Sept. 27, 2010
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
With his NBA dreams dashed or at least put on hold when he was released by the Atlanta Hawks following his senior year at Baylor, Darryl Middleton took his basketball wares to the remote outland of Turkey.
Twenty-two years, four countries, seven league championships and over 10,000 career points later, the 44-year-old power forward is still at it, playing for CB Saint Josep in Girona, Spain, with the distinction of being the oldest player ever in the Spanish professional basketball leagues.
"I may be on my last leg, but I'm still here," said Middleton, who will return to the U.S. next month when he is inducted into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame during the Oct. 22-23 Homecoming weekend. "Everybody always asks me when I'm going to quit. The thing is, I still like to compete. And as long as I feel like I can compete and help out a team and I still have that fire . . . You've got to have something that keeps you going. What motivates me now is trying to help some of these younger players."
When he packed his bags and headed off for Turkey, fresh off back-to-back postseason appearances and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, who knew that Middleton would make a career of playing basketball overseas?
"I didn't even know they played basketball here," said Middleton, who's also played in Italy, Spain, Russia and Greece. "My agent said he had talked to a Turkish coach and they wanted me. And I was like, `Really? OK.' And man, it's been a great experience. I've loved it. If I could turn back time, I think I would do it all over again."
It seems like Middleton has been turning back time for the last two decades. A three-time Spanish league MVP (1992, 1994, 2000), he led FC Barcelona to a pair of Spanish titles in 1995 and '96, won four Greek titles, a pair of Greek Cups and the 2002 Euroleague championship with Panathinaikos and then played on the Akasvayu Girona team that won the 2007 FIBA EuroCup championship.
"It's not like they treat me like LeBron (James) or anything like that," he said. "But the coaches respect me a lot and the players look up to me. Everybody always asks me for advice, like how you shoot, the moves you make, offense, defense, positions. Everybody has treated me like family. It's been incredible what I've been through."
One thing that shouldn't have been a surprise is Middleton's adaptability. Here's a guy who left his hometown of Queens, N.Y., for Waco, Texas, to play basketball at Baylor.
"I was recruited by a lot of teams from the Big East," Middleton said. "But I went to Baylor on a visit with (Michael Williams, Frank Williams and Robert McLemore). All of us came in together to visit the school, and I just fell in love with it."
Considered one of Baylor's best recruiting classes ever, that quartet started three years together and was the core of a group that led the Bears to 41 wins over the last two seasons and appearances in the National Invitation Tournament in 1987 and the NCAA Tournament as seniors in '88.
Baylor coaches initially came to New York to recruit a guard named Eric Johnson, the younger brother of former All-American Vinnie Johnson. "They hadn't even heard of me," Middleton said. "But I had a big game, like 40 points and 20 rebounds. And the next thing I knew Baylor was knocking on my door."
Wendell Hudson, then a Baylor assistant and currently the head women's basketball coach at Alabama, encouraged Middleton to weather the storm of an NCAA investigation and stay in school.
"He just told me that this was the best situation for me and if I stayed that I would turn out to be a great player," said Middleton, who still ranks sixth all-time in career points (1,677) and rebounds (730). "And he was telling me the truth. He was a big influence on me staying at Baylor. I stayed here and things just worked out for me."
A two-time first-team All-Southwest Conference pick who was named to Baylor's 17-member All-Centennial team in 2006, Middleton averaged 15.7 points as a sophomore, 18.3 as a junior and 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior in '88.
"(The '88 season) didn't end up the way we wanted," Middleton said, "but we did make it to the SWC Finals and went to the NCAA Tournament. All the stuff that happened to us through the years, we needed something good, and it happened. I had a good year, a super year, really."
Taken in the 3rd round of the 1988 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks with the 68th pick overall, Middleton would return to the U.S. "four or five summers in a row" for camp tryouts.
"But I was like, `Hey, if nothing turns out, I can always go back to Europe,' I had no complaints," he said. "I went to camp and did quite well, but you know how it is in the NBA. They know who they really want. I didn't care. I went there to work out in the summers, so I could get in shape and come back to Europe."
Now, 22 years later, as his pro career winds to a close, Middleton will return next month for a Hall of Fame induction that's been a long time coming.
"It just shows that Baylor didn't forget about me," he said. "I know that without my teammates, it wouldn't have been possible. It feels nice to be rewarded for all that work we put in."
Tickets to the 2010 Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame banquet, which will be held on Friday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Ferrell Center, are $45 each ($35 for Baylor letterwinners). Table sponsorships are also available for $450 and corporate sponsorships for $500. Contact the "B" Association's Tammy Hardin at 254-710-3045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.