DURHAM -- It was at the ripe old age of 15 that Randy Denton burst upon the scene in basketball — January 8, 1965 to be exact.
A 6-foot-10 sophomore high school player from Raleigh, N.C., Denton stood 10 feet tall on that evening as his Enloe Eagles took on the mighty Broughton Caps, the defending Eastern 4A state champions and a team that featured one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
Enloe was the new school in Raleigh, just three years old, taking on the area’s flagship school in Needham B. Broughton High, established in 1929.
After going back and forth for most of the game, it was down the stretch, in the final minute, that the contest was decided. Denton scored five points in the final 26 seconds to lead Enloe to a 63-61 victory. It was the first varsity win by any Enloe team over Broughton. Denton tallied 18 points on the night while Maravich scored 20 points.
But as Denton’s high school coach Howard Hurt will tell you, with Maravich in the game it wasn’t over until the final whistle. With one second left and Broughton down by three Maravich was on the line foul line. He made the first free throw, then tried to miss the second so that it came off the rim and could be tipped in. It didn’t get tipped in.
“I was sure Pete would try something,” said Hurt, a former Duke basketball player (1959-61). “And I could only hope it wouldn’t work.”
“Denton played a great game, a tremendous one for a sophomore,” said Broughton coach Ed McLean, who went on to be an assistant at N.C. State. “The pressure was on him and he really came through.”
It was a very special time for high school basketball in the capital city. Both Maravich and Denton were thought of as big-time talents and played a lot of ball against each other.
“Pete and I knew each other from a few night clubs in Raleigh and we played against each other in pickup games at the old Hayes Barton pool courts and in summer league games at the Raleigh YMCA,” said Denton. “It was a great time.”
From that moment on, Denton knew he had the opportunity to become a very special basketball player.
“He tried to play football at one time in high school,” said Hurt, who was a two-time team captain during his Blue Devil days. “They put him out at end at 6-10 and would throw the ball really high to him, but it just never worked out. But he could play basketball. He was a good rebounder and a really good post player.”
“Coach Hurt, a great Duke player in his own right, worked with me to improve me as a player,” explained Denton. “He taught me that I had to do more than just be tall to be a really good player and that meant a lot to me.”
Denton developed into a very fine player and at 6-10, garnered a great deal of attention from college coaches. Hurt and Denton’s mom received over 200 letters from colleges around the country. He was recruited by Frank McGuire at South Carolina, Dean Smith at North Carolina, Vic Bubas at Duke and his future head coach Bucky Waters, who was at West Virginia at the time. Hurt remembers McGuire coming to town in his big white Cadillac while Denton remembers Smith taking his mom to the Angus Barn a couple of times.
“My dad died in the summer of ‘66 suddenly. I only made one recruiting trip and that was to Davidson, who had Lefty Driesell as the head coach,” explained Denton. “My dad loved Duke. He thought a lot of Coach Bubas and his love of Duke and Coach Hurt were the reasons I went to Duke.”
At Duke he became known for his consistency. As a center for the Blue Devils, he earned second team All-ACC honors as a sophomore and junior and made the first team as a senior. In all three years of his varsity career, from 1969-71, he led the team in scoring and rebounding. In 1971 he was named All-America in 1971 before embarking on nine years as a professional player, all with very steady and reliable performances.
That consistency earned Denton an induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame this spring. Denton is already a member of the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, having been enshrined in 1991.
Denton’s college numbers accentuate his dependable play. His 19.7 career scoring average stands sixth in Duke history while his 12.7 rebound average is tops in school history. He still stands fourth in total rebounds for a career. Six times he scored more than 20 points and had 20 rebounds in a single game, and his scoring averages of 17.4 as a sophomore, 21.5 as a junior and 20.4 as a senior show his true consistency.
It was in his senior season that Denton felt he had one of his best games of his career when he helped to lead the Blue Devils to an 82-71 win over 10th-ranked South Carolina. Denton had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Tom Owens of South Carolina had just 12 points and six rebounds.
In 1968 Denton and the Blue Devils captured the Sugar Bowl Tournament and Denton was named the MVP. Another fact that he is truly proud of is that Duke never lost a Senior Day game in Cameron Indoor Stadium to North Carolina while he was on the team, winning three straight years in the regular season finale.
It was following the 1969 season that things changed for Denton. The coach that he had come to Duke to play for, Vic Bubas, decided to step down and Bucky Waters became his head coach for his final two seasons.
“My heart dropped (when Bubas resigned). He was always kind of a father figure to me, because my father thought so much of him,” explained Denton. “I remember after the season, we had lost our final game to Carolina in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, and a week later he called us in one by one and told us the time had come for him to move on to another job. Bucky came in, we weren’t sure what was going to happen, but I continued to start and played well under Bucky.”
Following graduation Denton was selected in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics in the fourth round — and by the Memphis Pros of the ABA in the first round. “Red Auerbach called and told me I could come work with the team in the summer and tryout with the team, while Memphis gave me a guaranteed three-year contract, so that’s why I went to Memphis,” he explained. He was traded to the Carolina Cougars, where he spent a short time before being traded back to Memphis, then known as the Memphis Tams. With Memphis, Denton had two solid years averaging 17 points per game in 1973 and 13.3 in 1974.
He also played in the ABA with the Utah Stars and the St. Louis Spirits, teaming up with Moses Malone at both stops. When the ABA folded, Denton was chosen by the New York Knicks in the dispersal draft, but ended up playing his final year in Atlanta for Hubie Brown, who had been an assistant coach at Duke during Denton’s career.
Denton finished his professional career in Italy, playing two years in Torino. Following his playing career, he settled down back in his hometown of Raleigh and is now director of business development for Executive Building Maintenance. He has worked with the Duke Medical Center on building projects for years.
He is also known today on the Internet for the big Afro haircut that he wore during his playing days in the ABA. Just Google Randy Denton to check out the old photos.
“I had as good a ‘fro as any of the guys in the league including Dr. J (Julius Erving),” he said with a big smile.
Randy Denton is a true North Carolinian who loved Duke. He was born and raised in Raleigh, married his high school sweetheart from Raleigh, attended college in North Carolina and even played professionally in the state. It’s not a surprise that the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined, is only five minutes from his home in Raleigh.