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2008, March 9: Projo.com: Providence College Honors Three Friar Legends (Jimmy Walker)

June 24, 2008

March 9, 2008 — PC will never see the likes of Ernie D, Marvin, Jimmy
again… There was a certain irony in the fact that Providence College
honored three of their greatest basketball players over the weekend,
first at a Friday-night dinner at The Westin Providence, and last night
at a halftime ceremony during the Friars-Villanova game.
Jimmy Walker.
Ernie DiGregorio.
Marvin Barnes.
And what is the one common thread they all share, save the fact they were all great players?
They are the kind of players the Friars don’t get anymore.
They don’t get Barnes and DiGregorio for the simple fact that here it
is 35 years after their run to the Final Four and those players simply
don’t exist, two local kids who grew up dreaming of playing for PC and
then became All-Americans. Take away Joe Hassett, another local kid who
came along a year after the Final Four and had his own great career,
and a Rhode Island kid has never had anywhere near the impact these two
had.
And Walker?
It’s long been a part of PC lore how the Friars got Walker, the Boston
kid no one had ever heard of, stashed away at a small black prep school
in the North Carolina mountains called Laurinburg that no one had ever
heard of. But PC had recruited a Boston kid named Bill Blair, who just
happened to be Walker’s cousin, and when Blair’s mother came to PC to
drop her son off at school, she essentially said, yeah, my son’s good,
but my nephew’s better.
Could you make this up?
Of course not.
But it was just one of those wonderful stories that PC’s great
basketball tradition had been built on, the sleeper kids, the kids who
came out of nowhere, the kind of kids Dave Gavitt always said made
their reputation at PC, not before.
Walker was the poster child.
Now?
Now these kids don’t exist. Not in the same way, anyhow. Showcase
camps. Innumerable AAU tournaents. Endless recruiting lists full of
every kid who has made two jumpers in a row. The Global Village. All
have contributed to the dearth of sleepers. To the point that everyone
knows everybody.
And Laurinburg?
The small prep school in the North Carolina mountains that no one ever heard of?
Sometimes it seems as if half of Memphis’ roster comes from Laurinburg,
to the point that few years ago when Laurinburg used to be referred to
in basketball circles as John Calipari’s jayvee team.
The point of all this?
If it’s a different world now than it was back there in the early ’70s,
it’s a different basketball world, too. And not just because there are
so few sleepers anymore, the kind that PC’s tradition was built on.
Case in point: There are two Rhode Island kids who have been big-time
recruits this season, Eric Murphy, a 6-foot-9 kid from South Kingstown
who plays at St. Mark’s, and Mike Marra, a 6-5 shooter from Smithfield
who is at Northfield-Mt. Hermon. Marra recently picked Louisville over
the Friars, and Murphy picked Florida over a list that has six other
schools on it, none of them the Friars.
They have come of age in a different basketball world than the one
Ernie and Marvin came of age in, back when the Friars were the big dog
in New England, back when they were the only team in New England
playing any kind of national schedule, back when Providence was the
spiritual center of New England basketball and nothing else really came
close.
They have come of age when national tournaments take them all over the
country in ways unimaginable 30 years ago, one in which geography means
little, and they have options that local kids didn’t have a generation
ago. Have come of age in a basketball world where the Friars last made
a serious run in the NCAA Tournament 11 years ago, which when you’re 17
might as well have been in the Middle Ages.
Or as Marra said when asked whether he knew that Rick Pitino had once
coached the Friars to the Final Four, "yeah, but I wasn’t born then."
That’s what’s easy to forget, the fact that time is a river always moving downstream, changing everything, even basketball.
Which is not to say the Friars can’t be successful in the Big East,
even if history tells us that it’s difficult. It?s not to say the glory
days are all gone, that this is a program all about memories now. It is
not to say the Friars always have to be just another program struggling
in a difficult Big East that routinely crushes so many preseason
dreams.
If PC’s past tells us anything, it’s that anything’s possible, this
incredible story that began a half-century ago and still continues,
even as everything keeps changing around it.
And who could have made up Ernie and Marvin?
Who could have made up Jimmy Walker?
But it is to say this is now a different world than the one that was
honored at the dinner in the Westin Friday night, a night in which the
storied past was a living thing, a night when the memories ran around
the room the way the ’73 Friars used to run up and down the new court
in the Civic Center in that long-ago winter. It’s to say that
Providence College now lives in such a different basketball world, a
more complicated one, where everyone’s trying to win big and common
sense tells us that not everyone can.
Jimmy Walker.
Ernie DiGregorio.
Marvin Barnes.
Their names may now may be hanging in the rafters of The Dunk.
But they aren’t walking through the door anymore.
By Bill Reynolds
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

