Luke DeCock

DeCock: ACC’s best? One conference, one writer, 79 stories, countless arguments

UNC's Tyler Hansbrough (50) celebrates the Tar Heel's 79-73 victory over Duke on Wednesday February 7, 2007 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hansbrough scored 16 points in the victory.
UNC's Tyler Hansbrough (50) celebrates the Tar Heel's 79-73 victory over Duke on Wednesday February 7, 2007 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hansbrough scored 16 points in the victory. 2007 News & Observer file photo

If someone other than Dan Collins did this, he might write a song about it: The man who left Walter Davis and Dennis Scott and Bobby Jones out of his list of the greatest players in ACC basketball history. Collins, a veteran sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal and one of the ACC’s great raconteurs, was as surprised as anyone to omit them.

His new book, “The ACC Basketball Book of Fame,” proposes 79 players for induction into a would-be Hall of Fame, but Davis and Scott and Jones aren’t among them according to the unique and complicated formula Collins concocted to weigh players from different eras against each other. That led to three players from South Carolina, for example, and none from Clemson.

“The guy with the greatest grievance against Country Dan is Dennis Scott,” Collins said. “Freshman year, he was rookie of the year. Junior year in 1990, he was player of the year in the ACC. His sophomore year, he averaged 20 points per game, having his usual Dennis Scott season, and he was snubbed for first- and second-team All-ACC. Two people who did make it that year were Steve Bucknall and the immortal Kevin Madden of North Carolina.

“I love that kind of trivia, one thing leading me to another,” Collins said. “I saw Scott didn’t make it and said, ‘Well, who did?’”

Collins, a majestically bearded writer and musician known throughout the ACC by the sobriquet “Country,” will defend his choices publicly at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and then Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in at New Hope Commons in Durham.

He knew this particular piece of ground has been plowed many times before – Collins was part of the panel that chose the ACC’s 50th anniversary team – but he was inspired by a Bill James critique of the Baseball Hall of Fame and its induction shenanigans over the years to come up with objective guidelines for ACC basketball. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense to use the media All-ACC voting as a starting point.

“The decisions have already been made on these players by people who saw them play,” Collins said.

He added bonus points for various accomplishments – national player of the year and so on, for a total of 30 criteria – and was left with the 79 players who met the threshold he set and a book of biographical sketches that represent the memoirs of a veteran ACC writer as much as anything else.

A native of Franklin, near the Georgia border, Collins started writing for the Chapel Hill News while still a student at North Carolina. He has spent the past 40 years covering the conference, which means he has as much to say about Ralph Sampson as Tyler Hansbrough, putting onto paper for public consumption the same stories he has told in countless hospitality rooms at countless ACC tournaments over the decades.

“The heart of the book is the stories, the tales of these players,” Collins said. “The history of ACC through its best players is what it turned out to be, but also, these stories need to be preserved. Nate, my son, is 26. He wasn’t born when Michael Jordan was at North Carolina.”

It’s all done in the true Country Dan Collins spirit, which is to say the man knows how to spin a yarn or two. He’s also capable of coming up with the music to go with those lyrics. At the book’s launch party, Collins not only played the old ACC basketball Jefferson Pilot TV jingle, “Sail with the Pilot,” but wrote a few songs just for the occasion:

“I never saw Jim Brown bust through the line,

Never saw Mickey Mantle take a rip in his prime.

One thing I’m really proud to say,

I saw the great David Thompson play.”

A repeat performance is possible at Quail Ridge, where Collins promises a multimedia spectacular – part book signing, part concert.

“I’m taking my guitar,” he said. “We’re going to do ‘Sail with the Pilot!’ ”

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