Ex-Duke star Groat is Panther at heart

"I've been a Pitt man my whole life ... This goes all the way back to when I was 5 years old."

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Pittsburgh sports fans know Dick Groat as the shortstop on the Pirates' 1960 World Series championship team, the other half of the double-play combination with Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski.

But before he embarked on a 14-year career in Major League Baseball, Groat was one of the great two-sport athletes of his time. In addition to being a standout baseball player, Groat was a star basketball player at Duke, where he still ranks among the school's all-time leading scorers.

  • Game: No. 6 Duke (9-0) vs. No. 11 Pitt (10-0), 7 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.
  • TV: ESPN.

Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Groat will watch his alma mater play his adopted team, the Pitt Panthers. Groat, 77, is in his 29th season as color commentator on Pitt's radio broadcasts alongside play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove.

"So many people ask me who I'm going to be rooting for," Groat said yesterday afternoon. "I'm a Pitt man. I love Jamie Dixon and his coaching staff. I love these kids. I spend so much time with them. My only association with Duke now is with coach [Mike Krzyzewski] and some of his assistants."

Groat played at Duke from 1950-52 and was the first player in school history to have his number retired. He scored 1,886 points in three seasons and averaged 25.2 points per game in 1951. In 1952 he became the first and only player to lead the nation in scoring and assists and was named national college player of the year. His 23.0 career scoring average ranks second in Duke history, ahead of such greats as Johnny Dawkins, Christian Laettner and Danny Ferry.

Groat played professional baseball and professional basketball in the same year in 1952. After his Duke career, Groat skipped the minors, went straight to the Pirates and batted .284 in 95 games. After baseball season ended, he played for the Fort Wayne Pistons of the NBA and averaged 11.9 points per game. He did that without practicing with the team because he still was finishing up his degree at Duke. Fort Wayne's owner would charter a private plane to take Groat to and from the Pistons' games.

After a two-year stint in the Army, Groat was not allowed to play both sports by Pirates general manager Branch Rickey. In his first two seasons back with the Pirates in 1955 and '56, when he was struggling to adjust to Major League Baseball, Groat had second thoughts about picking baseball over basketball.

"There were many nights in 1955 and '56 when I walked the streets in Cincinnati and St. Louis late at night thinking I had made a mistake," Groat said. "Then in 1957, I batted .315."

Groat turned out to be one of the best shortstops of his era. He was the 1960 National League Most Valuable Player. He won the NL batting title that season with a .325 average and helped the Pirates beat the Yankees in seven games to capture the World Series.

Groat was a five-time all-star and won another World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 after the Pirates traded him.

But basketball was always his first love. So when Krzyzewski called him last spring to let him know he was going to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, it was one of the most emotional days of his life.

"I always thought I was a better basketball player than a baseball player," Groat said. "I had tears in my eyes when he called me. It's the greatest honor I've ever received. As great as the two World Series were and the batting title, to be recognized in the sport you felt you played the best is special.

"I was not a Hall of Fame baseball player. That's for superstars. Mazeroski and Clemente were superstars. I was honored just to be nominated for the baseball Hall of Fame."

The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame was started last year in Kansas City by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. It is not to be confused with the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Groat was part of an eight-man induction class that also included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Vic Bubas, Dick Barnett, Lefty Driesell, Guy Lewis and Norm Stewart.

Krzyzewski could not be there because he was with his team at the Maui Invitational. But Pitt coach Jamie Dixon made the trip to witness the Nov. 18 induction ceremonies.

"I was so proud that Jamie Dixon came out for that," Groat said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jamie."

Groat began broadcasting Pitt basketball games in 1979. And even though legendary Pitt coach H.C. Carlson did not offer him a scholarship coming out of Swissvale High in 1950, Pitt always has been a special part of his life.

"I've been a Pitt man my whole life," Groat said. "This goes all the way back to when I was 5 years old. I'll always be indebted to Bill [Hillgrove] for getting me back involved in college basketball. It's been a godsend for me."

• • •

NOTE -- Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair was named Big East rookie of the week. Blair had 20 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's 85-68 victory against Oklahoma State. ... Pitt remained at No. 11 in The Associated Press poll and at No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published December 18, 2007 5:00 AM


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