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Vol. 49, No. 3 March 2012 .pdf version
Most Courageous Award presented for 35th time
By JOE MITCH / Missouri Valley Conference
This year marks the 35th time the USBWA has presented its Most Courageous Award, which ranks as the third-oldest award in the USBWA's 56-year history. The two longest are the association's national player and coach of the year awards.
First presented in 1978, the Most Courageous Award has honored individuals in college basketball who have shown extraordinary courage in the face of adversity and provided an inspiration by overcoming a physical handicap or injury or living through a hardship.
Originally, only one award was presented each year, but since 2010, the USBWA has selected both a male and female recipient annually.
The award was created by former president and later executive director Steve Guback. It has remained a highlight of the USBWA's annual awards breakfast on the morning of the men's and women's national title games.
"I was elected president of the USBWA and wanted the organization to expand its horizons," Guback said. "I was looking for ways to get the membership more involved.
"I was also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and they had a courage award that was lingering. I thought it was a good idea and that we could do better. So we adopted it and did better as 35 years and the list of recipients shows."
The first award winner was John Kratzer, a cancer victim who played basketball at William & Mary.
That was followed in 1979 when a one-armed player named Bill Wanstrath at Batesville High School in Indiana was selected. The next year, in 1980, another cancer victim was chosen Niagara's Phi Scaffidi.
It was in 1981 that the award took off and began to receive national recognition.
Mark Alcorn, a transfer from Saint Louis University who was a walk-on at LSU, was the recipient that season. He was diagnosed with cancer during the season and, although seldom-used, he came back to play for the Tigers after beginning cancer treatment.
The president of the USBWA at the time Bill Brill of the Roanoke Times & World News -- presented Alcorn with the courage award at the USBWA's annual awards breakfast. The entire LSU team and coach Dale Brown were in the audience to be there for their teammate. A few hours later, those same LSU players played in the consolation game at the NCAA Final Four in Philadelphia.
"Even cynical reporters were moved by the sight of all the Tigers leading the applause for their stricken teammate," wrote past USBWA president John Feinstein inhis book, The Last Dance. Behind the Scenes at the Final Four. Alcorn died a few months after receiving his award, on Valentine's Day.
There have been winners who have had to learn to live with a handicap: Virginia Tech's Rayne DuBose (2003), who lost parts of all four limbs due to a spinal cord bacterial infection; South Carolina's James Bradley (2002), deaf since he was 18 months old; Landon Turner (1989), paralyzed from a car accident a few months after leading the Indiana Hoosiers to a national championship; Mike Sutton (2006), current Tennessee Tech coach who continued to coach from a wheelchair while battling the paralyzing effects of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; and Tiffara Steward (2010) who at 4-foot-6 was thought to be shortest collegiate player ever and battled multiple permanent disabilities including blindness in one eye and 50 percent hearing loss while playing at Farmingdale (N.Y.) College.
Some recipients have had to deal with bigotry or racial hatred. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, the 2011 women's award winner, was believed to be the first Muslim woman to play in Division I with her arms and hair covered during games for Memphis.
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson spoke of the racial prejudice he faced while growing up and then having to deal with the death of his daughter due to leukemia when he was coaching. Richardson openly wept at the dais while accepting the award on the morning his team played for the national championship that evening in 1995.
The Most Courageous Award is one of the most coveted awards given by the USBWA. This year's recipients Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and Florida State's Bernard James follow in a long line of recipients who have been honored for the courage they've shown dealing with what life has brought them.
We thank Steve Guback for making this award happen over three decades ago.
USBWA to honor Dave Gavitt at Monday morning breakfast
The late Dave Gavitt will be honored at the USBWA's annual Monday morning breakfast for being a friend of the media and the USBWA as well as a basketball visionary.
In 1988, the group that governed USA basketball announced that the U.S. Olympic basketball trials would be closed to the media. Gavitt's intervention led directly to a pool arrangement that gave reporters rotating access to the trials, which was a huge improvement over the initial plan.
Gavitt also allowed far more open coverage of the 1992 Dream Team that he helped compile for the Barcelona Olympics.
As chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee from 1982-84, Gavitt took the lead in providing the media with information about the selection and seeding process at a time when the NCAA was far more secretive about such details.
Gavitt also was extremely accessible during his term from 1979-90 as commissioner of the Big East Conference, which he founded.
In a column, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe recalled a tale of Gavitt's hospitality:
"Phoenix Suns honcho Jerry Colangelo was there to scout Tony Hanson, as I recall. I was on hand to cover the Providence-Connecticut game.
"When it was over, Dave Gavitt, then in the middle of his memorable tenure as coach of the Providence Friars, said, Come on back to the house. I'll fix us something to eat. I used to be a short-order cook in Peterborough, N.H.'
"Sounded good to us.
"We arrived at the house, but there was a little problem. The coach had forgotten his keys. He rang the bell, or banged on the door, or whatever, and before long, Julie Gavitt came shuffling out in her bathrobe and slippers. She let us in, and the look on her face said, I've been here before.'
"Chef Gavitt delivered eggs, bacon, and toast, as promised, and it was pretty good. But the food was secondary to the basketball talk. Dave Gavitt was always good for great basketball talk."
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