We’re approaching the 20th anniversary of Providence’s only Big East Championship in basketball, and a key member of the 1994 title-winning group is being inducted into PC’s Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend.
Dickey Simpkins was part of one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in Providence history – a group that fulfilled on their promise by defeating Georgetown in the title game, 74-64, 19 years ago.
This weekend Simpkins returns to Providence to enter the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, along with Cindy Curley `85 (women’s hockey), Mike Boback `92 (men’s hockey), Keith Kelly `01 (men’s cross country/track), Roger Haggerty `86 (baseball), Karen Krawchuk `91 (field hockey), John Farren `86 (men’s soccer), Maria McCambridge `98 (women’s cross country/track) and Bob Foley (women’s basketball coach), as well as the 1995 women’s cross country team, which won the national championship.
I caught up with Dickey on Thursday to find out what the honor means to him and to reflect some on how Providence shaped who he is as a person today.
“It’s an unbelievable honor to be inducted into the Providence Hall of Fame with all of the tremendous athletes who have come through here,” he said on his way to the Friars’ afternoon practice. “I was very excited when Ed Cooley and Bob Driscoll let me know they were inducting me into this year’s class. There was an excitement and joy that came with being part of a group of athletes who made a mark on the school.”
Dickey played in more games than any Friar in history and after graduating was selected in the first round of the 1994 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, with whom he went on to win three NBA Championships.
He has fond memories of his days as a Friar and reflected upon how he came to choose Providence and the relationships he built with so many of his former teammates, “Looking back on it now, I’m happy with the decision (to attend PC). I had an opportunity to grow and bond with the guys I played with, I played for Rick Barnes when he was in his early stages, and we won a Big East Championship. All of those things, and the mentors I had at Providence, helped mold me into the person I am today.”
Dickey noted that he still talks to Barnes often, having seen him just two weeks ago when he attended the West Virginia/Texas game. Michael Smith is “like a brother” to Simpkins and he’s still in contact with him, as well as past teammates like Michael Brown, Abdul Abdullah, Austin Croshere and Rob Phelps. Phelps will be in attendance this weekend to see Dickey get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
He recalls the battles they went through together in great detail, sharing stories of what a great experience it was as a freshman to play alongside Eric Murdock in the Big East Tournament against Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Georgetown.
When the conversation inevitably turned towards the 1994 season, he spoke of the thrill of winning the Big East title, but also the disappointment in losing to Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
PC was clicking heading into the NCAAs, as Simpkins remembers it, “We were on a roll. It was the hottest we’d ever gotten, having won probably 10 of 11 games heading in. Digger Phelps and Bill Raftery had us as the hottest team in the country, and we felt like we were going to make a run.”
Their Big East Tournament title game was their eight straight victory, and Dickey remembers thinking about a potential second round matchup with top seeded Purdue, who featured the country’s best player (and eventual top pick in the 1994 Draft) in do-everything scorer Glenn Robinson.
Before they could get to Purdue, they fell in the first round to an Alabama team stocked with future NBA players in Antonio McDyess, Roy Rogers and Jason Caffey.
Despite the disappointing exit from the 1994 NCAAs, this team will forever be remembered as the Friars’ only Big East champions – a class that met their potential as their college careers were winding down.
“Someone just sent me a link to the Connecticut game (Big East Tournament semifinal in which PC defeated #2 UConn 69-67) and I was watching it like a fan, like it was happening live. There were nine NBA players in that game. They had Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall, Donnie Marshall, Travis Knight and Kevin Ollie, who all played in the NBA. Winning that game, and the championship against Georgetown, and knowing that we’d go down in Big East and Providence history – those are my fondest memories.”
Another memory he has of his college days was meeting a young Ed Cooley in 1990. Cooley used to play basketball with the Friars in the summers back then, and Dickey describes the Friar coach as “more than a basketball coach, but a great mentor for the kids off the court as well,” while noting Cooley has “an unbelievable knack” for relating to his players.
“He’s a very good guy and I’ve been good friends with him since we met. I run an AAU program out of Chicago and one of our kids went to play for him. I trusted Ed and knew he’d help him grow as a man.”
Dickey appreciates what Cooley has been able to do in just two years at PC, “He’s done a good job getting this program back. He had to make some tough decisions along the way, but they’ve won three straight and are hitting their stride. They got hit with injuries early. I was down in Puerto Rico and watched them compete with a depleted roster. He has the type of ability to get kids playing at a higher level.”
Today, Dickey works as a scout for the Charlotte Bobcats, a team headed by long-time teammate Michael Jordan. After spending five years at ESPN as a commentator, he decided to step away from the booth and focus on continuing to grow in the Bobcats organization in hopes of one day becoming an NBA general manager.
When he’s not scouting he’s working to continue to build his AAU program, Next Level Performance of Chicago, which he started in 2006. His motivation in getting involved in AAU was to mentor children and “teach them to be successful on and off the court.” One of the program’s former players is a senior at Illinois, but in hearing Dickey speak about the program, it is as much about developing young men into strong individuals as anything else.
Dickey has stayed active in the Providence community by establishing the Providence Fullcourt Boardroom (PFB) in 2011 – a group he founded along with fellow PC alum Sean Holley in an effort to to reconnect PC alumni basketball players, support the program and “raise money for the city of Providence, which has helped all of us.”
As a three-time NBA champion, color commentator, AAU head and scout, it’s been quite a basketball journey in the nearly 20 years since Dickey Simpkins and the Friars won the Big East Championship in ’94. Like all of those selected in PC’s 2013 Hall of Fame class, it’s an honor well deserved.
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To read more about Providence’s 1994 Big East title, here is a New York Times article written after the win over Georgetown.