Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Wake Forest's Dickie Hemric

    
January 5th, 2011

In the most recent installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Wake Forest great Dickie Hemric. Hemric, who remains the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, is also the ACCs all-time leading rebounder. His point total led the NCAA until Oscar Robinson passed him and in 2003 he was named one of the 50 greatest players in ACC history. 

Jon Teitel: Freshmen were eligible for the varsity in 1951 due to the Korean War and you averaged 22 points and 18.6 rebounds per game in your first season at Wake Forest. How were you able to come in and contribute from the start, and was there any family pressure to follow five of your older siblings into the military?

Dickie Hemric: I was the last of the eligible siblings to get a deferment to go to college. I just got a chance to play when I got there, and I took advantage of it. I later joined the Army Reserves and received an honorable discharge.

JT: Horace "Bones" McKinney joined the staff as an assistant the following year, and would spend time with you after practice working on your hook shot and footwork. What made him such a great coach and how much impact did he have on your success?

DH: Bones taught me a tremendous amount of basketball knowledge, and I give him credit for so much of my contribution that year. We won the SoCon title, which was based on winning the conference tourney.

JT: What are your memories of the 1953 SoCon Tournament final at NC State (Hemric scored 16 points in a one-point upset win that snapped the Wolfpack's streak of six straight conference tourney titles)?

DH: My memories are very vivid. It was a close game the entire way, and Jim DeVos missed two free throws with 10 seconds left that would have won it. NC State rebounded his second miss but they threw it right to us, and the clock ran out to allow us to win.

1953 NCAA Tournament

JT: You scored 29 points and had 17 rebounds in an eight-point loss to Holy Cross (who was led by Togo Palazzi with 32 points and 12 rebounds). How close did you come to winning that game, and did Palazzi remind you of that game after you became his teammate with the Celtics a couple of years later?

DH: There were only 16 teams in the tourney back then, as there were only 16 conferences. We had beaten Holy Cross in the Dixie Classic the previous December. Togo did not rub it in. I guess we both wanted to forget each other's loss!

JT: You scored 29 points and had 18 rebounds in a win over Lebanon Valley in the East Region consolation game. Was it hard to get motivated after losing your previous game?

DH: I do not think so. We wanted to win them all.

JT: In the summer of 1953 Wake Forest and six other SoCon teams left to form the ACC. How big a deal was it at the time, and what was the biggest difference between the two conferences?

DH: The upbeat quality of play was different, as the teams that left the SoCon were the better teams. We were playing against a top-ranked team every night, both home and away. Since we were playing in a smaller league we were also able to play more non-conference games.

JT: In 1954 you scored 44 points against Duke while playing on a broken foot. How were you able to play so well despite the injury?

DH: I hurt it against St. Joe's and just thought it was a sprained ankle. Duke orthopedic surgeon Doc Baker gave me an X-ray and discovered that it was broken after all. He shot me up with Novocaine so that I could not feel the pain, which is why it did not affect me that night.

JT: What are your memories of the 1954 ACC Tournament final (you scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds in a two-point overtime loss to NC State)?

DH: That game has been debated for years due to some controversial non-foul calls after our guy got hammered twice in the final seconds. Vic Molodet later admitted that he got away with one that night!

JT: In 1955 you scored 35 points and had 20 rebounds in a two-point win over West Virginia in the highest-scoring game in Dixie Classic history, while West Virginia All-American "Hot Rod" Hundley scored a Dixie Classic-record 47 points in defeat. Where does Hundley rank among the best players you ever saw, and could you tell at the time that he was going to become a star?

DH: Hot Rod was recruited heavily by NC State and spent a great amount of time in Raleigh. He later had a big-game on the road against NC State, and called out to head coach Everett Case "Home court, coach. Home court!", as it seemed like he was very comfortable shooting from different spots on their court. He was great right from the start.

JT: In 1955 you passed Furman's Frank Selvy to become the NCAA's career scoring leader. Did you feel like you were the best player in college basketball history?

DH: I never did take the achievement to that level, as I honestly did not realize the prominence it had. I remember the night I broke Selvy's record. We were playing at Clemson, and after I made the record-setting basket they stopped the game. Clemson AD Frank Howard presented me with the basketball, which I still have to this day. Oscar Robertson came along and broke my record a few years later, and it probably sunk in more at that time. In our day we did not have a lot of media to remind us of these things: we just had a couple of newspaper/radio guys. Before Tyler Hansbrough broke my NCAA record for most free throws made, it had not been written up much. I got more press the week that JJ Redick broke my ACC scoring record than I had received in the previous 51 years! ESPN even sent a crew to my house to do an interview that was aired during the countdown to JJ breaking the record.

