Before he became a legend at Duke, Dick Groat was a senior at Swissvale who was awestruck on his visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium in 1948.
“I remember looking at that place and saying, ‘Wow, this is the place where I want to play my basketball,' ” Groat said. “There was nothing like it back then.
“I loved every minute. I've always respected it. In so many different ways, It's a difficult place for a visiting team to play.”
Groat, 86, returns to Duke on Saturday with the visiting team for the first time as the radio color man for the Pitt Panthers, along with Bill Hillgrove on play-by-play.
They won't be side-by-side, however. Groat will sit near the Cameron Crazies student section, while Hillgrove calls the game from the rafters.
From there, Hillgrove will have clear view of Groat's No. 10 jersey. It was the first in Duke history to be retired, a special honor for the two-time All-American who set NCAA records for points (831) and free throws (261) in a season in 1950-51.
“That's the picture on my phone,” Hillgrove said of the jersey, visible “when he calls me or I call him.”
Groat and Hillgrove, Pitt's broadcast team for 38 years, are otherwise inseparable on the road. Duke's radio broadcasters have to climb a ladder to the rafters to call the game, which is why Groat will sit courtside instead.
Two years ago, Duke was set to honor Groat when Pitt visited the Blue Devils. A black-and-white photo of Groat was on the game program, and a presentation was planned.
But Groat suffered a concussion when he lost his balance and fell backward onto the cement floor while climbing the cellar stairs. He was hospitalized at UPMC East in Monroeville and didn't make the trip.
“It was very difficult,” Groat said. “I didn't realize until they came home that they had my picture on the program. Duke has always been very good to me.”
Of course, Groat also was very good to Duke. He still owns the single-game scoring record at Cameron, with 48 points against North Carolina in '52, when he was national player of the year.
“Here, people think of him as a shortstop. Down there, he's almost a basketball god,” Hillgrove said. “You mention his name, and people want to bow down.”
So, Groat is grateful for Pitt playing at the Tar Heels and Blue Devils in the same week. North Carolina remains the one place where the former Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals shortstop is known more for basketball.
“It's pretty interesting, everywhere we go, hearing the murmurs of people explaining to people around them who Dick Groat is and all that he's accomplished,” said Matt Plizga, Pitt's assistant athletic director of media relations, who spent 14 years at Duke. “When we were in St. Louis for the NCAA Tournament, everywhere we went you'd hear people whispering about him. They pulled up video of him playing baseball. I told them, ‘That wasn't even his best sport.' ”
Groat relishes the memories at Cameron, claiming he probably has played more basketball there than anyone in school history because he and his fraternity brothers and friends had pick-up games after midnight.
Even though he expects a warm welcome for his return — which coincides with Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski's return to the bench after missing seven games following back surgery — Groat's heart is with Pitt.
“I hate to say this, and I certainly don't say it a lot to people down there,” Groat said, “but I have been a fan of the University of Pittsburgh. I have been a fan since I was a baby. You can bet I'm rooting for the Panthers.”