be reached at tdixon@dailyegyptian, @tdixon_de or 536-3311 ext. 256.