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

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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  • Meet the author

    Dan Collins will be signing ‘The ACC Basketball Book of Fame” at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Future signings include:

    Oct. 3, Barnes & Noble in Durham (New Hope Commons), 7 p.m.

    Oct. 8, Barnes & Noble in Cary, 7 p.m.

    Oct. 10, Park Road Books in Charlotte, 7 p.m.

  • The Full 79

    The 79 players included in “The ACC Basketball Book of Fame”

    Boston College (1): Jared Dudley

    Duke (21): Mark Alarie, Gene Banks, Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell, Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Mike Gminski, Art Heyman, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Trajan Langdon, Jack Marin, Jeff Mullins, J. J. Redick, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Jim Spanarkel, Bob Verga, Jason Williams, Shelden Williams

    Georgia Tech (3): Kenny Anderson, Matt Harpring, Mark Price

    Maryland (7): Len Bias, Juan Dixon, Albert King, John Lucas, Tom McMillen, Joe Smith, Greivis Vásquez

    UNC (21): Pete Brennan, Billy Cunningham, Phil Ford, Joseph Forte, Tyler Hansbrough, Antawn Jamison, Michael Jordan, Mitch Kupchak, York Larese, Bob Lewis, Larry Miller, Mike O’Koren, Sam Perkins, J. R. Reid, Lennie Rosenbluth, Charlie Scott, Lee Shaffer, Kenny Smith, Al Wood, James Worthy, Tyler Zeller

    N.C. State (9): Tommy Burleson, Kenny Carr, Julius Hodge, Vic Molodet, Rodney Monroe, Lou Pucillo, Ronnie Shavlik, David Thompson, Hawkeye Whitney

    South Carolina (3): Tom Owens, John Roche, Art Whisnant

    Virginia (4): Jeff Lamp, Barry Parkhill, Ralph Sampson, Bryant Stith

    Virginia Tech (1): Malcolm Delaney

    Wake Forest (9): Skip Brown, Len Chappell, Randolph Childress, Charlie Davis, Tim Duncan, Rod Griffin, Dickie Hemric, Josh Howard, Rodney Rogers

  • Dan Collins’ Top 10

    The top 10 players in ACC history based on Dan Collins’ point system in “The ACC Basketball Book of Fame”

    1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

    2. David Thompson, N.C. State

    3. Ralph Sampson, Virginia

    4. J.J. Redick, Duke

    5. (tie) Tim Duncan, Wake Forest

    5. (tie) Art Heyman, Duke

    7. Phil Ford, North Carolina

    8. Christian Laettner, Duke

    9. Len Chappell, Wake Forest

    10. Danny Ferry, Duke

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!’ ”

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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