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Dillard University inducts athletes into new Sports Hall of Fame

29th January 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

Ariel Mitchell arrived on the Dillard campus as a freshman in fall 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina decimated the campus and virtually wiped out the university’s athletic programs.

Mitchell, along with dozens of other ambitious, energetic men and women, joined the first class of student-athletes to attempt to resurrect Dillard’s long, proud history of athletic excellence coupled with academic achievement.

As a member of the school’s basketball team, Mitchell – who earned the nickname “Mighty” during her playing career – completed her tenure at Dillard with 1,568 points and three all-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selections on her resume.

She then went on to become one of only 11 women to play for the legendary Harlem Globetrotters, which took her across the world – mostly Europe – entertaining thousands of fans smitten by the Clown Princes of Basketball’s routines and skills.

But even with her collegiate accolades and years with the Globetrotters, arguably Mitchell’s proudest achievement was resuscitating her alma mater’s storied athletic traditions – and how that challenge helped her blossom as a person.

“When I came [to Dillard], we were building the program back up from Katrina,” Mitchell said. “I came in as a young teenager, and I became a smart, strong woman who could make tough decisions and carry myself with pride. “Dillard is the biggest family,” she added. “We’re close-knit and caring of each other.”

Almost a decade later, Mitchell returned to Dillard on January 19 for the 10th anniversary Billy Ray Hobley Scholarship Gala, celebrating not only the memory of hoops great Hobley, but also marks the progress of the university’s athletic renaissance. This year’s gala was coupled with the inaugural induction class into the new Dillard University Sports Hall of Fame.

Mitchell and nine other Bleu Devil sports icons – including, of course, Hobley, himself a Dillard legendary and Harlem Globetrotter superstar – were ushered into the new institution as scores of Dillard alumni, staff, faculty and supporters looked on.

Joining Mitchell in the Hall was basketball star Alfredo Ott, a four-year starter at Dillard who currently holds multiple school records and garnered three GCAC All-Conference honors and a third-team NAIA All-American nod in 2004.

Ott was unable to attend last week’s festivities because of his current gig – playing professionally for Club Amics Castello in Spain. With 11 years of professional ball in his career, Ott has been competing in Europe for the last several seasons, but he was able to offer comments from Spain. He said he was blown away by the news of his induction.

“I was speechless when they told me about it,” Ott said during a phone interview. “I’m happy that the school recognized me like this, because it’s an honor to be involved.”

Ott, like Mitchell, added that his student-athlete experience at Dillard had a profound impact on his post-collegiate life and career.

“Dillard helped shape me,” he said. “While I was attending [Dillard], a lot of the players who came before me helped me grow as a player. Dillard gave me the platform to play the game I love and to grow every day as a player.”

As part of the annual gala, former Bleu Devil basketball star Lewis Anderson and Mattie Hobley, Billy Ray’s widow and staunch Dillard advocate and builder, received the prestigious Legacy Award for their dedication to and support of the university.

The night culminated when Billy Ray Hobley’s Globetrotter teammate and close friend, “Sweet’ Lou Dunbar, was presented with the prized Bleu Flame of Excellence Award. Dunbar, who also served as a Trotter coach later in his career – in fact, he helmed the team on which Mitchell starred – in addition to picking up NCAA All-American accolades at the University of Houston, was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1975 NBA draft.

Dunbar said he was thrilled to be recognized by an event that memorialized the memory of his late, beloved teammate.

“It’s an honor just to be here,” Dunbar said before the ceremony. “The award is extra special [because of the ceremony’s namesake]. It’s just an honor to be here for Billy Ray. I joined the game through my best friend.”

In addition to the alumni and proponent honorees, three current student-athletes – junior basketball player Adrianna Jackson, junior track team member Daniel Reid and senior volleyball player Shelby Stewart – received Billy Ray Hobley Scholarships from a fund that, like both the gala and the Bleu Devil athletic department, is about to enter its second decade of post-Katrina success.

The evening was part of a festive weekend that also included the 10th annual Bleu Devil Classic basketball tournament, which culminated on January 20 with the Dillard men’s and women’s teams sweeping their crosstown rival Xavier.

Much of the credit for the growing success of both the celebratory weekend event and the revival of the Bleu Devil athletic department was accorded to Athletic Director Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes, who a decade ago spearheaded the phoenix-like comeback of Dillard sports, leading to the most surprising moment of the gala when University Vice President for Institutional Advancement Marc Barnes stepped in front of the podium to present the athletic director (and his wife) with a 2018 Legacy Award.

In addition to Mitchell, Ott and Billy Ray Hobley, the other members of the 2018 Dillard Sports Hall of Fame included:

● Melanie Davis, who played for the Bleu Devils’ women’s basketball team from 1978-80 and in 2002 became the first woman to ever officiate a men’s NCAA Division I tournament game.

● Jackie Franklin McKinney, who played for the Bleu Devils in the early 1980s and amassed 11 school records, including most career points (2,059) and scoring average (22.3); she earned third-team All-America honors in 1983 and 1984; and, after leaving Dillard, played professionally in the former Women’s Basketball Association.

● Ronald Henderson, a member of the Dillard track team from 1959-63 who won four Gulf Coast Athletic Conference crowns and placed third in the 440-yard dash in the NAIA championships to earn All-America status.

● Charles Hightower, who starred for the Dillard men’s basketball team for four years – including establishing numerous school season and career records and garnering NAIA first-team All-America accolades before being drafted by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks in 1980.

● Pamela Jiles, who competed for the New Orleans Super Dames track squad while at Dillard, eventually winning a gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1975 Pan American Games and winning a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as member of the U.S. women’s 4 X 400-meter relay team.

● George Johnson, a towering center and four-year letterman for the Bleu Devils men’s basketball team – he still holds the school season and career marks for rebounds per game – before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1970 and enjoying a 14-year NBA career that including winning a league championship with Golden State in 1975.

● Malbert Pradd, a three-time NAIA All-American for the Dillard hoops team, including the university’s first-ever All-America nod; in addition to leading the NAIA in scoring in 1966 with a 39.1 points-per-game average, Pradd established a whopping 22 school records, most notably the single-game scoring mark of 55 points.

This article originally published in the January 29, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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