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Adrian Dantley

Tom Nissalke, the former Utah Jazz coach, minces few words when talking about the impact Adrian Dantley had on the Beehive State's favorite basketball team.

"It if wasn't for him," Nissalke said, "the franchise wouldn't be here."

Heck, for most of his seven seasons here — from 1979 through 1986 — Dantley was the franchise. He won two NBA scoring titles in Utah, averaged 30-plus points four years in a row, and he helped the Jazz win their first division title and make the playoffs for the first time in 1984.

If it weren't for what Dantley did in Utah, the franchise's first star on the Wasatch Front wouldn't be where he currently is — in Springfield, Mass. As of Friday, Dantley now has a permanent residence of sorts there as a newly inducted member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

It's about time this recognition happened, Nissalke insists.

Despite a prolific career at every level — from his All-American days at legendary DeMatha Catholic High School and Notre Dame, to winning a gold medal in 1976 as Team USA's leading scorer to a prolific NBA career with the Jazz and six other teams during which he scored 23,177 points — it took Dantley seven times as a Hall of Fame finalist to earn an entry ticket into hoops immortality.

Getting his No. 4 jersey retired by the Utah Jazz in 2007 — a move that might have helped him finally get the Hall of Fame recognition — was another honor that fit in the better-late-than-never-but-still-too-late category.

"For years when you thought of the Utah Jazz, you thought of three people — John Stockton, Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley," Nissalke said.

Nissalke said he "lost interest" in the Hall of Fame process when Dantley went so many years without making it.

"To me, he was everything you want in a player — a competitor, a hard worker, trained hard, practiced hard," he said. "He was just an absolute amazing player and also a very, very tough guy."

Nissalke laughs recalling the group of players the Jazz brought on what he called "the march into the desert from New Orleans." So he was thrilled when the Jazz traded Spencer Haywood to the Los Angeles Lakers to get Dantley prior to the 1979-80 season.

Dantley played under Nissalke for 2 1/2 years, during which they formed solid professional and personal relationships.

"A.D. is one of the hardest-working guys (that it was) my pleasure to coach," Nissalke said. "He kept himself in immaculate physical condition."

Nissalke said he couldn't understand why Dantley picked up a bad rap as a player — the most famous feud, of course, being with coach Frank Layden — or someone who was "surly" or selfish.

"He's just a guy who takes himself and the game very, very seriously and he's still that way as a coach," Nissalke said of the current Denver Nuggets assistant coach.

Along with praising Dantley's work ethic, Nissalke lauds the ball-spinning, smooth-shooting, undersized forward for his "impeccable footwork" and his uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line.

All that helped the 6-foot-4 Dantley average 24.3 points on 54-percent shooting over his 15-year NBA career.

"You used to hear players say he shot too much," Nissalke said. "But I can't think of a guy I'd rather have shooting the ball than him."

Just like he can't think of a guy who's more deserving of finally making the Hall of Fame, either.

Adrian Dantley file

6-5, 210 pounds, small forward

Born: Feb. 28, 1956

High school: DeMatha Catholic

College: Notre Dame

NBA teams: Buffalo Braves (1976-77); Indiana Pacers (1977-78); Los Angeles Lakers (1978-79); Utah Jazz (1979-1986); Detroit Pistons (1986-89); Dallas Mavericks (1988-90); Milwaukee Bucks (1990-91)

NBA games: 955

Points: 23,177

Scoring average: 24.3 ppg

FG percentage: 0.540

Rebounds: 5.7 rpg

Career highlights: Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday after being a finalist six times ... Six-time NBA All-Star ... Named 1976-77 NBA Rookie of the Year ... 1984 NBA Comeback Player of the Year while leading Jazz to first division title and first playoff spot ... Averaged 29.58 points in 461 games with the Jazz ... Ninth-highest scorer in NBA history at the time of his retirement in 1991 ... Led gold-medal winning U.S. team in scoring during 1976 Olympics ... All-American at DeMatha and Notre Dame ... Finished pro career in Italy with Breeze Milan ... Began coaching career as an assistant at Towson State University in Maryland.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com