Tricks and Treat

Adrian Dantley

For 23 years on the basketball court, former Irish great Adrian Dantley made a career out of tricking people. Last Friday, he received the ultimate treat as a reward for his efforts: induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Alongside his 2008 classmates Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Riley, Dick Vitale, Cathy Rush, and William Davidson, Dantley received his blazer and ring during a star-studded gala event that saw 55 of his fellow Hall members there to congratulate them on his recognition.

Now you see him

If you ask him, Adrian Dantley will tell you he built his strong careers at DeMatha High School, Notre Dame, and in the NBA by tricking people. Using a first-step move he learned watching Elgin Baylor and a pump fake similarly borrowed from Chet Walker, Dantley used his body and savvy to make war in the paint against guys who had six inches and over 60 pounds on him.

It's a philosophy Dantley used to great effect. He averaged almost 30 points per game between 1980 and 1986, leading the league in scoring twice in that span. At only 6'5" and seemingly undersized to be drawing contact as often as he did, he made over 80 percent of his attempts from the free throw line, leading the NBA in free throws made five times.

It's also a philosophy Dantley passes on to the next generation. "When I'm working with players today, I tell them, 'Trick people'", he said. "Use the pump fake, use your body, get to the line. It was very useful to me and I made the most of it."

Good Things Come....

Many references were made to Dantley's long wait for induction. 17 years out of the league, the 23rd leading scorer in NBA history was accepted into the Hall on his seventh go-around as a finalist. Fellow inductee Cathy Rush was on her sixth attempt, and Dantley mentioned her in his acceptance speech, saying their waits were something they had in common.

"The road to the Hall of Fame has not been easy or smooth," he said during the speech. "I had to remain focused through the changes and the trades by constantly proving that I belong in this game."

Indefatigable

While some wondered whether Dantley's no-nonsense and blunt style both on and off the court had hindered his progress towards this recognition, all agreed it was his work ethic that had made his dream worth that wait.

Hall-of-Fame coach Morgan Wootten credited Dantley with starting DeMatha's weight workout program. "In 1969, [Adrian] came to me and said he needed to start lifting weights," Wootten said. "No one else was doing that, but his interest was so strong, we started him on a program, and it grew from there."

Digger Phelps, Dantley's coach at Notre Dame, agreed. "He would do all the extra things to stay in shape and have stamina. He'd lift weights. He'd jump rope. He had to be able to take the pounding in the low post, and all that helped him."

Vitale was coaching in college during Dantley's era, and watched Dantley use his 6'5" frame to its fullest. "His post-up ability was unbelievable," Vitale recalled. "He had great body strength. He knew how to use his body to seal guys off in the low post. You talk to anyone who had to guard him, they'll tell you he was a lot of work to guard."

Riley, a traveling secretary with the Lakers during Dantley's three seasons in Los Angeles, believes the effort Dantley put into his game earned him the respect of his teammates, including fellow Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Indeed, Riley said, their rapport was such that Dantley was the only member of the team not too intimidated to sit next to Kareem on team flights.

"I remember Adrian as being an incredible competitor," Riley said. "He had a lot of respect for Kareem, and Kareem had a lot of respect for him."

"Kareem was an idol of mine from when I was a young guy," Dantley said. "If I had something to say to him, I'd just talk to him. He's a very smart man, and I learned a lot from playing with him."

Past is Future

Dantley has now transferred that indefatigable attitude to the other side of the whistle as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets. "All the fundamentals I learned from Morgan [Wootten] I try to apply to the guys who play the game today. I tell the players, 'If you do good things and work hard, good things are going to happen to you.'"

While he has no plans to return to the college game and looks for the opportunity to guide an NBA team as a head coach, he knows he has to keep working hard to take advantage of breaks. "The only thing I can do is just work. "A lot of this game is about luck and being in the right place at the right time, but if you don't work, it won't work out. I hope I get the opportunity in the NBA, because I'll be ready when it comes."

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