Berry Tramel

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Eddie Sutton's wait continues for the Basketball Hall of Fame

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 8, 2014 at 11:20 am •  Published: April 7, 2014

Legendary Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton was honored at half time of an NCAA college basketball game between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Iowa State at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The event was proclaimed "Eddie Sutton Night" in honor of Sutton's years of coaching the Cowboys. Photo by KT King, The Oklahoman
Legendary Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton was honored at half time of an NCAA college basketball game between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Iowa State at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The event was proclaimed "Eddie Sutton Night" in honor of Sutton's years of coaching the Cowboys. Photo by KT King, The Oklahoman

Eddie Sutton didn’t make the Basketball Hall of Fame, which announced Monday announced its 2014 class. Some were surprised. I’m surprised that anyone would be surprised.

I thought we had been over this. The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., is an octopus. Many arms going in different directions.

College basketball coaches have been well-represented in Springfield over the years.

Gary Williams and Nolan Richardson were part of the 10-person class this season. They bring, by my count, the number of college coaches inducted to 54. That’s in the men’s game. That’s not counting women’s basketball or the NBA or the international game. And that’s not counting Larry Brown, Chuck Daly and Jack Ramsay, all highly-successful in the college game but who also won championships coaching in the NBA.

That’s why I remember what Oscar Robertson told me many years ago. It’s high time, he said, that they start putting basketball players in the basketball hall of fame.

Of the 10 inductees named Monday, one was a team (Immaculata women, 1972-74), three were coaches (Williams, Richardson and Bob “Slick” Leonard of the old ABA) and one was an administrator (David Stern).

The players inducted were Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Sweetwater Clifton, Guy Rodgers and Sarunas Marciulionis.

So several things are going on. Lots of college coaches inducted over the years, but lots of political pressure to induct others, because of that largesse.

And also the accepted knowledge that the Basketball Hall of Fame had a distinctly Eastern bias. I always harp on Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s being in the Hall of Fame, but he’s not alone. Not by a longshot. Howard Cann of New York University, Ben Carnevale of Navy, Frank Keaney of Rhode Island, George Keogan of Notre Dame (which might as well be East Coast) and Harry Litwack of Temple are example of Springfield’s good ol’ boy network.

So while the Hall of Fame still inducts college coaches, its criteria is more streamlined these days. More people are watching.

Thus someone like Sutton will be judged against the likes of Williams and Richardson, and Sutton’s lack of an NCAA championship will harm his candidacy. Williams won with Maryland in 2002, Richardson with Arkansas in 1994. But Sutton’s three Final Four teams (Arkansas 1978, OSU 1995, OSU 2004) all lost in the semifinals. That matters.

Plus Sutton’s NCAA scandal at Kentucky will turn off voters. Williams and Richardson (and frankly most coaches) will have their scrapes, but the Kentucky scandal, which made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989, back when that carried weight, hangs over Sutton. Until Billy Gillispie’s disastrous tenure (2007-09), Sutton was the only Kentucky coach since 1930 without an NCAA title.

Sutton still has loads of positives: 804 college victories, three Final Fours, the first coach to take four schools to the NCAA Tournament, built the program at Arkansas, restored the program at his alma, Oklahoma State.

Sutton was inducted into Kansas City’s College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. That Hall of Fame has been inducting college hoops greats since 2006. But it’s already inducted 78 coaches.

That’s a lot of competition. Sutton might still get into Springfield one day. But he might not.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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