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Davidson basketball legend Bob McKillop honored in ceremony: ‘I love you, Coach’

Alex Zietlow, The Charlotte Observer

Feb 12, 2023

Former Davidson coach Bob McKillop smiles during his retirement ceremony at the John M. Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C., on Saturday, February 11, 2023.

There were nights, during his peerless run as the Davidson men’s basketball coach, when Bob McKillop would walk into John M. Belk Arena alone.

He’d look at the rafters. Scan the floor. The walls would talk to him, he said.

“The place is empty, place is dark,” McKillop said, “and I’d just sit in those seats there and there and there, and then I’d walk around the stands. And then I’d come here and bounce the ball, all by myself, feeding that fire. Feeding that dream.”

He added: “Well, thanks to you, I’m living it. And have lived it.”

McKillop spoke this poetic prose into a microphone during a ceremony that compelled dozens of former players and assistants and alumni to linger in the stadium a little after Davidson’s conference contest against Fordham on Saturday afternoon.

It was part of a retirement ceremony for the legendary coach — whose name is enshrined on the Davidson court thanks to his 33 years at the helm, where he supervised 634 wins, 23 conference championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and an Elite Eight run, led by an “underrated, skinny, baby-faced kid from down in Charlotte” named Stephen Curry, that brings goosebumps to a basketball fans’ skin no matter how many times you tell it.

“You say it all the time, ‘We have the power to change the world,’” said Davidson athletic director Chris Clunie, who played for McKillop in the mid-2000s. “And guess what? You did it. You did it with grace. You did it with excellence. And you did it with integrity. You did it the right way. And with all the successes and accolades, that is truly a legacy that will last forever.”

Clunie, in a 10-minute long speech, told his story with McKillop, sharing how tough the coach was, how much he wanted his players to succeed after Davidson, how he’d use aphorisms to get his point across, including the program favorite that still lives on: “Trust. Commitment. Care.” Said Clunie to end his speech: “I love you, Coach. TCC.”

McKillop, 72, announced his retirement from Davidson in June. He was succeeded by his son, Matt, who played for Bob at Davidson from 2002-06 and served as an assistant coach for the Wildcats since 2008.

Both were in the crowd on Saturday, much like a lot of the rest of Bob’s family was. The Naismith Hall of Fame nominee and New York-born-and-bred coach called all of Davidson his family on Saturday.

“There were nights that I would walk off this court, and I thought I’d give it up,” McKillop said. “You didn’t let me. There were nights that I walked off this court, read the headlines the next day, and said, ‘Maybe I should go somewhere else.’ You gave me a reason to say no to that.

“In an extraordinary way, you have impacted my life as no other entity other than my family has. And it’s very simple why: Because you have become my family.”

Among those in Saturday’s crowd was Jason Richards, the 6-foot-2 guard who played at Davidson from 2004-08 and was the backcourt mate to Curry on that Cinderella run.

Richards works for SC30, the company founded by Curry. The two both narrated a video that captured many of McKillop’s greatest accomplishments, layered over images of the red-tie-wearing, white-haired coach staring directly into his players’ eyes during a timeout huddle.

“The video was incredible,” Richards said. “The footage — it was emotional to read, I’ll tell you that, because of how much Coach means to both of us and everyone who’s here.”

Richards ranks as the assist leader in Davidson basketball history. He said he and McKillop got to spend some time together at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last month, during the showing of Curry’s new film, “Steph Curry: Underrated.”

“I got to spend a lot of time with Coach again, and (his wife) Cathy, for three days in Park City,” Richards said. “And we talked about how special of a moment it was. When you’re in the moment, you really don’t understand it, but looking back, it was one of the best times of our lives.”

Brendan McKillop, the younger son of Bob and brother of Matt, was also in the crowd on Saturday. The McKillops moved from New York to Davidson, North Carolina — Bob McKillop’s “Camelot” as he so often says — when Brendan was 10 months old.

To see the community and former players and alumni come back to see Bob — old and young, from overseas and in Davidson’s backyard — meant a lot to Bob and his family, Brendan said. “I think the amount of work that he put in, the amount of nights that he didn’t sleep — I think this reflects all of that and makes this all worth it, having this support,” Brendan McKillop told The Observer. “I think having former players coming back today means the world to him.”

The ceremony came after a 73-71 Davidson loss, one of those contests that saw the Wildcats dig a 12-point second-half hole only to crawl out of it stop by stop, free throw by free throw. In the game, there was the kind of comeback that kept McKillop coming back to this gym in this 17,000-person town, this bastion of “hope,” McKillop said.

The kind of hope that he couldn’t ever leave.

“The two greatest gifts we have are time — giving the gift of time — and love,” McKillop said. “The love you have given me, the time you have given me, I can never, ever say thank you enough. Time and love. I hope that gift is given back to you in the great way it has been given to me.”

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