By John Crumpacker
From now until the start of the 2016 West Coast Conference Basketball Championships, WCC columnist John Crumpacker will be profiling the WCC Hall of Honor Class of 2016. For Friday, Crumpacker examines the All-American career of San Francisco Dons legend Bill Cartwright. This is part five of five.
If Bill Cartwright were coming out of high school today, at 7-foot-1 with all the skills he brought to the basketball court, he would not have nearly the career he did at San Francisco 40 years ago. While the game has changed a little over the ensuing years, the realities surrounding it have changed a whole lot.
At a time that seems positively quaint today, Cartwright played all four years for the Dons, went to class, lived on campus and graduated. In a college career defined by threes, he was a three-time All-America, three-time Player of the Year in the West Coast Conference and helped USF win three conference championships. He is, inarguably, the second-best player in USF history behind Bill Russell.
Today, however, he’d likely be a one-and-done college player, lured by NBA riches after a couple of semesters on campus.
“That does seem to be the trend,’’ Cartwright said, ruminating on the then-and-now of college hoops.
Asked if he would be part of that trend, he said, “Maybe. I think you’d have to look at the situation.’’
For the brilliant career he crafted on the Hilltop before heading off for 16 years in the NBA and an equal number of years as a coach, Cartwright is the centerpiece of the WCC’s Hall of Honor class for 2016. Along with nine other former student-athletes from around the conference, Cartwright will be feted in a ceremony Saturday morning at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in conjunction with the WCC Tournament.
“I’ll be there,’’ he said. “It should be fun. Also, I’ll be able to watch the Dons. If they can defend a little bit, they’ll be fine.’’
As for the Hall of Honor selection itself, Cartwright said, “I think it’s great. For me, I had some great support growing up, great parents, my family here at USF, the head coach I had at the time, Bob Gaillard; I had great teammates – James Hardy, Winford Boynes, Doug Jemison, John (Chubby) Cox. I was very fortunate to play as long as I did with the players I had around me.’’
Gaillard coached Cartwright for his first three seasons, with Dan Belluomini taking over when he was a senior in 1978-79.
“You knew he was going to be a superstar,’’ Belluomini said. “His attitude and court demeanor were amazing. He did exactly what you told him to do. He was a dream-type guy. He was unselfish. Another point of emphasis: As great a player as he was on the court, he was a better person off the court. That’s the kind of guy he is.’’
Coming out of Elk Grove High School near Sacramento in 1975, Cartwright was heavily recruited, but at a time when ESPN did not yet exist and “social media’’ was decades away from rearing its pervasive head. Meaning, his recruitment was not a public spectacle. Cartwright simply chose the school he was most comfortable with.
“The first time I ever saw him he was a 6-11 gangly sophomore diving on loose balls during practice,’’ Belluomini said. “He caught your eye right away because he was a hard worker.’’
Reflecting on his choice of college, Cartwright said, “I was pretty heavily recruited. Fortunately, I didn’t want to go out of California. That left everybody out except a couple of schools. I had an opportunity to go to UCLA, USC. But I really felt a close bond to San Francisco. I’m from Sacramento, so it’s close, my parents can come down to the games. I had such a nice bond there.
“You wanted to go to a place where you could be one of the main guys,’’ he continued. “I wanted to make my mark at USF. It was a great place, a great team, on the rise, great players, close to home. It was obviously a great chance for me, a great school, and it’s in San Francisco – can’t beat that.’’
Not many teams managed to beat Cartwright and the Dons during his run of greatness from 1975-79. The Dons were 93-22 overall with Big Bill, including 45-7 in WCC games. In his sophomore year of ’76-77 the team won its first 29 games and was ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the season before losing at Notre Dame (93-82) in the last game of the regular season and to UNLV 121-95 in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was really fortunate to have the teammates I had,’’ Cartwright said. “We played at a high level. We set the tone for the rest of the conference. The expectation for us to win was very high. It was a great atmosphere to be in. The assumption was we were going to win. It was just a great atmosphere to play in.’’
From USF, Cartwright was the third overall selection in the 1979 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, where some of his teammates from 1979-88 were Earl (the Pearl) Monroe, Bernard King and Patrick Ewing. With the Chicago Bulls from ’88-94 he had Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and a guy named Michael Jordan on his side. He won three NBA titles while in Chicago.
“I always had great teammates,’’ Cartwright said. “I played with some pretty good players.’’
After his NBA playing career ended with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994-95, Cartwright embarked on a coaching journey that took him from Chicago to Japan to Mexico, where his last stint was as head coach of the Mexican National team in 2014.
“After I got done playing, I never intended to coach and I ended up coaching for as long as I played,’’ he said. “Right now I’m feeling things out. There’s no rush. I don’t have to coach.’’
Cartwright lives in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest with his wife, Sheri. They have three sons – Justin, Jason and James -- and a daughter whose name does not begin with a “J,’’ Kristin. For the last nine years he has owned a restaurant on the North Shore called Froggy’s that serves anything you want – as long as it’s French.
“We’re very versatile,’’ the nation’s tallest restauranteur said. “Anything French.’’
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.