PEMBROKE — Basketball season ended at the English E. Jones Center on The University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus in February, but basketball greats still took center stage at the gym on Thursday night.
Former ACC coaches Les Robinson and Bobby Cremins, along with former UNC basketball player Eric Montross spoke in a panel discussion led by UNCP alumnus Newy Scruggs, the sports director at KXAS in Dallas, Texas, as a part of the the 2017 UNCP Cash Bash. The event is the UNCP athletics department’s top fundraising event.
The night was filled with stories of battles on the court and anecdotes from the recruiting trail, from the coaches, one of which had a close connection to UNCP’s administration.
Robinson along with being a former coach at N.C. State was also the school’s athletics director and played an instrumental part in the career of UNCP Athletics Director Dick Christy.
“I don’t have a chance to break into this profession like I did if it wasn’t for the chance that he gave me,” Christy said. “He’s always looked out for me and been a great support. Even as he was transitioning out, he really made sure that I had the opportunity to get started.”
Although their tenures at N.C. State had little crossover, the impression that Christy left in Raleigh stuck around after his brief stint as an intern ended.
“I first gave him a position in the summer between his junior and senior year of college doing an internship. He wasn’t working under the direction of me, but I asked the people working with him and they were all very impressed,” Robinson said. “So the next year he graduated and they hired him with the Wolfpack Club because of the skills he showed.”
Last year, Christy in some way returned the favor to Robinson when Lander University President and former Vice Chancellor at UNCP Rich Cosentino contacted Christy about a vacancy as athletics director. Christy referred Robinson to come out of retirement to take over on an interim basis.
Robinson was named the interim director of athletics at fellow Peach Belt Conference member Lander University in July until Brian Reese was hired in January. There, he experienced working in a Division II athletics department after serving only at the Division I level before.
“I’m amazed at what he has done here,” Robinson said of Christy. “Division II is a lot tougher from the financial standpoint. A lot tougher.”
Robinson coached the Wolfpack on the court from 1990-1996 and amassed 78 wins during that span. After leaving the sidelines, Robinson took over as athletics director at N.C. State from 1996-2000.
A two-time All-American at UNC, Montross won the 1993 national championship with the Tar Heels. He finished his career with 1,627 points, 941 rebounds and 169 points. After graduating, Montross was drafted ninth overall by the Boston Celtics and spent time with six teams during his nine-year career. He is now the color commentator for the Tar Heel Sports Network during basketball season.
Montross has been involved with three national-title winning teams as a player in 1993 and as a broadcaster in 2009 and 2017. He recollected on the journey this year’s national title team took on its “redemption tour,” back to the title.
“This Carolina team that we saw this year win the final game, win the championship, their chemistry was terrific,” Montross said. “They made plays when they had to make them and that was the story of this year’s team.”
Cremins was a college coach for 41 years — 37 as a head coach — and most notably served at Georgia Tech as the head coach from 1981-2000. As the head man for the Rambling Wreck, Cremins was named national Coach of the Year in 1990. He won three ACC tournament titles and was named the conference’s Coach of the Year three times as well. Cremins also coached at Appalachian State and College of Charleston, and now is a analyst for Sirus Radio basketball broadcasts.
He played his college basketball at the University of South Carolina, and said it was refreshing to see the program return back to the level it was while he was a player during this season with a national title for the women’s team and a Final Four berth for the men’s squad.
“Frank McGuire brought basketball to South Carolina and they’ve struggled once they got out of the ACC and we all know that’s a mistake,” Cremins said. “Now we’ve realized that a coach named Frank brought it back. … It is a tremendous staff with Frank Martin. Gamecock basketball is now alive.”
The panel was a new look to the annual Cash Bash, as opposed to one keynote speaker like it had been in the past. Christy said it made the program flow a lot smoother.
“We tried to minimize the transition time so we could give them more time to tell stories,” he said. “The ACC fans could’ve listened to it all night and I had a lot of people say that. We wanted to extend that opportunity without making the night too late.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.