By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports!
Today's Q&A is with former LSU basketball player Dennis Tracey. Dennis grew up in Kenner, La. and attended De La Salle High School where he played basketball for head coach Jim Tillette, winning the 1986 state championship. From there he would move on to play at a junior college before Tracey became a fan favorite on a LSU team that was loaded with incredible talent. He played for LSU for two seasons, 1988-89 and 1989-90. Tracey became a member of the LSU basketball team due to a letter that he sent to Dale Brown, asking for a chance to prove that he can help the team out. The letter moved Coach Brown and the next thing you know Dennis Tracey was living a dream, starting for the LSU Fighting Tigers.
Q - What is your favorite TV show?
Dennis - Secrets of the Universe
Q - Your favorite food?
Dennis - Italian Food
Q - Who is your favorite Pro Athlete?
Dennis - Irvin Johnson... Great guy, great man... A good friend of mine.
Q - Your Favorite Sports Team?
Dennis - LSU obviously.. LSU sports and the Saints
Q - Your Favorite Movie?
Dennis - Blue Chips!! You got to put that one down because I was in it. .. But na, my favorite movie is The Big Lebowski
Q - Who is your Favorite Actor?
Dennis - I have so many, but my favorite one....... Russell Crowe
Q - Your Favorite Music Artist/Group?
Dennis - I like a band called "New Order"
Q - I read that you grew up in Kenner, La?
Dennis - Yes
Q - Can you tell us a little about your athletic career in high school?
Dennis - Yes, I went to De La Salle High School in New Orleans. We won the state championship in 1986. I played under Jim Tillette. We had four Division I plays on my team. Dwayne Bryant went on to play for Georgetown, Kurt Hankton played at Auburn, Ray Ronquillo played for USL, I played at LSU. We were 77-5 over a two years period, including 40-1 my senior year. I also want to mention that we beat DeRidder (Wayne Sims' high school team) two years in a row.
Q - Did you play multiple sports while at De La Salle?
Dennis - Back then that was frowned upon. I was going out to be the De La Salle quarterback after the starter had gotten hurt in one of the first games of the season and I was sternly talked too by the basketball coaches that playing quarterback would end my basketball career, so it just didn't work out. Basketball was the only sport I played.
Q - What was your recruiting process like?
Dennis - I had an appointment to play at West Point, the Army Military Academy. I had some small offers that I really didn't look at. Just at the very end I decided West Point wasn't for me. Fess Irvin was the big reason why I didn't go to LSU originally. Dale had asked me to walk on but I thought I was to good for that. From high school I went to Junior college at CoCo Beach Junior College right outside of Orlando. I stayed there for about six weeks before I became homesick so I came back home. I ended up going to UNO for a semester and played under Benny Dees there. I was projected to be a starter on the next season's team. In two years they went to the NCAA Tournament. But I decided to go up to attend LSU. I just finally felt like if I can't go play for LSU then I don't want to play college ball. I wanted to play with the big boys. At a UNO game there would be about 100 people in the stands. So I decided to go to LSU and the rest is history.
Q - When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Dennis - I always wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a MD. Actually after all was said and done with LSU and Shaq, I ended up going back to medical school and becoming a MD. I'm not a practicing physician, but I am a MD and I own a medical company.
Q - Can you tell us about the letter that you sent to Dale Brown?
Dennis - That summer I got to play some pick up games with the team. So I got to know some of the guys from just playing those games and they knew I could play. So I would get into the game occasionally and I would do pretty well. I just knew when tryouts would come around that I could make this team. Not only did I know I could make the team, but I knew I could play for them.
I end up seeing in one of my classes that even though the LSU basketball team is short handed, they will not be holding open tryouts this season. My whole life flashed in front of my face. I just said to myself that this just couldn't be possible. So I thought to myself, "What could I do?" ...
So for some reason I sat down and I wrote a letter. .... "Dear Dale Brown, You may know me from playing basketball at De La Salle under Jimmy Tillette. I have talked to you several times......" I just went on to say, look, I'm no Chris Jackson but I can contribute to your team and help you guys have success. Please give me a chance.... It was a three page letter. Coach Brown still has it. .. In the letter I asked him to please call me and I put my girlfriend's number on it. I sealed it up and gave it to Jannet Sims who is Wayne Sims' and Johnny Jones' cousin. I asked her, "Please give this to Dale Brown. It's the most important letter you will ever give him. Could you please make sure he gets this?" .... She told me absolutely.
The next day, I'm with my girlfriend and a call from the LSU athletic dept. comes in. I answer the phone and it's Dale Brown. He says, "I read your letter and I want you to start practice tomorrow at 3:30 sharp. Do understand me. We will see what happens and see if you can help us." ... I said yes sir.. So I show up, make the team, and become a starter.
I remember the first game that I started was against Illinois which was probably the sixth game of the year. I don't know if anyone has had the chance to be a starter at LSU, but the feeling isn't about you. The feeling is about looking into the stands and see your parents crying with joy. Understanding what it took to get out on that court and to actually get to start a game against the number one team in the Country. My parents were in complete tears and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. To wear the jersey and have those letters across my chest and my parents being there to see it, because to play for LSU in the State of Louisiana is an honor. Some kids forget that, but they shouldn't.
Q - Can you tell us a little about Dale Brown?
Dennis - Even today Coach Brown keeps in touch with us. He has been a guiding force in my life from the day that I left LSU to today. He is still the glue that holds us all together. It's a very emotional answer because he is like a father to all of us. Especially myself. After Shaq and I had our split, I went from having a million friends to having about two, and Dale was one of them. He helped me to get back in school. He helped me pay for books because I didn't have any money.