March 9, 2008 — PC honors 3 of its very best: Walker, Barnes, DiGregorio…
PROVIDENCE – Their stars shown brightest 35 years ago and this weekend Marvin Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio became Friars Forever.

A weekend of events honoring Barnes, DiGregorio and the late Jimmy
Walker wrapped up last night at halftime when the names and uniform
numbers of the three legends were unveiled in the rafters of the
Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Barnes, DiGregorio and members of Walker’s family took the floor along
with coach Dave Gavitt and school president, the Rev. Brian Shanley.
The largest hand from the sellout crowd came at the mention of Walker’s
name and when Shanley saluted the 1973 Final Four team. Their was also
a video message from Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, the only other player
whose name is in the rafters.

On Friday night, the three players were honored at a 600-person dinner
at the downtown Westin Hotel. The dinner lasted three and a half hour
and featured extensive video highlights of all three players. Former
NBA star Mike Riordan introduced Walker, his teammate at PC in the
mid-1960s. Kevin Stacom and Alan Baker, teammates on the 1973 Final
Four team, introduced DiGregorio and Barnes and a load of light-hearted
remarks kept the crowd laughing.

DiGregorio spoke for a little more than a half hour and went out of his
way to thank PC fans and express his love for Barnes, Gavitt and all of
his teammates.

"Playing at Providence College was my dream. That’s what I worked so
hard for," said the former NBA Rookie of the Year. "To have my name in
the rafters of the Civic Center is the ultimate reward for working so
hard."

Barnes had the crowd in stitches with his comical speech which
emphasized the bond he shares with DiGregorio and Stacom, who
transferred to PC from Holy Cross.

"Ernie was a little nervous about Kevin coming in," said Barnes. "He
said, "Marvin, the priests are Irish, the athletic director is Irish. I
think they’re trying to phase out the blacks and the Italians." "

But Barnes assured Ernie D. he didn’t need to worry about playing time.
"Coach [Gavitt] used to say if I don’t play Ernie, I’d get shot. If I
don’t play Marvin, I?’l get stabbed," said Barnes.

Barnes, who cracked that he "was a part of two great institutions in
Rhode Island, PC and the ACI," also addressed his well-publicized
substance-abuse problems with loads of self-deprecating humor. He
introduced his mother, his sister and other family members and thanked
them for their patience through his troubles.

"They say it takes it a village to raise a child. It took me a whole state. State police, DEA, everyone," he said.

Both Barnes and DiGregorio praised Walker, who led the nation in
scoring 1967 and is regarded as the premier player in PC’s long
history. "When Jimmy Walker came on, everyone in Providence got to a
TV. He was the best. I wanted to be him," said Barnes, who wore
Walker’s number 24 in his honor.

PC coach Tim Welsh did not participate in Friday night’s events. Welsh
mixed with fans before the dinner but spent Friday night preparing for
the Villanova game.

Tie game – as it should be

More than 100 basketball alumni returned to town to celebrate with
Barnes and DiGregorio. The players hit The Dunk floor yesterday
afternoon for an alumni game and battled to a 56-56 tie. The White team
trailed the Black by more than 10 points but Coach Ernie D shuffled his
lineup and saw some hot late shooting by Joey Hassett, Keith Lomax and
David Frye help grab the lead. The White team was also helped by a
technical foul assessed to Barnes for having seven players on the floor.

The Black team didn’t quit, however, and three free throws by Donnie
Brown with six seconds left tied the score. The players were too tired
to stage an overtime. Hassett and Brown were named team MVP’s.

BY KEVIN McNAMARA – Journal Sports Writer
kmcnamar@projo.com