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AP
Craig Raymond of Brigham Young, 55, beats NYU?s Charlie Silen, 42, to the rebound in first half of National Invitation Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 19, 1966. Stan McKenzie of NYU, 44, is at right background. Brigham Young scored a 97-84 victory to win the title. (AP Photo)

Editor's note: Former BYU player Craig Raymond died last week after a short battle with cancer. His former roommate and longtime Deseret News contributor Ken Driggs remembers the man and his impact at BYU.

In the fall of 1963, Craig Raymond, all 6-foot-11 of him, arrived on the BYU campus as a freshman. He had starred in basketball and track at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington. As imposing as he was, he was accompanied by an impressive array of basketball talent.

In a two-year recruiting period, coach Stan Watts and his staff had assembled a formidable group of players who would take the BYU program to new heights. Nine freshmen and two junior college transfers joined the program and contributed significantly to success on the court.

These players included Dick Nemelka, Jeff Congdon, Steve Kramer, Bill Ruffner, John Fairchild, Jon Stanley, Neil Roberts, Gary Hill, Jim Jimas and Ken James, as well as Raymond. BYU students came early to the freshman games to watch the touted first-year players and to root for the frosh to score 100 points, in the days with no shot clocks.

During Raymond's tenure, the Cougars, led by Fairchild and Nemelka, won the 1965 WAC championship and played national champion UCLA in the NCAA Tournament on the Cougars' home court. In the 1965-66 season, the Cougars started out like a house afire and scored more than 100 points each time in defeating national powers like Illinois, Houston (with Elvin Hayes) and No. 2 ranked St. Joseph's. That BYU team defeated Utah twice, and scored 115 points on the Utes in the regular season finale. I had a ringside seat for that victory in my Cosmo outfit.

The Cougars went to the National Invitation Tournament and played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, while Utah went to the NCAA Tournament and garnered a fourth-place finish. The Cougars delighted the savvy New York fans with a high-octane offense and Bob Cousy-like passes by Congdon.

Raymond shared time with another outstanding center, Jim Eakins, and Nemelka was the season-scoring leader. After defeating Temple and coach Bobby Knight's Army team, the Cougars demolished New York University to win the NIT championship, the second in school history.

Raymond and Kramer shared high scoring honors in that final game with 21 points each, and Raymond had nearly the same number of rebounds.

Raymond's final season as a Cougar started out with a lot of promise. He had a career-high 35 points in a big win over talented Utah State. The team tied Wyoming for the conference championship, but lost to the Cowboys in a playoff for a chance to play UCLA and the Bruins' sophomore phenom Lew Alcindor in the NCAA Tournament.

The NBA draft was next on the plate for Raymond, and he was drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was also picked in the early rounds of the American Basketball Association's first ever draft. Raymond and his lovely wife Carolyn Bodily decided to opt for a one-year stint in the European League, with the Simmenthal team from Milano, Italy. It was an enjoyable sports and cultural experience.

AP
Denver Rockets' Spencer Haywood drives around Los Angeles Stars Craig Raymond to go in for two points during their ABA Western Division final playoffs in Anaheim, Calif., May 5, 1970. The Stars won 119-113 to take a 2-1 lead in the best of seven playoffs. (AP Photo)

The Raymonds returned to the states, and he played one year with the Jack Ramsey-coached 76ers, and then played with several ABA teams. His best year was a championship run with the Los Angeles Stars (who later became the Utah Stars), and the team took the vaunted Indiana Pacers to six games before losing to the ABA champions in the finals.

Many lifelong friendships were developed in those exciting years, as well as treasuring a number of unique experiences. Raymond had been converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ while he was at BYU, and I was privileged to baptize him as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on an early December night in 1964, just before BYU defeated the Oregon Ducks on the Smith Fieldhouse floor.

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Raymond served in many capacities in the church, including ward bishop and high priests group leader. He remained faithful throughout his life until cancer took him from this life and his loving family. The Raymond's sweet daughter Tarah preceded him in death, and he is survived by his wife and three daughters, Taylor, Tawny and Bryn.

Big Craig, also known as "Stretch," left quite an imprint on BYU basketball and on those who knew him. His infectious and wry sense of humor will be missed. No. 55 is still big in my life, and cherished memories abound.