The ACC has produced so many basketball stars through the years, but Dickie Hemric could always say he was one of the first.
Hemric, who died Thursday at 83, was the Wake Forest big man in the ACC’s earliest days, in the 1950s, when few players had the bulk and strength to contain the 6-6, 225-pound forward from Jonesville, in Yadkin County.
A double-double was the norm for Hemric. He finished his career at Wake Forest in 1955 as the ACC’s all-time leader in both points (2,587) and rebounds (1,802), and it wasn’t until J.J. Redick was at Duke – and firing up 3-pointers – that Hemric’s points record was topped.
As Redick approached the ACC record in 2006, ESPN and other media outlets duly noted the accomplishments of Hemric, who had been named one of the ACC’s best 50 basketball players during the conference’s 50th anniversary year. He was twice selected the ACC player of the year (1954 and ’55), was the ACC male athlete of the year in 1955 and a two-time All-American.
Redick finished with 2,769 points at Duke, holding the ACC’s top spot for a few seasons before being passed by UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough (2,872) in 2009. No one has topped Hemric’s 1,802 rebounds.
While proud of holding the ACC points record, Hemric didn’t begrudge Redick for breaking it, telling the Winston-Salem Journal in 2006: “Let the kid have his day. He’s earned it.”
Hemric averaged 24.9 points and 17.3 rebounds from 1952-1955. Opponents often resorted to fouling the power forward, who held the NCAA Division I free-throw records for career attempts (1,359) and made free throws (905) – Hansbrough later surpassing Hemric in made free throws.
Hemric had a personal-high 48 points against Virginia in 1955 and grabbed 36 rebounds against Clemson that season.
“Dick was a PR man's dream,” Bill Hensley, Wake Forest’s first sports information director, said Thursday. “He had that country-boy charm and a warming smile that would melt you. And he liked the media very much and they liked him.
“He was usually a shoo-in for basketball player of the year in the ACC as well as athlete of the year. But his statistics didn't hurt. All this, of course, in view that he was a helluva basketball player who was overlooked as a high school recruit. Maybe Jonesville wasn't on the map of most big schools.
“He was the perfect leader at Wake and was well-respected by his fellow players. And I think he knew every student in the school. He was very popular with the student body.”
Two of Hemric’s seasons came in the Southern Conference, before the ACC was formed in 1953-54. The way the story is told, Hemric was first turned down by N.C. State coach Everett Case and later recruited by Wake Forest coach Murray Greason while Greason was on a hunting trip in Yadkin County. The son of a carpenter, Hemric was the ninth of 10 children.
Once at Wake Forest, then in the town of Wake Forest, he was turned over to assistant coach Horace “Bones” McKinney, who worked with Hemric on his post play.
“Dickie learned more in a month than any man I ever saw,” McKinney told the Winston-Salem Journal in 2006. “I don’t know of any man who ever progressed as quickly as he did. When he came he did not have a hook and could not shoot a foul shot.”
Hemric played two seasons for the Boston Celtics after college and earned an NBA championship ring in 1956-57 – the first of the Celtics’ 17 NBA titles. Retiring from pro basketball, he worked more than 30 years for the Goodyear Tire Company in Akron, Ohio.
Hemric was inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame (1972) and the Wake Forest Hall of Fame (1974). His jersey number – No. 24 – was retired by the Demon Deacons.