DePaul Legend Aguirre Inducted into Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame
Sept. 30, 2013
CICERO, Ill. - Mark Aguirre's storybook life took an unusual twist the summer before his senior year at Westinghouse High School.
One of the most sought-after basketball players in the country made his way from the West Side to a tiny town called Three Lakes in Wisconsin for a summer basketball camp run by legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer.
"One day, I heard about a bunch of kids tearing up a cabin," said Aguirre, the greatest player in DePaul history who was recently inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. "This elderly gentleman came into my cabin and said he was looking for Mark Aguirre. He said: 'I heard you were part of the group that tore up the cabin.'
"He pulled me out of my cabin and said I was on garbage detail for the rest of the camp session. I was one of the top high school basketball players in the country and being recruited by the top schools like UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky and Notre Dame. He wasn't supposed to be treating me like that.
"I remember coach Meyer saying how all the other coaches were telling me how great I was. He said: 'What I'm telling you is right---you are a great player. But I'm telling you that I think you could be better.' It made me think."
Whether it was being consigned to take out the trash or the insight "Coach Ray" had on an impressionable young man, Aguirre began to seriously consider staying home and starring for Chicago's hometown university.
What cinched the deal was the reaction Aguirre encountered from folks all over the city.
"As a senior, no matter where I went, people everywhere would tell me to stay in Chicago and play at DePaul," Aguirre told an overflow audience at the Sept. 18 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Hawthorne Race Course. "After being recruited by the top schools, I came to DePaul because of coach Meyer and all those people who kept telling me to stay home.
"Everywhere I went, on the El, on a bus, in restaurants, in school, just walking down the street, everyone told me to go to DePaul. I went to a basketball game at Proviso East and complete strangers came up to me and said go to DePaul.
"It was phenomenal. I can't express how incredible it was. My mom couldn't believe it. They all wanted me to continue the great legacy of sports in Chicago."
It didn't take long. His first season in Lincoln Park, the 6-foot, 6-inch scoring machine averaged 24 points and 7.6 rebounds in leading the 26-6 Blue Demons to the NCAA Final Four where they were knocked off by Indiana State and Larry Bird.
As a sophomore, Aguirre averaged 26.8 points and 7.6 rebounds as DePaul went 26-2 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the season. Aguirre was the consensus National Player of the Year and was selected to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team.
As the Blue Demons moved into a spacious new home, the Rosemont Horizon, Aguirre averaged 23 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior and helped attract an average of 13,369 fans per game. The consensus All-American became a fixture on national television with a team that finished the regular season 27-2 and ranked No. 1.
He was the No. 1 pick in the 1981 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks after setting a school record with 2,182 points in three seasons.
"If I had to pick one very special moment at DePaul, it would be seeing coach Meyer finally get to the Final Four," Aguirre said. "He told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear.
"Coach Ray was the guy who parked his Cadillac on the West Side of Chicago in a very tough neighborhood and walked up the four flights of stairs to get to the gym at Westinghouse and see me play. He was there all the time.
"The NBA was great, and I enjoyed winning those titles with the Detroit Pistons. But when I got there, I was complete.
"It was all the things I learned at DePaul that helped me reach the NBA. All of my growth came at DePaul. I was a kid when I got there. Coach Meyer and DePaul made me a man."
Aguirre said he was both honored and humbled at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
"Looking at the new inductees and all those who came before us, I was like, wow," Aguirre said. "It's incredible for one city to have so many great athletes and accomplishments. There's Don Beebe---I watched him play in six Super Bowls. Joel Quenneville has won two Stanley Cups. Rick Pitino won the NCAA Championship at Louisville.
"And the previous inductees include legends like Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Red Grange, George Halas, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Bo Jackson, Ray Meyer, Gale Sayers and Knute Rockne.
"I couldn't imagine this. It's so incredible. Until tonight, I had no idea of all the great names and Hall-of-Famers who had come before me. It's mind-boggling. Are you kidding me? I'm in the Hall of Fame of this incredible sports city."
Aguirre was raised listening to the voice of Jack Brickhouse announcing White Sox and Cubs' games on WGN-TV Channel 9. That was the only time the TV set at the Aguirre home could not be touched.
"I have lived a storybook life, and there are so many people involved in my story," Aguirre said. "First and foremost is my mother, Mary Aguirre. She came on a train from Arkansas, and the day she arrived in Chicago was the day I was born. She got off the train and here I come!
"I had rheumatic fever when I was seven years old and wasn't supposed to play any sports. I was confined to the porch, but I snuck out to play ball at West Garfield.
"I started out at Austin High School, and as I got more mature, you could see I was becoming a pretty decent ballplayer. There was a good man named Gary Peckler who was the basketball coach. Well, I left that school because they fired him.
"I transferred to Westinghouse and ran into a man named Frank Lollino. He was the coach there and already had an All-American named Eddie Johnson. Coach Lollino picked me up every day and brought me to school."
From "Coach Lo" to Coach Ray, and the rest is history.
Oh, except for one thing. Remember that incident at Three Lakes about trashing the cabin? It turns out Aguirre was never involved.
So why didn't he say something?
"No, that wasn't the kind of person I was," Aguirre said. "And besides, I didn't want to tell coach that he was wrong. So, I just took my punishment."
And now he can take his place among the great legends in Chicago's hallowed sports legacy.
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