High Country’s Hugh Durham Enshrined in Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

Published Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 12:01 pm
Hugh Durham makes his acceptance speech at the 2016 Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Photo by Mike Mobley, Sports Communications Director for Basketball, University of Georgia

Hugh Durham makes his acceptance speech at the 2016 Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
Photo by Mike Mobley, Sports Communications Director for Basketball, University of Georgia

By Tim Gardner

Long-time major college basketball coach and Avery County resident Hugh Durham was inducted in the 2016 Class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on November 18.

This year’s Hall of Fame’s Class featured six players and two coaches.   Enshrinement ceremonies were held in the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland in Kansas City, Mo.

Durham is believed to the first person with a home in the North Carolina High Country (Banner Elk), or having ties to the area, to be chosen for induction into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. 

Durham’s coaching career is highlighted by winning consistency and punctuated with a penchant for building programs to national prominence. 

He posted 633 career victories in 37 seasons as a head coach, with 230 at Florida State University from 1967-78; 297 at the University of Georgia from 1979-95; and 106 at Jacksonville University from 1998-2005.   Durham is the only coach in Division I history to take two schools to their only Final Four appearance (Florida State in 1972 and Georgia in 1983) and one of 12 coaches to take reach the Final Four at two schools. Durham also is one of just 10 coaches to achieve 200 wins at two Division I schools and the only one to be the winningest coach at three major universities.

“You stop and see the people being inducted around you and you reflect about why are you included in such an elite group,” Durham said. “It’s a great feeling, but it really is a surprise. When you’re a coach, you think about the reasons you’re inducted. If you didn’t win games, you wouldn’t be inducted. If you didn’t have good players, you wouldn’t win games. If you didn’t have good assistants, you didn’t have good players. If you didn’t have an administration that wanted you to do well, then you wouldn’t have good assistants. That’s the long way of saying there are so many people you represent when you’re enshrined. I reflect back on that and the relationships really are special.  Those are such special parts of coaching and I’m proud to have been a coach for such a long time.”

Durham took Georgia to the Final Four in its first-ever National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Tournament appearance in 1983. The Bulldogs were the “Other Cinderella” of the 1983 NCAAs, defeating St. John’s and North Carolina to win the East Regional before falling to eventual champion N.C. State in the semifinals in Albuquerque, NM.   Durham also directed the Bulldogs to their first Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament and Regular-Season Championships in 1983 and ’90 respectively.

After serving as an assistant coach at FSU for seven seasons, Durham became the Seminoles head coach at age 29. In only his second season, he led FSU to its first NCAA Tournament behind famous center Dave Cowens, who later helped the Boston Celtics win two National Basketball Association (NBA) titles. Then in 1972, Durham coached Florida State to its greatest basketball season ever.  The Seminoles finished 27-6, shocking the college basketball world by advancing to the championship game where they lost to the then-top collegiate powerhouse UCLA, 81-76. 

Durham was named as a conference coach of the year five times in his career and was Sports Illustrated’s “National Coach of The Half Season” midway through the 1987-88 campaign.  The National Coach of The Year Award for a mid-major collegiate school coach is named in Durham’s honor.

Durham, perhaps, also could be inducted into the Collegiate Hall of Fame as a basketball player.  He remains one of the top players in FSU history.  His career average of 18.9 points per game and his 21.9 points per game in 1958-59 are both among the school’s best marks.   Durham scored 1,381 points during his three-year varsity career from his guard position.

In 1959, he graduated from Florida State with a B.A. in business administration. He also earned an M.B.A. from Florida State in 1961.

Durham has the unique distinction of being inducted into six Sports Halls of Fame.  Other Hall of Fame’s in which he’s enshrined include:  Florida State University (1990); Kentucky High School (1994); State of Florida (1999); State of Georgia (2009); and State of Kentucky (2012). 

A Lyndon, KY native, Durham is married to the former Malinda Dixon of Jacksonville, FL.  They have three sons– David, Doug and Jim—and six grandchildren.   Doug was named as a National Assistant Basketball Coach of The Year while coaching as an assistant for his father at Jacksonville.  They also coached against each other as head coaches during the 1994-95 season.  Hugh’s Georgia Bulldogs beat Doug’s Georgia Southern University Eagles, 87-57. 

Durham’s most noted player at Georgia, forward Dominique Wilkins, also was inducted in the 2016 Hall of Fame Class—a rare feat for a coach and player from the same school to be enshrined the same year.  Ironically, the Durham-Wilkins Hall of Fame inductions have another High Country-Avery County connection besides the fact Durham lives here.  Roger Banks, the last head basketball coach at old Newland High and the first at Avery High, was an assistant coach and chief recruiter for Durham for three seasons at Georgia.  Banks, who currently lives in Linville Falls, recruited and signed Wilkins to play for Georgia.

Known as the “Human Highlight Film,” Wilkins was an SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press and United Press International in 1981 and a two-time All-American.  He helped the 1980-81 Georgia Bulldogs to the National Invitation Tournament, the Bulldogs’ first-ever postseason bid. The following season (’81-’82), Wilkins led Georgia to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Like Cowens, Wilkins already is inducted in the Naismith (Professional) Basketball Hall of Fame (2006), mainly for his stellar play with the Atlanta Hawks.  He enjoyed an illustrious professional career that included being a nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection. Wilkins left the University of Georgia following three seasons to enter the NBA Draft. He was then Georgia’s career scoring leader with 1,688 points and remains No. 4 among the Bulldogs’ top all-time scorers.

“Dominique had so much to do with establishing Georgia Basketball,” Durham said. “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to be inducted with him.  It’s a well deserved honor.”

Other enshrines in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 include: players Mark Aguirre (DePaul), Bob Boozer (Kansas State), Doug Collins (Illinois State), Lionel Simmons (La Salle) and Jamaal Wilkes (UCLA) and coach Mike Montgomery (Montana, Stanford and California).

The National Collegiate Basketball of Fame is located in the College Basketball Experience (CBE), a world-class experiential entertainment facility adjacent to Kansas City’s Sprint Center. The Class of 2016 is the 11th in the Hall of Fame’s history.

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