RALEIGH — Randy Denton, at 6-foot-10, is used to being the tallest person in the room and he was again Thursday.
Denton was attending a news conference for this year’s inductees into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, saying a few words of thanks and going through interviews. It also proved to be something of a time-capsule moment for the towering, soft-spoken Raleigh native.
“Very nostalgic, very special,” he said.
Denton grew up just a few miles from the N.C. Museum of History, where Thursday’s event was held. He played his high school basketball at Enloe. He became an All-America at Duke.
After six years in the American Basketball Association, a year in the NBA and two years of professional basketball in Italy, he returned to Raleigh. He raised a family and now lives next door to his mother and his childhood home. It’s all come full circle.
Now, he’s going into the state’s sports hall of fame, in a ceremony Friday night at the Raleigh Convention Center.
“Humbling is the right word,” Denton said Thursday.
Denton, 65, is pretty humble when it comes to talking about his basketball accomplishments. At Duke, for example, he once had 28 points and 21 rebounds against Kentucky and the Wildcats’ star center, Dan Issel. He averaged 20.4 points and 12.8 rebounds as a senior in 1970-1971 and was a team captain.
“Randy had it all – the physical ability, the size, the build, the touch,” said Bucky Waters, who coached Denton as a junior and senior at Duke. “Very bright, very caring. His teammates loved him.
“He was a gentle giant. If you wish for anything more, it would have been that he was meaner. If he had a Tyler Hansbrough chip in his wiring, he could have been scary good. But he was pretty amazing as it was.”
With the passing of time, Denton has become something of a forgotten Duke star even though he was inducted into the school’s sports hall in 1991. He didn’t play on an ACC champion. He didn’t play on a Final Four team or win a national championship.
Denton was recruited by Vic Bubas, who took three Blue Devils teams to Final Fours in the 1960s and would retire as coach after Denton’s sophomore season. N.C. State’s Norm Sloan made a push to sign Denton and Lefty Driesell, then at Davidson, made his best recruiting pitch.
But Denton’s coach at Enloe, Howard Hurt, played at Duke and there was a family fondness, Denton said, for Bubas.
“My dad died when I was 17 and he liked Duke and respected Vic Bubas,” Denton said. “That’s why I went to Duke. Coach Bubas was a father figure to me.”
Denton wasn’t a prototypical center of the ’60s, wasn’t a back-to-the basket type with power moves and a nice jump-hook. There was a nimbleness to his game and his shooting touch extended to 15 or 16 feet.
Charlie Dayton was a guard on the Enloe High teams with Denton and took his share of outside jumpers. But Dayton, director of communications for the Carolina Panthers, said it wasn’t unusual to see Denton drift out and knock down a few.
“That wasn’t a part of the basketball culture back then, not for big guys like Randy, who was huge,” Dayton said. “But, gosh, what a nice shot he had.”
Broughton High then had Pete Maravich, with his uncanny range and otherworldly moves. But Denton, two years younger, had size and quickness.
“Randy was one of those players a little ahead of his time,” Dayton said. “If he played today, he could have really showed his versatility. He had a smooth game.”
Denton was drafted by the NBA’s Boston Celtics but told by legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach that he wouldn’t get a no-cut contract. He went with the guaranteed money in the ABA – “Low six figures,” he said, smiling – but was traded often, playing for the Memphis Tams, Carolina Cougars, Utah Stars and Spirits of St. Louis.
“The ABA was like the wild west of basketball,” he said. “I saw guys traded before games, to save money.”
Denton’s one NBA season was with the Atlanta Hawks, then coached by former Duke assistant Hubie Brown.
And while Denton didn’t put up a championship banner at Duke, he said he will always feel a part of the tradition and take pride in what the Blue Devils have achieved under Mike Krzyzewski.
“We were a part of that, too,” he said.
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