APU Honors Cliff Hamlow at Basketball Alumni Reunion

More than 90 alumni ranging from the classes of 1955-89 filled Upper Turner Campus Center to honor their mentor, legendary Azusa Pacific University basketball coach and vice president emeritus Cliff Hamlow ’56, PhD, on Saturday, February 4. The group of former basketball players shared memories of their time as Cougars and the impact Coach Hamlow had on their lives.

Kicking off the event, athletic director Gary Pine ’84, MBA ’05, talked about the connection that brought the players together and the man at center court. “We’re celebrating four decades of Cougar basketball,” Pine said. “Cliff is the common bond right alongside the one forged by a team. There’s nothing like playing, battling, and winning together.”

After an opening prayer by Steve Seavers ’78, Pine passed the mic to the master of ceremonies, Ed Munson, who was APU’s sports information director from 1969-72 before becoming the official scorer for the Los Angeles Angels and later the Los Angeles Dodgers. Munson recounted many noteworthy moments throughout Hamlow’s tenure, including seven consecutive 20-win seasons, scoring 155 points in a single game, scoring more than 100 points in a single half, scoring 100 or more points 15 times in one season, and winning the Christian College Tournament four years in a row from 1968-72. “I’ve seen no-hitters and perfect games, but the moment that sticks out in my mind above everything else was watching Cliff get his 300th win as Bob Dickinson made a shot with six seconds left on the clock,” Munson said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone jump as high as Cliff did in that moment. I thank God for Cliff being an excellent coach, a better friend, and a pivotal mentor.”

Following Munson, Bill Young ’57 talked about how he and Hamlow came to campus together, back when the school was called Pacific Bible College. “At the time, I don’t think there was one person who came to be a part of the athletic program,” he said. “Cliff became a student-coach instead of a student-athlete and developed the program into what it is today.” In the first few years of Hamlow’s coaching career, the team practiced at gyms off campus before a donor provided funds to build the Cougar Dome in 1958.

As the years went by, Hamlow began recruiting players and strengthening the program. By the end of the 1960s, the Cougars were a perennial powerhouse thanks to excellent coaching and talented players such as Chuck Boswell ’69. Boswell’s freshman season was the year Azusa College and Pacific Bible College merged to form Azusa Pacific. While the players had been rivals before, Hamlow coached them to work together to reach new heights. Boswell fondly recalled his favorite memories, from going on basketball road trips and running out of gas to singing in church choirs. He ended by describing all of Hamlow’s accolades. “Cliff, your greatest award isn’t here. Your greatest reward is that some day you’re going to Heaven and you will see players you brought to the Lord, and through faith they each became a different person,” he said. “Coach, I appreciate that, because I was one of those people. You did that for me. I love you and can’t thank you enough.”

Following Boswell, Dennis Dickens ’70 talked about how Hamlow gave him a chance to develop his skills when few other coaches would have done so. After graduation, Dickens had a brief NBA career before playing professionally in Europe. “My coach in the pros told me the only reason I made it this far is because Coach Hamlow taught me how to play right,” Dickens said.

“Every year as a coach, Cliff got better. That doesn’t happen often. He’s more than a great coach. He put APU’s basketball program on the map. In the basketball world, everybody knows APU all because of Cliff.”

Many players went on to coach after graduating, including Gordon Billingsley ’73 and Gary Johnson ’80. Billingsly said he treasured Hamlow’s mentorship and patience. Johnson described watching the way Hamlow coached, not shouting or getting angry with his players. Johnson replicated this in his coaching, as he went on to win Coach of the Year many times at the high school level in the San Gabriel Valley. “My favorite part was getting to coach the all-star teams, because the all-star games were held at APU,” Johnson said. “I was so proud because Coach could see me walking those sidelines just like he did.”

The final two players to share, Dave Dangleis ’87 and John Hoetker ’89, spoke about Hamlow’s impact off the court and in their lives after graduation. Dangleis spoke about a film session that turned into a prayer session as the team gathered around an old TV to watch the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. “Cliff knew we could watch game film anytime; he made sure we stopped to grasp the significance of what had happened and prayed about it,” Dangleis said. “Coach, you taught us a lot about basketball, but you taught us more about being men, and I will always appreciate that.” Hoetker spoke about a moment more than 25 years after he finished playing basketball when he called Hamlow up and asked him to baptize his son and their family.

“I know a lot of this is about basketball and that sport is a wonderful thing because it brought us all together. But more than that, you taught us how to be in the right spot to have the greatest impact, showing us your vision for something more,” Hoetker said. “In my life, I never had a greater champion than you, Coach.”

To close out the ceremony before the group went over to the Felix Event Center to watch the current men’s basketball team beat Dominican University, Hamlow spoke about his legacy and his favorite memories from his 60 years of coaching (33 at APU and 27 at the high school level with his son, Gordon). “When I started college in 1954, I was at chapel and the Lord talked to me. I promised I would serve Him and go anywhere He wanted me to go,” Hamlow said. “Little did I know He didn’t want me to go very far. He put me here to develop an athletics program with the support of then-President Cornelius Haggard.” Hamlow recounted games in the Cougar Dome with a thunderous home crowd, giving players a quarter to go buy their meals on road trips, beating Richard Felix’s Bethel College basketball team at the National Christian College Tournament decades before Felix became APU’s president, and watching as his legacy was carried on by coaches Bill O’Dell, Justin Leslie, and Peter Bond. “It’s been great to see how our coaches have ministered to their players,” he said. “That’s been true of all our coaches here at APU. That’s why I believe in this place.” Hamlow ended by commending his players for making an impact in the lives of so many young people.

“In my 89 years, I’ve learned that we never retire from God’s work. We will slow down, but we won’t retire, because God always has something for us to do and people’s lives to touch.”