Ernie DiGregorio: “Reality Surpassed My Dream”

Nearly 50 years have passed since Providence College legend Ernie DiGregorio first stepped on the basketball court at Alumni Hall.

“I hope the next 50 go a little slower,” he laughed.

Almost five Decades later the honors for the Friars two-time All American are still coming in. On Novemebr 24, 2019, DiGregorio was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2019. DiGregorio was one of six former college players and three former head coaches who were officially enshrined in Kansas City at the The College Basketball Experience, adjacent to Kansas City’s Sprint Center.

DiGregorio was joined by Indiana’s Calbert Cheaney, Duke’s Shane Battier, Purdue’s Terry Dischinger, UNLV’s Larry Johnson and Stanford’s Todd Lichti along with former coaches Homer Drew, Lute Olson and the late Rick Majerus to form the Class of 2019.

“I’m humbled. To be included in that group is a hell of an accomplished. I feel fortunate,” said DiGregorio. “I was told only 150 are in the Hall of Fame. To be recognized among as one of the top 150 college basketball players and to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is quite an honor.”

VIDEO COURTESY NATIONAL COLLEGIATE BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME

Ernie D’s story is well known. He was the floor general for Providence’s high-powered offenses from 1970-73. He averaged 20.5 points and a program-record 7.7 assists per game over his career, earning All-America accolades in each of his three varsity seasons. DiGregorio averaged 24.5 points per game as a senior, leading Providence to the Final Four and earning ECAC Player of the Year and NCAA East Regional Most Outstanding Player honors. He was the third overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft and the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1974.

“It was a magical time. We had a hall of fame coach in Dave Gavitt, who was a kind, gentle human being and so fun to play for,” said DiGregorio “We had Marvin Barnes, who had that drive and a mindset like me to be a pro…and Kevin Stacom, who I am still very close to. We had three professionals and a Hall of Fame coach. We had the No 2 (Barnes) pick and the No. 3 (DiGregorio) in the (NBA) draft. That will never happen again. Amazing.”

So amazing in fact that nearly five decades later, at 68 years-old, his basketball career follows him everywhere he goes. Often, it seems like he played just yesterday.

“I get stopped everywhere…at (PC) games, in stores..everywhere . Everyone has a story…a memory of me playing they want to talk about,” said DiGregorio. “It was a magical time. No matter when else I did in my career, people will still talk about me playing for PC… people won’t remember me for playing in Buffalo or for the Celtics or that I was Rookie of the Year in the NBA…people will remember me as a PC basketball player. “

He is reminded of his basketball career every single day – even by those who were too young to witness his playing days in college or the pros, including his grandson, Ryan, who is 13.

“He created a song for me. I get a kick out of it. It goes something like this –

My name is Ryan C, grandson of the great Ernie D, who was Rookie of the NBA

He can cross you off the dribble and take you to the basket

And the next thing you know he’s put you in a casket…”

“I’d like to have him (Ryan) come up there with me and do a little rap when I get inducted,” laughed DiGregorio.

VIDEO COURTESY NATIONAL COLLEGIATE BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME

While DiGregorio was thrilled to have Ryan and several memories of his family join him at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony over the weekend, there were a few people in his circle that were missing.

“Of course I wish Marin (Barnes) and Dave (Gavitt) were able to share this with me. It’s bittersweet for sure. I miss them every single day. I was very close to those guys ….we had a bond started way back when I had my first day in college. Coach Gavitt asked me to go pick up Marvin. After I picked him up in my geen Corvette, we went to the gym at PC and played. Coach Gavitt was watching from up above and he looked down and gave us the thumbs up.”

It was the beginning of a magical, legendary career – and a lifelong friendship.

“I miss them both every single day,” said DiGregorio. “From that day I picked up Marvin in my green Corvette day til the day Dave died we were all close. When Marvin died that was my second sad day. I’ve lost two of the closest people in my life.”

National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame
2019 Inductees – Photo Courtesy National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

DiGregorio said he is working on a book and movie about his career.

“The book is called ‘A Star with a Broken Heart,'” he said.

He is approaching 69 years-old, more than a three point distance away from his playing days. He still makes keeping himself in shape a priority. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. everyday and works out for two hours.

“I can still dribble and shoot, I just can’t run…and I don’t want to get hurt,” he said.

His daily six-plus mile walk is often interrupted by honking horns and waves from passersby.

“When it was announced I was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, people pulled over to congratulate me,” said DiGregorio. “It’s humbling.”

As he headed to Kansas with his family for the induction ceremony, he thought about what he would say during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

“I was thrilled to have my dreams come true and play for Providence College,” said DiGregorio. “I always tell people what I told Coach Gavitt years ago…reality surpassed my dream.”