Wayne Embry saved one of Miami’s greatest basketball coaches from getting fired.
Or at least, that’s the joke Darrell Hedric likes to tell.
A legendary figure in Oxford, Hedric was the men’s basketball coach at Miami from 1970-1984. He has the second-highest winning percentage in program history (minimum 100 games), so really, his job didn’t need any saving. He’s five-foot-eight, white and has lived here for the majority of the last seven decades.
Embry, a legendary figure not just in Oxford, but throughout the sport of basketball, was a five-time All-Star player and the first African-American general manager in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. He sat on the Miami University Board of Trustees when Hedric held the head hoops position. Embry is six-foot-eight and has lived all over the country for the majority of the last seven decades.
And he and Hedric are friends.
“Oh, I betcha we talk every week or two [on the phone],” Hedric said. “He’s always interested in what’s going on [in Oxford] and how things are going … We talk about our families. I lost a son a couple years ago, and I had quadruple bypass surgery in July, two years ago. If I want to talk to him, I pick up the phone. If he wants to talk to me, he picks up the phone. We keep in touch.”
But when the 85-year-old Hedric and the 81-year-old Embry chat, they typically avoid talking about basketball. Yet that’s what brought them together.
The two met at Miami in the fall of 1954, when Hedric was a senior and Embry was a freshman. Hedric starred on the varsity basketball team, while Embry was a talented, but raw big man on the freshman team.
As part of their scholarships, both worked as waiters in dining halls. Hedric said Embry’s hands are so large, he could palm the plates he picked up.
After Hedric graduated that next spring, he spent two years away from Miami before returning as a graduate assistant prior to Embry’s senior season. That’s when their relationship blossomed.
“[Hedric] always gave words of wisdom, good advice both for in the classroom and on the basketball court,” Embry said. “He had a great influence in my development.”
Embry became one of the best players in the Mid-American Conference and was drafted into the NBA, beginning his career with the Cincinnati Royals. He made annual returns to his alma mater because the Royals held camps at Miami. He and Hedric always got together during these visits.
Their lives were only starting to grow together.
After retiring and becoming an NBA general manager, Embry joined the Miami Board of Trustees, thus overseeing university employees like Hedric.
No job saving was done.
Shortly after Hedric retired as Miami’s head coach in 1984, Embry was hired as the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He offered Hedric a job as a scout, and the former coach accepted.
“Darrell was a basketball junkie,” Embry said. “He has a great passion for the game.”
Because Hedric was a junkie and Embry obviously knew the game better than most, they often argued about players — something other scouts were scared to do.
“I was [at Miami] with him and I coached him, so if he asked me about something, I voiced my opinion,” Hedric said. “Sometimes we didn’t agree, but when the final decision was made, you know who was going to make it. He was.”
“Ohhhhhh yeah,” Embry said when asked if he remembered discussing players. “I had my opinions, he and the scouts had their opinions.”
The duo manned their respective posts for 15 years.
Nowadays, Embry lives in Arizona and is a senior advisor for the Toronto Raptors — “literally,” he said about his title, making light of his age. Hedric resides in Oxford and frequents the stands of Miami sporting events.
Before Embry returned for “Wayne Embry Day” last weekend, they hadn’t seen each other in a couple years. They made sure to catch up as soon as Embry arrived in Southwest Ohio, watching the RedHawks practice on Friday and eating breakfast together on Saturday.
Nothing had changed. It was just like talking on the phone, only better.
“It’s been a great relationship,” Hedric said.