Rhea, Craycroft inducted into
By Jeff Birchfield
Record-setting pitcher A.R. Rhea and NBA draft
pick Jerry Craycraft were the newest inductees to the Milligan
Athletic Hall of Fame, while legendary basketball coaches
Sonny Smith and Del Harris were honored with the Distinguished
Alumnus Award Friday night at McCormick Dining Hall on the
Milligan College campus.
Rhea, who played high school ball at Science
Hill, was a virtual walking record-book after graduating from
Milligan in 1990. He left the Carter County school with marks
for most career wins (31), most innings pitched (307 2/3),
most career strikeouts (294) and lowest career earned run
"I consider this a great honor," said Rhea. "I
had a great experience at Milligan and to be able to come
back here as a member of the Hall of Fame is a big honor.
Somebody will eventually come along and break all the records."
He enjoyed great success all four years as a
Buffalo with a career record of 31 wins against 8 losses.
"Some of our victories over King College put Milligan on the
map," said Rhea about the most memorable of those wins. "King
was on top of the hill at the time. Those were some big wins
Rhea was excellent behind the plate also, belting
20 home runs and hitting for a .358 average. That helped him
earn two conference MVP awards, two-time team MVP and Player
of the Year for the entire state of Tennessee in 1989.
He remains the only Milligan baseball player
to be a NAIA first team All-American in 1990 after being a
1988 NCCAA Academic All-American. He signed with the Toronto
Blue Jays organization after completing his studies at Milligan.
For the last six years, Rhea has worked at Johnson
City Medical Center in the field of Sports Injury and Rehabilitation.
He still is involved in the sport as a t-ball coach and also
coaches youth soccer. He also keeps a close eye on the Buff
baseball program headed by his longtime friend Danny Clark.
"I played against Danny, as he played at East
Tennessee State," Rhea commented. "I went to Science Hill
and he went to Elizabethton. He went to ETSU and I went to
Milligan. We played against each other in summer leagues,
so I've always been against Danny. I've talked to him some
recently and hopefully I can do some things to help Milligan
out. He is a good coach as he was always a very hard worker
as a player."
Craycraft couldn't attend as he had prior commitments,
but was a third round draft pick of the New York Knicks in
1977. Along with former Happy Valley standout Marty Street,
he led the Buffs to some of their greatest basketball success
under coach Phil Worrell.
Ninth on the school's all-time scoring list with
1,574 points, Milligan enjoyed three 20-win seasons during
the days Craycraft laced up his sneakers. He now resides in
Wooster, Ohio and is self-employed as an agricultural commodities
Overall, the Buffs had a .669 winning percentage
with Craycraft on the floor. He played in 130 games for Milligan
from 1973-77 and at one time held the distinction as the only
Milligan player drafted by a professional team.
Harris also couldn't be at the ceremony as he
was on the road as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks,
but did send some comments in via videotape. Prior to this
stint with the Mavericks, Harris is most noted for being the
head coach with the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los
Angeles Lakers. His 1981 Houston team led by Moses Malone
made it to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
"I was thankful that I was able to get a good
background at Milligan," said the legendary coach from the
class of '59. "It has served me well over the years. I wouldn't
have been able to achieve anything worthwhile, if it wasn't
for the great education that I received at Milligan."
Orginially from Plainville, Indiana, Harris'
original intent was to study to become a minister. Nowadays,
he ministers to professional players and is vocal about the
mission of Milligan and similar schools.
"I do believe that a Christian education is the
hope of the world," said the well-traveled Harris. "Especially
at a time like this, we can see the world needs more people
going out in all areas of life, spreading the word so that
we can have a lasting peace. We want to get past this particular
situation and build an even greater society."
As coach of the Lakers from 1995-99, Harris coached
some of the best talent on the planet including Kobe Bryant
and league MVP Shaquille O' Neal.
"It's quite an honor to be given this along with
Sonny Smith," said Harris about the Distinguished Alumnus
Award. "I love Sonny like a brother. He's been a lifelong
friend. I do feel indebted to Milligan. I believe the values
that were validated at Milligan helped me get back to the
center of my faith."
Smith, also coached high-level talent, among
those future pro basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley
and three-point ace Chuck Person. He insisted that the lessons
learned at Milligan has been a major reason for his success.
"When I came to Milligan I was wallowing in a
sea of mediocrity and kind of enjoying it," Smith recalled.
"But I met some people here that changed my life. The first
one was Steve Lacy (the legendary Milligan roundball coach)
who allowed me to come here.
"I entered Milligan after I had been on a scholarship
at a junior college. I didn't even pick up my books. I was
that sorry. I needed somebody to put some direction in my
life. I met coach Duard Walker and he changed my life. He
made a productive person out of me. He taught me the value
of working hard and wanting to win."
Smith also remembered his former teammates. "Duard
Aldridge, Dennis Greenlee, Al Cole, Del Harris, Donnie Williams,
Moose Williams and all of them played a big part in changing
my life," said Smith. "Phil Worrell and Del were the co-best
men in my wedding. The professors here were excellent. Jim
Fox, besides being a teammate, he introduced me to my wife.
Leonard Gallimore gave me that last push, he taught me the
value of speaking.
"I left Milligan a changed person. I left with
goals in mind."
After a successful high school coaching stint,
Smith first entered the collegiate ranks serving as an assistant
at William and Mary before moving to California's Pepperdine
University. He returned closer to home in the early 70's at
Virginia Tech and was an assistant to Don DeVoe on the 1973
team that beat Notre Dame for the NIT championship.
That allowed a dream to come true coaching at
ETSU for two seasons, where he led the Bucs to the 1977-78
Ohio Valley Conference championship. Bigger opportunites awaited
and Smith took over a struggling program at Auburn.
He led the Tigers to five NCAA appearances and
the SEC Championship in 1985. After leaving the plains in
1989, Smith resurfaced again at Virginia Commonwealth where
he had a successful stint first as coach and later as athletic
director. He won coach of the year awards in four different
Division 1 conferences.
Smith, a gifted storyteller, now makes his living
through speeches and hosting a radio show in his adopted hometown
of Birmingham with former rival coach Wimp Sanderson. The
two engage in plenty of playful Auburn versus Alabama banter
to keep listeners tuned in.
The Roan Mountain native ranked this honor along
with having Cloudland High School name their basketball gymnasium
after him as some of his biggest moments.
"I've received a lot of things," commented Smith.
"The best thing I ever received was having a gym named after
me in Roan Mountain. Naming that gym and getting this award
means more than you will ever know. I was third in the running
for national coach of the year and have been coach of the
year in a league six different times, but that doesn't mean
as much to me as this award and having that gym named after