Looking Back... Dickie Hemric's Record-Setting Career
Feb. 4, 2009
Records are made to be broken. That’s Sports Cliché 101. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
If you’ve thought of Dickie Hemric recently, it’s probably in that context. The former Wake Forest star last suited up in the ACC in 1955. The ACC was only in its second year in 1955 and had already made the decision to grandfather in Southern Conference statistics for the players who made the transition into the new league.
Thus the 2,587 points scored by Hemric at Wake Forest made him the leading scorer in ACC history. He maintained that distinction for five decades, holding off longer seasons, shot clocks, three-point shots, and a host of great ACC players.
That all changed in 2006 when Duke’s J.J. Redick passed Hemric in career points, a demotion that Hemric accepted with good grace. Now North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough is on track to pass both Redick and Hemric.
But Dickie Hemric was no one-trick pony. Scoring wasn’t his only forte. He also was a great rebounder, the best in ACC history and one of the best in college basketball history. His ACC rebounding records not only are intact but they haven’t been seriously challenged in decades.
Dickie Hemric grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in Jonesville, North Carolina, the ninth of 10 children. When he wasn’t playing sports or in school, he caddied on the local golf course or worked in stores, honing his work ethic.
He had a tryout with NC State but Everett Case never called him back. Murray Greason at Wake Forest was more enthusiastic and Hemric accepted his scholarship offer.
Hemric arrived in Wake Forest (the school had not yet moved to Winston-Salem) in the autumn of 1951. Because of the Korean War, freshmen were eligible for varsity competition and it didn’t take long for Hemric to make an impact.
Hemric was 6’6” and playing at about 230 pounds at the time. He simply overpowered the competition. The three-second area was smaller in those days and Hemric spent his days lurking near the basket. Former Duke player Bernie Janicki once compared trying to move Hemric to trying to move a tree.
And Hemric could rebound. Oh, how he could rebound. “There wasn’t any trick to it,” say Hemric. “Block out your man, time your jump, grab the ball. I always was strong and nobody was going to outwork me. I loved getting those put-backs. The only way to stop me was to foul me.”
Wake was still in the Southern Conference in 1951-52. Hemric averaged 22 points and an astonishing 18.6 rebounds per game as a freshman.
Hemric grabbed a school-record 25 rebounds on December 27, 1951 against Cornell. That was in the opening round of the Dixie Classic. Hemric broke that mark with 31 rebounds the next day against Duke, and then added 25 against Navy. Eighty-one rebounds in one three-day tournament, the three best rebounding games in Wake Forest history by a freshman in his first month of college ball.
Wake lost all three of those Dixie Classic games and finished the season 10-19.
But things were about to get better. Horace “Bones” McKinney joined the Wake Forest staff as an assistant to Greason for the 1952-53 season. McKinney had played six seasons in the NBA and he knew all the tricks of the trade. He taught them all to Hemric. McKinney and Hemric would stay 30 minutes after practice, working on pivot moves, footwork, up-and-under moves, block-out techniques, adding skills to Hemric’s arsenal of brute strength. In his book Bones, McKinney wrote, “Dickie learned more in 30 days than anyone I ever saw.” Hemric’s most effective addition was a devastating hook shot, shot with either hand, close to the basket, unblockable and almost unstoppable.
Wake was much improved in 1953. The arrival of McKinney helped, as did the return of star forward Jack Williams, who had sat out the previous season.
The Deacons finished second to NC State in the regular season. The teams advanced to the Southern Conference Tournament finals, held on the Wolfpack’s home court Reynolds Coliseum. Case’s team had captured six consecutive conference tournaments and few expected anything different on this day. But Williams scored 17 points and Hemric 16 as Wake overcame a five-point deficit with five minutes left to upset the favored Wolfpack, 71-70.
The win gave Wake an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Deacons opened against Holy Cross, a team they had defeated 91-69 earlier that season in the Dixie Classic. Wake had played three tournament games just days earlier and thought they had Holy Cross’ number.
Combining fatigue with overconfidence was a bad mix. Holy Cross led from the beginning and cruised to a 79-71 win. Hemric had 29 points and 17 rebounds but was matched by Holy Cross’ Togo Palazzi’s 32 points and 12 rebounds.
Wake did get a chance to play in the East Region consolation game. Hemric had 29 points and 18 rebounds in a 91-71 win over Lebanon Valley. It was Wake Forest’s first win in the NCAA Tournament.
Hemric ended the 1953 season averaging 24.9 points and 16.6 rebounds per game.
Two months later, Wake Forest and six other Southern Conference teams broke away from the Southern Conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference; Virginia joined later that fall.
Hemric was just as good in his new league. He had 22 points in his first ACC game, a 71-54 win over Maryland, and went from there. He averaged just over 24 points per game, second in the conference to Virginia’s Buzz Wilkinson, and led the league with 15.1 rebounds per game. Hemric was the league’s first Player of the Year and the first AP (third-team) All-American.
