Former Bears: Assists Lead to Success
Within the past year, at least 25 former members of Baylor’s men’s basketball program played professionally, including five in the NBA (Quincy Acy, Taurean Prince, Royce O’Neale, Ekpe Udoh and Johnathan Motley). Baylor’s connection with the NBA is expanding, never more rapidly than during head coach Scott Drew’s tenure.
However, the history of former Bears succeeding in professional basketball predates the Drew era. Starting with Vinnie Johnson in 1979, at least one former Baylor player has been active in the NBA every season for the past 40 years.
Carroll Dawson, BS ’60, Baylor’s head coach from 1973 to 1977, became an assistant coach for the NBA’s Houston Rockets in 1979. He moved to the franchise’s front office a decade later and became the Rockets’ general manager in 1996. Dawson hired three former Baylor teammates during his time as general manager: Dennis Lindsey in 1996, Melvin Hunt in 1999 and David Wesley in 2004.
Lindsey and Hunt were freshmen on Baylor’s 1988 NCAA Tournament team, the program’s first NCAA Tournament squad in 38 years. Wesley joined the pair for an NIT run in 1990. Collectively, the quartet of Dawson, Lindsey, Hunt and Wesley have logged more than a century on NBA courts, sidelines and front offices.
Dawson spent 38 years with the Rockets, retiring in 2007. The former All-Southwest Conference center and also scouted for the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Rockets coaching staff. Dawson was part of the Rockets organization the four times that the team made the NBA Finals. His initials are on a banner hanging from the rafters of Houston’s Toyota Center.
Dawson, 81, suffered impaired vision after being struck by lightning in 1989, forcing his move from coaching to the Rockets’ front office. As a coach, Dawson honed the post skills of NBA Hall of Famers such as Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson and Yao Ming.
“People thought I was crazy when I was getting so many Baylor people down here with the Rockets,” Dawson says. “But if you go to Baylor, you love Baylor people. They work out. The Rockets were lucky to get Dennis, Melvin and David.”
Lindsey says that each member of the trio come from good families and middle-class backgrounds. They were hungry and had something to prove.
Hunt (Baylor 1987-91), from Tallulah, Louisiana, and Lindsey (Baylor 1987-92), from Clute, Texas, were recruited to Baylor together and became freshmen roommates. Wesley (Baylor 1989-92), from Longview, Texas, spent a year at Temple [Texas] Junior College prior to his three seasons at Baylor.
“David is tough and also funny,” Lindsey says. “Part of his ability to play 14 years in the NBA and become the second all-time leading scorer for undrafted players (11,842 points) was his no-nonsense, take-on-all-comers attitude, his physical strength and his ability to shoot the ball. At Baylor, Melvin and I could quickly tell David was the best player and going to be the best player among us, but we were guys who always found the gym.
“David had the talent and skill to matriculate to the NBA. Melvin and I both wanted to continue careers in basketball, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us to play at that level. So, we had to get here by other means.”
Hunt did it through scouting and coaching; Lindsey did it through scouting and management.
“Melvin is one of those guys that when he walks into the room, it just lights up with his infectious energy,” Lindsey says. “Melvin truly loves basketball. He’s in the top 1 percent of people I’ve ever met who loves the game, the comradery, the work, the play. I developed a love for basketball because of the competition and the comradery.
“The three of us have unique but overlapping paths, and I’ve also taken great pride in the paths of Darryl Middleton, Micheal Williams and countless other Baylor teammates who have played professionally.”
Middleton and Williams led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament in 1988, when they were the top two scorers in the Southwest Conference. Middleton was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and played professionally in international leagues until age 47. He is now an assistant coach for CSKA Moscow. Williams had a 10-year NBA career and still holds the record for consecutive free throws made (91).
Out of Baylor, Lindsey coached at Southwest High School in Fort Worth and Pensacola [Florida] Junior College while earning a master’s degree in sports management before Dawson hired him as a video coordinator and scout for the Rockets in 1996. In 11 seasons with the Rockets, Lindsey held several positions up to vice president of basketball operations and personnel. In 2007, he was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as vice president and assistant general manager. Five years later, Lindsey became general manager of the Utah Jazz. His excellence in all of these roles culminated in his recent promotion to executive vice president of basketball operations. Well-respected by his peers, Lindsey was runner-up in the voting for 2018 NBA Executive of the Year.
“I watched Dennis play at Baylor, so I knew his background pretty well,” Dawson says. “Eventually he became the assistant general manager, and I relied on him heavily for about 11 years. He also pointed me toward Melvin. Dennis is just talented; he knows what he’s doing and was the best assistant anybody could have. He propped me up as we worked together shoulder to shoulder. I’m still very close to him.”
Dawson was heartbroken when Lindsey was not chosen as his successor as Rockets general manager. That is what led to Lindsey’s move to the rival Spurs.
“Dennis did a great job in San Antonio, and he’s done wonderful in Utah,” Dawson says. “This year will be probably their best team since he’s been there. I’m looking for the Jazz to be a factor in the league again this year.”
Hunt played professionally in the Caribbean and Mexico before becoming a high school coach in Temple, Texas. He also worked for Baylor and earned a master’s degree before becoming a college assistant at Incarnate Word University. Lindsey recommended Hunt to Dawson for a video and scouting position with Rockets in 1999. Lindsey and Hunt spent five years working together with the Rockets.
“I knew I wanted Melvin the minute I interviewed him. He was just that kind of guy,” Dawson says. “He’s got the talent, the drive, and a broad base of knowledge with all he’s done. Now, Melvin is the top assistant for the Atlanta Hawks, and they have an up-and-coming team.”
Hunt admits he had no expertise in video at the time of his hire by the Rockets, but Carroll and Lindsey chose him because of his potential.
“They said, ‘We can teach you the technicalities of the job, but we want good people, people that we know will grow,’” Hunt says. “[Former Rockets Head Coach] Rudy Tomjanovich is like a big brother to me to this day. He really let me grow and immediately started giving me more and more things to do, trusting me more and more. Before you know it, I was assistant coach.”
Hunt is the lead assistant for the Atlanta Hawks, where he coached Prince last season. He previously held assistant coach positions with the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets (including interim head coach) and the Dallas Mavericks.
“Melvin has always had true leadership ability,” Lindsey says. “While he showed some of his capabilities when he was leading the Nuggets, David and I really hope that he gets a chance to lead an NBA club as a head coach because he’s more than qualified, more than deserving. Whoever gives him his first real shot at being an NBA head coach will get a true partner, someone trustworthy, someone of the highest character.”