Hoop Heroes

Published 9:38 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

Nate McMillian (second from left) is presented his retired #23 jersey from Chowan University President Dr. Chris White (right) and Athletic Director Ozzie McFarland (left). Also pictured is McMillian’s wife, Michelle. | Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

Nate McMillian (second from left) is presented his retired #23 jersey from Chowan University President Dr. Chris White (right) and Athletic Director Ozzie McFarland (left). Also pictured is McMillian’s wife, Michelle. | Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

MURFREESBORO – What does Nate McMillian have in common with Michael Jordan, Don Mattingly and Bob Gainey?

The athletic jersey numbers they all once wore now hang in the rafters…or in Mattlingly’s case, on an outfield wall.

McMillian joined that elite “#23” company on Saturday when Chowan University honored him along with his running mates from the 1983-84 men’s basketball team, one that reached the Final Four of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). His old Chowan Braves jersey took its rightful place among the multiple banners now hanging inside the Helms Center that honor past and present champions.

Each member of Chowan’s 1983-84 men’s basketball team received a watch to commemorate their record-setting accomplishments that season.

Each member of Chowan’s 1983-84 men’s basketball team received a watch to commemorate their record-setting accomplishments that season.

“This is such an honor,” said McMillian as he stood with his wife, Michelle (also a Chowan graduate), on the court during halftime of Saturday’s CIAA game vs. Bowie State.

McMillian, a native of Raleigh, recalls the day his older brother, Randolph, drove him to Murfreesboro.

“He dropped me off at Parker Hall; I was lost….I remember being scared as I watched my brother and his wife leave for their trip back to Raleigh. I stood there wondering what I was going to do….it was my first time being away from home and I felt all alone.”

Fortunately for McMillian, his athletic ability on the basketball court and his quest to gain a higher education served him well.

“The next two years were the best of my life,” he said. “There are a lot of great memories for me here on this campus and here inside the Helms Center. It was here that I met my wife, who worked in the basketball office. It was here that I developed such a strong bond with my coach, Bob Burke, and with these guys standing behind me here this afternoon (several members of the 83-84 Chowan team were in attendance).”

McMillian praised Coach Burke for giving him the opportunity to further develop his basketball skills – hard work that eventually landed him an athletic scholarship at NC State University under the legendary Jim Valvano and later as the second round draft pick of the Seattle Supersonics…where he spent 19 seasons as a player and then as the head coach. Note: McMillian’s #10 jersey that he wore at NC State and with Seattle are also now retired.

“Coach Burke brought out the best in me athletically, and Chap (now retired Chowan Chaplin Dr. Hargus Taylor) brought out the best in me academically….I love you guys,” McMillian stressed.

The retirement of McMillian’s jersey is a first in the long and storied history of Chowan (College) University athletics.

The 1983-84 men’s basketball team was one of the most successful during the coach Bob Burke era. The squad posted a 30-9 record that year while earning Eastern Conference Championship and NJCAA Region X Championship titles, and made a trip to the NJCAA Sweet Sixteen and NJCAA Final Four.

That squad is the only Chowan men’s basketball team to reach the 30-game win mark and earned the highest finish of any Chowan team in a national tournament.

Along with McMillian, members of the 1983-84 team include Bruce Banks, Tracy Battle, Dave Burgess, Jerome Cooper, Jim Dillard, Greg Hollingsworth, Clifton Lynch, Mike Moore, Frank Parker, Scott Reece, John Thomas, Sam Tyson, and Todd Wright, along with assistant coach Ken Bunker, manager Bayard Taylor, and head coach Bob Burke.

Burgess averaged 13.4 points and eight rebounds per game while Thomas led the country in field goal percentage with 71.3% while averaging 12 points per game from the floor.

McMillan, a current assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers, averaged a triple-double that season; the only Brave to do so. He broke his own assist record that same season with 411 assists on the year while averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per contest.

After competing for Chowan from 1982-84, McMillan transferred to North Carolina State University and went on to play professionally for the Supersonics. He posted four career triple-doubles during his professional playing career, and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice (1993-94, 1994-95.

After leaving Seattle, McMillian took the head coaching reins of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2005 and stayed with the team until 2012. Additionally, he served as an assistant coach under Mike Kryzyzewski for the United States National Team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. He is currently an assistant coach for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

McMillian is a member of the NJCAA Basketball Hall of Fame and the Jim Garrison Hall of Fame.

Saturday night at a dinner held at the Pond Football Center, Chowan University recognized McMillan and his wife as Distinguished Alumni. Both graduated from Chowan in 1984.

That event also featured a big surprise as Hollingsworth dropped to one knee and proposed to his fiancé Shannon Flowers. By the way, she said yes.

At the dinner, each member of the 83-84 team – to include coaches Burke and Bunker along with Dr. Taylor – received a watch, commemorating their success on the court that year.

“This was a fantastic team…thank you guys for making my life a bit extra special,” said Burke. “You guys made a big impact on the town of Murfreesboro. There were people standing shoulder to shoulder inside Milton’s Pizza (now Napoli’s) and spilling out on the street listening to those games on the radio.”

Burke recalled the 1984 national tournament, saying it helped put Chowan and Murfreesboro on the map.

“The people out there in Kansas really took a liking to us because of the way we hustled and played as a team,” he said. “Had it not been for Dillard breaking his wrist on a hard foul in our very first game (a victory), we could have won the whole thing. It was an unbelievable run.”

Although he lives by the team concept, Burke said McMillian is deserving to have his Chowan jersey retired.

“But he sweated just like the rest of our players; we played no favoritism,” Burke noted. “But what it did was open the door for others to follow who came in and said they wanted to be like Nate.

“You also need to be reminded that the other players from that 83-84 team went on to have great careers as they finished their careers at four-year schools,” Burke recalled, citing Hollingsworth’s outstanding effort at the University of South Florida; and ditto for Moore at West Liberty University, Battle at George Mason University, and Burgess at Virginia Tech.

As a measure of his love for the 83-84 team, Burke presented each with a DVD copy (of the old VHS tapes) of all four games Chowan played in the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas as well as a copy of their team and individual photos.

He also presented Bunker with a “special” sideline photo snapped of he and Burke from one of their games.

“I love all you guys; we are Chowan,” Burke concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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