JT: You were a two-time ACC Player of the Year and two-time All-American. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?

DH: It meant a lot. I was a two-time SoCon All-Tournament pick and a two-time ACC All-Tournament pick when you add it all up. My senior year I was named ACC Athlete of the Year, but the honor that meant the most was in 2003 when I was named one of the Top 50 athletes in ACC history. Even today I carry that with me very close. It is very humbling for an old country boy from Jonesville, NC!

JT: Your ACC scoring record and NCAA free throw record have each been broken during the past decade, but your 1,802 rebounds remains an ACC record and 6th in NCAA history. Do you think anyone will ever break your record, and what was your secret for rebounding?

DH: There are a variety of factors: positioning, lower-body strength, techniques to box out your opponent, timing, etc. My teammate Billy Lyles said that he helped me break the record because he could not make a field goal! I was 6'6", which was a pretty good-sized individual back then. I was not the tallest, but I was up there.

JT: In the summer of 1955 you were drafted 10th overall by Boston (two spots behind Jack Twyman). Did you see that as a validation of your college career or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA?

DH: The former. I just took it as it came and never set a goal of making the NBA. I simply wanted to go as far as my ability would take me. I started playing basketball in the 8th grade and did not make the varsity team until the 10th grade. When I started something, I gave it all I had. Wake Forest was the only real school of any renown that recruited me. I went to NC State and worked out against some of their players, as it was legal back then. Coaches did not have to "buy a pig in the poke"!

JT: What was it like to play on those legendary Celtics teams coached by Red Auerbach and featuring Hall of Famers like Bob Cousy and Bill Russell?

DH: It was the epitome of my career, as I won a championship ring. At the time it did not seem that outstanding, but it dawned on me afterwards. I wish I could have been taller, as I was too small to play down low as a PF/C.

JT: In 1957 you had a two-point double overtime win over St. Louis in Game 7 of the Finals to win an NBA title with Boston. Was that the most exciting game you have ever been a part of, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?

DH: It was in St. Louis. Naturally, it is always a splendid experience to celebrate winning a title. Game 3 of that series was also exciting, as Auerbach punched St. Louis owner Ben Kerner after an argument about the height of the basket! I can always say I was on the first-ever ACC champion, I held the record for most points in NCAA history, and I got to play on the first-ever Celtics championship team.

JT: When people look back on your career how do you want to be remembered the most?

DH: I hope they remember me as a team person who was humble about his accomplishments on and off the court. Life has been good to me, and I appreciate all the opportunities I have received. I tried to set a good example for others to follow, and had the foresight to realize that college is more than just sports. They did not have to make me go to class, as my parents sent me there to get an education and graduate.

Hemric is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in ACC history.

Boston College: Troy Bell (2003) 2632 PTS (#1), 272 STL (#2), 300 3PM (#1), 86.8 FT% (#1), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY

Clemson: Terrell McIntyre (1999) 1839 PTS (#2), 577 AST (#3), 194 STL (#2), 259 3PM (#1)

Duke: Christian Laettner (1992) 2460 PTS (#2), 1149 REB (#2), 243 STL (#5), 145 BLK (#5), 48.5 3P% (#1), 3-time All-American, conference POY, national POY, NCAA MOP

Florida State: Bob Sura (1995) 2130 PTS (#1), 435 AST (#5), 209 STL (#3), 214 3PM (#2), 2-time All-American

Georgia Tech: Mark Price (1986) 2193 PTS (#3), 240 STL (#1), 44 3P% (#1), 85 FT% (#1), 3-time All-American

Maryland: Juan Dixon (2002) 2269 PTS (#1), 333 STL (#2), 239 3PM (#1), 85 FT% (#3), 2-time All-American, conference POY, NCAA MOP

Miami (FL): Rick Barry (1965) 2298 PTS (#1), 1274 REB (#1), All-American

North Carolina: Tyler Hansbrough (2009) 2872 PTS (#1), 1219 REB (#1), 4-time All-American, conference POY, national POY

NC State: David Thompson (1975) 2309 PTS (#2), 3-time All-American, 3-time conference POY, 2-time national POY, NCAA MOP

Virginia: Ralph Sampson (1983) 2228 PTS (#4), 1511 REB (#1), 462 BLK (#1), 4-time All-American, 3-time conference POY, 3-time national POY, NIT MVP

Virginia Tech: Dell Curry (1986) 2389 PTS (#2), 407 AST (#4), 295 STL (#1), All-American, conference POY

Wake Forest: Dickie Hemric (1955) 2587 PTS (#1), 1802 REB (#1), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY