Nov. 10, 2002
By Dwight Chapin
San Francisco Chronicle
Dennis Awtrey learned a valuable lesson from Dick Garibaldi, his basketball coach at Santa Clara University.
"He taught me to be the pounder, not the poundee," Awtrey said.
Awtrey spent three terrific seasons as the pounder in college, a rugged rebounder for some of the best teams in Bronco history, and then nearly 12 serviceable years in the NBA.
Now he's 54, retired and living in Phoenix and apparently none the worse for all that wear.
On Wednesday, Awtrey will be inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame along with ex-Cal quarterback Craig Morton, former A's third baseman Carney Lansford, golfer Betty Hicks and Olympic hammer thrower Ed Burke.
The honor seems entirely appropriate for Awtrey, who as a 6-10, 240-pound center out of Blackford High in San Jose teamed with the Ogden brothers, Bud and Ralph, to lead Santa Clara to a 22-4 record in 1967-68 and a school-best 27-2 in 1968-69.
Both seasons, the Broncos made the NCAA Tournament, but had the misfortune of running into mighty UCLA and a guy then named Lew Alcindor in the regionals each time, losing 87-66 and 90-52.
Awtrey's luster survived the shellackings, however.
He was West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1968-69 and 1969-70 and an All-American in 1970, and he averaged 19.9 points and a school-record 13.5 rebounds in his Bronco career.
Drafted by Philadelphia, he went on to play nearly 800 games with six NBA teams, usually in a supporting role, and was on the Seattle SuperSonics' championship team in 1978-79.
His favorite team was his second one, the Chicago Bulls of 1973-74.
"Dick Motta was the coach then, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier -- two throwback guys -- were at guards, Chet Walker and Bob Love at forwards and Clifford Ray, Tom Boerwinkle and I were at center," he said. "Later, I spent four years with the Phoenix Suns, and reached the NBA finals in 1976 with a good, solid, overahieving team, so that was very memorable, too."
But Awtrey's fondest basketball memories probably are of his college years.
He has maintained friendships with teammates like the Ogdens and Kevin Eagleson and Bronco coaches like Carroll Williams and Dick Davey.
"We had so much fun as a team," he said. "We were a bunch of role players. There was no jealousy, particularly. At least from my point of view, everybody sacrificed, and Dick Garibaldi was a great coach for that. He inspired a lot of loyalty. And he wouldn't take something that he didn't think was right."
Basketball was such a big part of Awtrey's life for so long that he says when he retired early in the 1981-82 season, "I missed the competition. I really enjoyed basketball, and as much as anything, it was the competition of it."
Awtrey, who has a grown daughter, Trista, and son, David, held a variety of jobs after basketball, including representing a golf equipment manufacturer and selling commercial real estate.
"But I never found something I couldn't truly do without," he said, "so I decided to try high school coaching and teaching, 30 years after I left high school. I had to get a teaching certificate, and the job was hard work. I got to the point where I was saying to myself, 'I really don't have to do this -- do I still want to do it?' It was so demanding that I wasn't doing anything else I wanted to do."
So he retired, and in April of 2001 he married his second wife, Peggy, and they have been remodeling a 1920s-era house in Phoenix.
He returns to the Bay Area now and then to attend basketball events like the Cable Car Classic and play in charity golf tournaments.
But the trip to the hall of fame Wednesday will be something special.
"I'm really honored by this," he said