Spencer Haywood among Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

Former University of Detroit star Spencer Haywood is among 12 finalists for election into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

I spoke with him by phone shortly after today's news conference in Houston, and you could feel his energy through the phone line.

"Most people think that I'm already in the Hall of Fame," said Haywood  "It was so delightful. The NBA, USA Basketball and the Basketball Hall of Fame have been so gracious to me.

"I was standing there and I looked around and thought, ‘Will Robinson would be really proud of this moment.'"

Robinson, who coached Haywood at Pershing High school in the sixties, made such an incredible impact on so many players throughout his career as a coach and a scout.  He passed away in 2008.

When I asked Haywood if he viewed himself as a Hall-of-Famer, Haywood did not hesitate to answer.  

"Oh, yeah – for sure," he said.  "If you look at the numbers, my numbers are way up there. I had the great years at Pershing High School.  We won the Class A state championship. Also, I went straight to the Olympics and we won the 1968 gold medal and I set four records there.  One of them just got broken this year, by Kevin Durant."

Upon returning from his Olympics stint, Haywood enrolled at the University of Detroit, where he was named Outstanding College Player of the Year, first team All-American and was second in scoring and first in rebounding in the nation. 

"Whoa!" said Haywood, when recalling how dominant he was in his prime.

"I went to the ABA as the first underclassman and I was the rookie of the year, the leading scorer, the leading rebounder, MVP of the league and MVP of the All-Star Game and there's no player in the history of basketball who had ever done that."

Standing on the stage in Houston today, acknowledged by so many as one of the best of all-time, Haywood took a moment to reflect on his legacy.

"I'm just overjoyed," he said. " I think about my daughters, who are college ball-players. I just keep thinking, ‘Wow, they're gonna say, finally, ‘Dad, you were a ball-player!'"

Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond are also among 12 finalists.
  
Former Houston Cougars coach Guy Lewis has been chosen as a finalist for the first time since 2003. Current Louisville coach Rick Pitino and former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian also are finalists for the 2013 class.
  
The others includes former NBA stars Maurice Cheeks and Bernard King, longtime North Carolina women's coach Sylvia Hatchell and five-time WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley. Boston Celtics great Tom Heinsohn, already inducted as a player, is a finalist in the coaching category.
  
The 2013 class will be announced at the Final Four in April.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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