Wake came tantalizingly close to duplicating its 1953 Southern Conference Tournament run in the inaugural ACC Tournament. The third-seeded Deacs defeated South Carolina in overtime in the ACC’s first tournament game and then upset second-seeded Maryland 64-56 in the semifinals, also in overtime, behind Hemric’s 23 points and 17 rebounds.
Fourth-seeded NC State defeated top-seeded Duke in the other bracket. State led Wake by 16 in the second half but Hemric led a spirited comeback to force overtime once again. But NC State had too many weapons and prevailed in the extra period, winning 82-80. Hemric scored 26 points with 12 rebounds, out-playing Wolfpack star Ronnie Shavlik.
Hemric added the first ACC Tournament Most Outstanding Player award to his trophy room.
Hemric was even more dominant as a senior. North Carolina coach Frank McGuire maintained that Hemric “is going to score about 30 or more points against you, regardless, so why bother to concentrate on him? We just try to stop the other guys on the team.”
McGuire wasn’t exaggerating. Hemric opened the season with 36 points against George Washington, scored 43 in a loss to West Virginia in a holiday tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, and hit a career-high 49 points in a 100-90 win over Virginia.
Hemric said good-bye to the Dixie Classic with another stunning series, 86 points, including 35 points and 20 rebounds in another game against West Virginia. Wake defeated the Mountaineers 96-94 in this rematch, the highest-scoring game in Dixie Classic history.
For once, Hemric was overshadowed. West Virginia All-American “Hot Rod” Hundley scored a Dixie Classic record 47 points in the defeat.
Hemric’s best game may have been 54 years ago today, a February 4 game against Clemson. The Tigers weren’t very good in those days and Wake cruised to a 120-65 win. The 120 points remains the third-highest point total in school history. In that game, Hemric set the pace with 41 points and 36 rebounds. The latter broke the ACC record of 35 set by Shavlik against Villanova earlier that season. Shavlik’s record lasted five weeks. Hemric’s record has lasted 54 years. (Given that no ACC player has had more than 25 rebounds since the 1970s, this looks like one of those records that may not be made to be broken.)
This wasn’t Hemric’s only highlight against Clemson. Later that season, at Clemson, Hemric passed Furman’s Frank Selvy to become the NCAA’s career scoring leader. Hemric has fond memories of being presented the game ball by Clemson Athletic Director (and legendary football coach) Frank Howard. “It’s one of those memories I cherish. They made a big deal about it. They didn’t have to.”
NC State ended Hemric’s college career in the second round of the ACC Tournament, beating Wake 85-70. Hemric was in foul trouble much of the game and fouled out with only 15 points.
Hemric repeated as ACC Player of the Year and was named second-team All-America by AP and UPI. He averaged 27.6 points and a league-leading 19 rebounds per game. He ended his college career averaging 24.9 points and 17.3 rebounds.
The Boston Celtics drafted Hemric in the 1955 draft. He played two seasons in Boston, helping them win the 1957 NBA title. If that doesn’t sound all that impressive, keep in mind that the NBA consisted of only eight teams in the 1950s, 10 players per team.
Hemric graduated from Wake Forest with a degree in Business Administration. After the end of his playing career, he began working for Goodyear Tire Company. Thirty years and numerous moves later, he retired as Product Manager for Highway Truck Tires. He still lives in North Canton, Ohio.
J.J. Redick and Tyler Hansbrough may move Hemric down the ACC scoring list but he’s likely to remain on top of a number of other categories. His rebounding prowess is unprecedented. Hemric has the three best rebounding seasons and the five best rebounding games in Wake Forest history. Considering that Wake’s big-man tradition includes such notables as Len Chappell and Tim Duncan, this is an impressive statistic.
But Hemric’s dominance extends to the ACC record book. His 1,802 career rebounds is a record by more than 200 over second-place Shavlik. Duncan is third and he played 24 more games than Hemric. Hemric’s 17.3 rebounds per game tops the ACC career list, while his 19.0 rebounds per game in 1955 remains second-best season average in ACC history; Shavlik averaged 19.5 in 1956.
Hemric is most proud of the 1,359 free throw attempts he earned. Hemric made two-thirds of those foul shots, strengthened by his shooting nearly 75 percent from the line over his final two seasons. Those 1,359 foul shots attempted and 907 free throws made top the NCAA Division I career list; he’s fifth in rebounds.
Hemric sees strong similarities in foul shooting and rebounding. “You get hit a lot,” he laughs. “I took a lot of punishment. But I could take it and I could dish it out. I knew that my physical strength was an asset and I wasn’t afraid to use it. Working hard, that’s what made me the player I was. I wasn’t just a scorer. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Jim Sumner's articles on southern sports history have appeared in the ACC Handbook, the ACC Area Sports Journal, Blue Devil Weekly, Inside Carolina, the Wolfpacker, Baseball America, Basketball America, and other publications. His latest book, Tales From the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood, was published in 2005. In his bimonthly column "Looking Back... by Jim Sumner", he will examine the rich history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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