Bill Willoughby Honored
As His Newly-Retired No. 32 Jersey Was Displayed on Englewood's Thomas J. Morgan Gym Wall
Bill Willoughby became one of the first players to go directly from high school to the NBA in 1975. Albert King (left), Willoughby 's former teammate with the Nets, showed up to watch the ceremony. Mayor Wildes (Middle) named the day after him and lauded Bill Willoughby's (Right) decision to get his college degree when his NBA career ended.
ENGLEWOOD -- There are two Charlie McGill drawings of Bill Willoughby in the foyer of Englewood's Thomas J. Morgan Gym, souvenirs of two of the three times Willoughby was named The Record's Athlete of the Week. Willoughby's name is also listed on a banner inside the gym along with the five other 1,000-point scorers in Englewood history.
That was the extent of Willoughby's presence in the gym where he ruled supreme in the early Seventies before he became one of the first players to go directly from high school to the NBA in 1975. Until Thursday night, that is.
Willoughby stood under one of the baskets with tears in his eyes, watching as Englewood officials yanked a tarp off his newly-retired No. 32 jersey hanging on the gym wall. It was a crowning moment in the life and times of a man who is still considered by many to be the best high school basketball player in Bergen County history.
"That means everything," said Willoughby, who scored 2,371 career points before being taken by the Atlanta Hawks with the ninth pick in the 1975 NBA draft. "This is where I'm from. I never forget that."
It was a simple, 15-minute ceremony in front of a half-empty gym, but Willoughby understood its significance. He received a framed replica of his jersey from Englewood athletic director Brian Rodak, and the key to the city from Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, who proclaimed Thursday "Bill Willoughby Day" in Englewood.
"This was overdue," said Charles Cobb, a former teammate who spoke during the ceremony before Englewood played River Dell in a BCSL American Division game. "Long overdue. But at least it's getting done. This is well earned and well deserved.
"He's part of the history of this school. I don't think the kids here understand the magnitude of this. You see the gym half empty for games, but when he played, the games were at 4 p.m. and the gym was always packed because people wanted to see him play."
Albert King, Willoughby's former teammate with the Nets, showed up to watch the ceremony. Wildes raved about Willoughby's decision to get his college degree when his NBA career ended, and talked about plans to eventually name the court in Willoughby's honor.
"The NBA should be recognizing him, too, because he's a pioneer," Cobb said. "Guys who are doing now what he did should recognize him and know who he is. They're reaping the fruits of what he did."
Willoughby, 48, runs clinics at Englewood during the summer and did some one-on-one coaching last season with former Englewood big man Alvin Mofunanya. He admits he doesn't come to Englewood games as much as he'd like, but he said that's going to change.
"I'm going to start coming back more," said Willoughby, who lives in Hackensack. "I want to start getting involved more because I want to help the young kids. The NBA has programs now, but not when I came out. I just want to spread the news what they can do with an education."
Reproduced from The Record
Friday, February 17, 2006
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
2-10 N. Van Brunt Street
Englewood , NJ 07631
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer