Randy Hollis: Harold Arceneaux, Eddie Gill reflect on WSU's memorable NCAA triumph over North Carolina
OGDEN — Nearly 15 years have passed since "The Show" and "The Thrill" combined forces to help give Weber State the greatest victory in the history of the Wildcats' glory-filled basketball program.
On March 11, 1999, Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, Eddie "The Thrill" Gill and a gritty supporting cast propelled the Wildcats past North Carolina in one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
Indeed, it was a memorable "Show" and a "Thrill" to be there that night — especially for a Weber State grad like myself — watching the decided underdog Wildcats, a No. 14 seed coached by Ron Abegglen, take down the mighty, third-seeded Tar Heels 76-74 in an opening-round matchup of the Big Dance at Seattle's Key Arena.
Arceneaux, a smooth-shooting 6-foot-6 forward, poured in 36 points that might in Weber State's stirring win over the heavily favored Carolina team that hadn't lost a first-round game since 1978. And Gill added 16 points of his own against a storied program that's been a perennial NCAA powerhouse for decades.
Now, almost 15 years after that special night, Arceneaux and Gill were reunited for another pretty special occasion Friday, when they were inducted into the Weber State Athletic Hall of Fame along with three other former Wildcat athletes — basketball star Sessions Harlan, football standout Fine Unga and track/cross-country great Brad Barton.
Longtime WSU contributors Tom and Nancy Davidson were also honored during Friday's annual Hall of Fame ceremonies.
With this year's edition of March Madness just around the corner, it was a fine time to honor Arceneaux and Gill, who would've been inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame much sooner if their professional basketball careers and commitments hadn't kept getting in the way each year.
"It's extremely important," Gill said of Friday's induction. "I think I'll really grasp it all probably 10, 20 years from now. But knowing what the Hall of Fame means, that's a select group that you're now a part of, so it means the world to me."
"Especially when you know about all the great players that played here," added Arceneaux, "and to be among those players, it's a great thing.
"Both of us had a lot of choices coming out of junior college. I'm happy to be part of the family here. Coach A did a great job in recruiting me, came to the house and made me feel comfortable about coming to Weber State. It was just one of the best decisions I ever made."
And after what they helped the 'Cats accomplish that night in Seattle, their selection to Weber State's Hall of Fame has long since been a slam dunk.
Gill, a lightening-quick, 6-foot point guard, was awfully glad he was given that chance to play college ball with Abegglen and the Wildcats.
"What an opportunity that was given to us by Coach A," he said. " ... He kinda let us go. He gave us all the confidence in the world and he had a great system in place. We were always able to play through mistakes, play through good times and play through bad times, and he'd always say, 'Hey, just go out there and get it done.'
"And that went through the entire team, not just me and Harold. I think that was the biggest key for us."
Gill had grown up being a huge fan of the Tar Heels' program, which had reached the NCAA tourney's Final Four in each of the previous two seasons. He recalled the smug, overconfident looks on the faces of the Tar Heels' players when the Wildcats passed them on their way to practice the day before the game, as if the 'Cats didn't belong on the same court with them — which made the always-intense and highly competitive point guard want to beat them that much more.
"We just felt like we had a genuine chance to win the game," Gill said. "Never mind the individual battles within the game, we felt like our team was going to have a real chance to go win the game.
"I don't ever look at any opponent and think they're so great, like because you play for Carolina, you're great. I just happen to go to a different school than you, so I could very easily have your job. That's the way I look at it.
"No one can ever take that away from me. That's an opportunity and a moment that no one can take away," he said. "Carolina will always have to live with losing to Weber State. All those Cinderella stories — that's what March Madness is all about."
And every year about this time, those wonderful memories come flooding back.
"The game itself, definitely during college basketball season all the time," said the 35-year-old Gill, "and then obviously when the tournament rolls around, it really goes to another level because about half the time they're showing one of our highlights of (Harold) going crazy against Carolina and us winning the game and storming the court and the whole thing. During college basketball season, all the time I think about it, or whenever I see Carolina playing on TV."
Arceneaux, meanwhile, looked at the game against North Carolina as simply another great opportunity for him and his teammates to prove themselves.
"It was just another game for me," he said. "I was just there to win.
"We always was underdogs, I mean, even in junior college ... so it was always us having to prove that we were good players.
"But I was part of something that wasn't supposed to happen," he said. "We didn't realize we were making history. ... The next day, the phone just didn't stop ringing, so I think right after that day our lives were changed."
Arceneaux, who put on such an eye-popping "Show" with five 3-pointers against the Heels that many folks figured he'd leave school early for the NBA draft, instead returned along with Gill to play their senior seasons for the Wildcats.
And though the NBA never came calling, Arceneaux does not regret his decision to stay at Weber State for one more year.
"I try not to live in the past," he said. "Maybe if I leave, maybe something else happens. So I'm in a good place, I'm happy; I'm not a bum. I don't regret anything, so I'm happy with the decision I made."
Since his days at Weber State, Arceneaux, who will turn 37 in a month, played in various pro leagues in the United States — including two minor league teams in Utah — but never reached the NBA.
Instead, he played around the world for teams in Australia, France, Portugal, the Philippines, Venezuela and Mexico, where he is still playing and coaching pro ball for a team in Leon, Mexico.
"It was a blessing for me to find a situation like that situation," he said.
"For me personally, I grew up poor in the projects (of New Orleans), so to get an opportunity to see the world and experience things and help my family out and things of that nature, it's been a blessing for me. So I'm happy, totally, with everything."
Gill, who played pro ball for 12 years, including seven seasons in the NBA, started a basketball training business a year ago in Indianapolis, where he spent two seasons (2004-06) playing for the Pacers. His program is aimed primarily at youth players, focusing on their fundamental skill development.
During his NBA career, he scored the historic eight-millionth point in NBA history and was also there on the court trying to play peacemaker on that November 2004 night of the infamous "Malice at the Palace" brawl between the Pistons and the Pacers.
"The best part of the brawl was the next night I played 48 minutes because we were down to six players," he said with a laugh.
Gill also played with Memphis, New Jersey, Seattle and Milwaukee in the NBA, in various U.S. minor leagues and with pro teams in Italy, Greece, Russia, Belgium, Germany and Australia.
"Basketball enabled me to get my schooling paid for, which had I not had it I don't know that I would have been afforded that opportunity," he said. "So again I always say I'll take that basketball all around the world, literally. There are a lot of experiences I wouldn't have been able to get ahold of without my basketball experience starting here (at Weber State). There are a lot of experiences I wouldn't have been able to have without it."
Abegglen, whose coaching career with the Wildcats ended two days later when they dropped an excruciating overtime decision to Florida in a second-round tournament duel, has plenty of great memories from those days.
"The Carolina game was terrific, but I had more fun with them in practice than actually the games," he said of Arceneaux and Gill, who also played a year of JC ball together at the College of Eastern Utah. "The games are tedious and strenuous. I know they loved 'em, but I enjoyed the practice sessions with them more. That was the best thing — I found out they could both play.
"What shined for me was their skills and their total attitude to play the game. They loved to play the game. Eddie could outrun anybody anywhere and Harold could shoot — it took us a couple of weeks to find out he could shoot it from anywhere because he played center in high school and junior college.
"They were both intense," Abegglen said. "(Harold) always had a big smile on his face and Eddie was always grinding it out all the time, and it worked. Whatever it was they were doing, it worked."
Absolutely, it did. Just ask the Tar Heels.
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