It had been so long since he had been back to Notre Dame that Adrian Dantley admitted it was not exactly the way he remembered it.
“I don’t recognize the place,” said Dantley before being honored at halftime of Monday’s home game against Villanova.
“I’m embarrassed to say it’s been over 28 years,” he said. “I’ve got to get back here more.”
But Dantley, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, was able to find at least one comforting sight on campus.
“It brought back some memories when I saw the Golden Dome,” he said. “When I visited here at Notre Dame and I saw the Golden Dome, I said, ‘Hey, I want to go here.’ It wasn’t hard to recruit me here at Notre Dame and because of the exposure, Notre Dame being on television and so forth, it was a good fit for me to come here. They had an open spot and it worked out pretty good, I’m glad I came here.”
The Irish were not recognized as a basketball power when Dantley joined the squad in 1973, but knew that it was a place where he could get noticed.
“They weren’t that good, but you knew about every player that played at Notre Dame because they were on television twice, three times a week,” he said.
Dantley’s freshman year was Digger Phelps’ third with the program.
“Digger was Digger, well prepared, always ready for the big games, always concerned about his players,” Dantley remembered. “When he recruited a player he just wanted to make sure that all of his players graduated from college.”
Dantley helped Phelps turn Notre Dame into a true national program. After going 6-20 and 18-12 in the two years prior to Dantley’s arrival, the Irish went 26-3, 19-10 and 23-6 in Dantley’s three years in South Bend.
Dantley’s lasting memory of his time at Notre Dame is not surprising.
“One of my greatest basketball memories was breaking UCLA’s 88-game winning streak,” he said. “Whenever I see Bill Walton, I always tell him, ‘I remember you was crying when we broke your 88-game winning streak.’ To this day, when I see him he always says, ‘Man, you made my life miserable that day in South Bend.’”
A two-time All-American and National Player of the Year as a junior, Dantley scored 2,223 career points (25.3 average) before skipping his senior year and heading to the NBA. Dantley returned to get his degree in economics the summer after being named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Dantley acknowledged that as an undersized forward, he had to outsmart opponents.
“In high school, I used to let a guy block my shot and in college because for some reason when you block a shot guys get excited, fans get excited,” he said. “I used to trick some guys during my whole career at every level. I always tricked some guys. Some guy would always go for the same fake that I’ve been doing for the last 30 years, even today when I play against the pro guys, they still go for the same fake.”
Dantley, now an assistant coach with Denver Nuggets, still keeps track of the Irish and one player in particular.
“In Denver, we have these film guys and they always tease my all of the time, ‘This guy named Harangody is wearing your number there, he’s better than you,’” said Dantley. “Since I knew this Harangody was wearing my number, number 44, I always make sure I go out and watch the games and watch him play.
“Pretty good player, pretty good player… Very physical, hard foul against Connecticut the other day… he seems to be a real tough guy.”
Dantley also had a special reason to watch a Notre Dame football game this past season as his son Cameron played quarterback for Syracuse and threw the winning touchdown pass in the Orange’s 24-23 victory in November.
“I had mixed emotions. I was watching the game by myself and I was cheering, getting up and acting crazy,” said Dantley. “What an unbelievable football game, to have my son come back here and be influential in a game playing against my alma mater.”
Dantley was confident that his son could do the job if he was given a chance.
“I knew if he had some time he would throw the ball right there. That’s been one of Syracuse’s weaknesses, they don’t have a good offensive line,” Dantley said. “That was the first time they really didn’t get hit maybe over 20 or 25 times. There wasn’t that much pressure so that gave him time to complete that pass.”
Dantley asked his son to return to South Bend with him for the ceremony on Monday, but Cameron declined.
“I wanted him to come back, but he was afraid to come back. He said, ‘They might boo me.’”
Dantley can be forgiven for having mixed feelings during one football game and for the length of time that it took for him to get back because he does love his alma mater.
“I think Notre Dame made me be a successful person on and off the court,” he said. “It was great for me.”