Former DePaul coach Meyer was synonymous with Chicago hoops

Sunday, March 19, 2006

He died Friday at the age of 92.

CHICAGO -- Ray Meyer and DePaul basketball. Hard to say one without the other.

The coach who built the program into a power over 42 years and developed players of all talent levels was the school's most visible figure and its greatest ambassador.

He still was Friday when he died at age 92.

"He was a coach's coach, he was a man's man," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in Chicago. "He was the face of college basketball in Chicago. When you think of basketball in that city, you think of Ray Meyer."

Meyer twice took the Blue Demons to the NCAA Final Four, helped develop George Mikan -- who would eventually become basketball's first dominating big man -- and coached DePaul to the 1945 NIT title.

The school said his family was with him when he died at an assisted living facility. He had been in failing health. The school planned to hold a moment of silence before its women's team played Liberty in the NCAA tournament Saturday in Rosemont.

Meyer was an avuncular, stout, ever-smiling presence on the court -- one who favored wearing green carnations on St. Patrick's Day. He could also be loud and demonstrative when angered.

He had an eye for talent with players like Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, Dallas Comegys and Dave Corzine, who parlayed their college experience into pro careers. And he also was able to get the most out of players who were not blue chip prospects when he was building the program.

"Whenever coach had players, he was right there. Because DePaul was such a small, little Catholic school that didn't have a whole lot of funding back then, it wasn't that easy to get the players that John Wooden or Al McGuire were able to get," said DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno, who played for Meyer from 1969 to 1973. "He was constantly fighting those people -- and beating those people -- with lesser kids."

But in Mikan, Meyer had one of his greatest players early in his career.

Meyer had just been hired at DePaul in 1942 when he was introduced to a 6-foot-10 student with thick glasses.

"I saw George Mikan," Meyer recalled, "and I saw my future."

Under Meyer's tutelage, Mikan became a two-time college player of the year. A half-century ago, no one had seen someone that tall with such agility, tenacity and skill.

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