Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nobody more Deserving

Later today, Jim Phelan will be enshrined in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City.

He'll be part of the third induction class and he'll take his 830 wins and 49-year career as head coach of Mt. St. Mary's into the Hall with him.

He'll be enshrined with names that many sports fans around the country are more familiar with. Danny Manning, Charles Barkley, Nolan Richardson, Billy Packer and Dick Vitale are all more recognizable to many. Utah's Arnie Ferrin is the final inductee.

But none are more deserving than Jim Phelan.

For years, Phelan was the guy who made the little team in the little town go. For generations, he was simply the coach. His teams won game after game, a College Division National Title in 1962, and reached the NCAA Division I tournament on two occasions after he watched his program bump from DII to the next level.

He had other opportunities. He could have taken a job elsewhere. Could have moved his family from the small town of Emmitsburg, just south of the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. Could have gone to a school or a pro organization that could have paid him more than they could have Mt. St. Mary's. But he never did.

Instead, he stayed for 49 years. 49 years in one place touching the lives of all those young men. Many of them returned for his final game when he finally called it a career a few years ago.

As a Mount fan, I couldn't be happier. This type of award, this type of recognition is so deserved. I love the game of basketball and if it weren't for Jim Phelan, I'm not sure I would.

As a kid, I lived for Mt. St. Mary's games. I remember that old Memorial Gymnasium and the crowds that certainly the fire marshalls could have never approved. I remember the streamers all over the floor after the first bucket.

The players were different each year, but the Coach was always the same. The memories that I have of those games and those times are fabulous. An offensive oriented basketball team that played the game hard, and won so often. The Division II playoffs and a quest to make another Final Four trip to Springfield, Massachusetts always seemed on the agenda.

He was fiery on the bench. His teams resembled that on the floor. He had a way of recognizing talent that others marveled at. He could simply identify it quickly.

As a family, we saw many Mount games. And we often took other families to games along with us on a Saturday night. I'll never forget when one night, when another mother compared Jim Phelan to Joe Paterno. It made perfect sense to me. Two individuals performing at the same school for a long period of time, and doing things the way you'd want things to be done. With class and honor.

But as time wore on, I started to think of Phelan more as a Cal Ripken type. For two reasons, again for the longevity of what was going on, and for the fact that all the accomplishments were done with a total respect for the game and the other players in it.

And Phelan had done what Ripken had done for me. He had earned my respect on the playing field, but he had also earned it off the floor. Talk to one of Phelan's former players and you know he's a Hall-of-Famer.

Jim Phelan took me on a journey. He made the game fun. He produced teams that played an exciting brand of basketball and played hard. It was fun when they won and tough when the lost. But you knew that you'd always get a top notch effort out of Phelan's teams.

He's been a hall of famer for a long time. Tonight he gets the recognition he deserves.

Stand up and cheer for Jim Phelan today, the College Basketball world shines on him and the other inductees today. The rest of the college basketball community is getting to share what we've known in the Mount community for such a long time. That Jim Phelan is more than deserving of this recognition.

Congratulations Coach, but most of all, Thank you for putting Mt. St. Mary's on the college basketball world map to stay.

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