Dale never waivered whether I was playing or not., Whether I was with Shaquille or on my own. Whether I was on the court with Chris Jackson and his thing, or if I was just at home going through a rough time, he is always there for us. He is more then just a father. He is like the light that leads our spirits today.
There are times when your an adult when you need some guidance from someone with a good head on their shoulders to tell you how it is and that's Dale Brown. I think as him as a father. Even today, if he would tell me, "Dennis, I need you to run through that wall.", ... I wouldn't think twice, I would immediately take off towards the wall and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. He is a special man. He helped lead the most special time of LSU basketball and maybe any other sport in the history of LSU. Obviously it will never be done again. They have had some success, don't get me wrong.
I frequently get stopped in the mall, out in public, in a restaurant, LSU fans come up to me and say, "It was a pleasure watching you. I grew up watching LSU basketball. You're a real inspiration." .. I occasionally get a letter and facebook messages from time to time.
I stopped my daughter in front of the Assembly Center and told her that when I played they had people for days if not weeks lined up with tents, and they use to call it "Tent City", .. The students would need to go to class and come back to hold their place in line to get tickets to come watch us play. That was such a great memory, going to practice and seeing all these tents out. Stopping by after practice and telling everyone out there that we appreciated their support. That will never happen again. That was one of those things that was special about our basketball history and our team at that time. It was one of those moments in time that will never be forgotten.
It was the makeup of the team. It was the Chris Jackson's and the John Williams', Jerry Reynolds', and the Lyle Mouton's. I could go on and on. The makeup of the teams were not all-stars, but he put it together and we came together as a team on the court. We were almost unstoppable. Every time we walked out there, we thought we were going to win. It's the mentality that Dale put into us and gave us that we were gunna go out there and do what we were going to do and nobody could stop us. Dale would call it motivation, but I think it was more then motivation because there were games like the Georgetown game, we walked out there, they were the #1 team in the Country and we really gave it to them. Not did we only beat them, we beat them mentally, physically. We out smarted them. We outplayed them. They were suppose to be a tear ahead of us and we looked like we were a tear ahead of them, and only Dale Brown could do that. Only Dale Brown could mix and match the combination of players and misfits to do it. It was all Dale.
Here is a Dale Brown story.. Dale always thought about what LSU means. Nikita Wilson was down in the French Quarter and he wasn't suppose to be down there. Someone recognized him and yelled at him, "Hey Nikita! Do you know what LSU stands for?".. and Nikita said, "what?" .. the guy answered with.. "It stands for Love, Sacrifice, and Unity".... Nikita ended up telling Dale that and it really stands what we stood for, the love of the team among each other and the sacrifice that we had to put out. People don't know the sacrifice of college athletes. They like to nit-pick on college athletes, but it's a true sacrifice of four years for the unity of our team. We road that forever. When we walked out on that court with those letters on our chest, we knew we already had you someway, because of Dale Brown and the mystique of him and the mystique of his teams. We just felt it....
Q - What are a couple of your favorite games and/or moments as a LSU player?
Dennis - Nebraska in the Rainbow Classic Final. We were down by six points with 13 seconds left in the game. We ended up winning by two points. Chris had two three pointers, while I stole the ball three times in a row, scoring four points. We ended up scoring 11 points in the final 13 seconds to win.
I remember Chris Jackson's 53 points against Florida in Gainesville while the Gators were ranked in the top five.
I remember Chris hitting a three at the buzzer from the corner to beat Vanderbilt.
A great one was against Georgetown in the Super Dome when Ricky Blanton scored the winning basket at the buzzer after grabbing Russell Grant's miss. That still holds the record for the largest crowd to see a NCAA basketball game.
Can't forget beating UNLV who were ranked #1 at the time and they went on the win the
national championship that year.
One of the greatest games in the history of LSU basketball has to be the Ole Miss game at Ole Miss. The final score was 113-112 in OT. Chris Jackson has 53 points and Gerald Glass scored 55.
The Loyola Marymount game, beating them 148-141 in OT. We beat UNLV that year as well...
I do remember the last game that I played in against Georgia Tech and us being up by 25 points. If we had beat Georgia Tech that day I really think we would have won the national championship. Tech ended up making it to the Final Four.
That year in the SEC, there were a number of games, and one in particular would be the Alabama game at LSU. I think it was in 1989. We were up by eight points late and Alabama had this great player, Alvin Lee. Dale called a time out and told me to not let Lee take a shot. So I was on Alvin like glue. He gets across half court and launches one and "bang" three pointer. Coach called time out. .... "God dammit Dennis!".... I was like looking at Johnny Jones, Dale kept yelling, "Get on his ass!"... We inbounds the ball to me, I get fouled and make two free throws. So here come Alvin again, launching it one step over the half court line. "Boom" nothing but net for the long three again! .... Dale jumps on me.. I think Johnny had to separate him from me. He wanted to kill me. ... Somehow the ball gets back to me, I'm fouled, make one free throw. Miss the second and it bounces back to me. I grab it, get fouled. Make two more free throws. We're up by seven now and I look at Alvin and I tell him to not make me hurt him, because I was so well known for fouling hard. I had to literally tackle him to keep him from shooting. We ended up winning a tough game, 80-76. It was one of the games that we won that proved that we were on the map. Alabama had a real good team that year.
Another one that stands out is we went to Lexington and beat a very good Kentucky team 64-62. Chris Mills starts to bring the ball up the court to try and take the final shot, and I come up from behind him and steal the ball away to seal the win. I dribbled it and threw the ball up into the air and ran right into the locker room. That was one of my greatest memories because it was against Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
The Georgetown game was also special because they had five guys on the team who I played AAU ball against and these five guys got Georgetown scholarships. John Thompson never even looked at me. Never spoke to me. Never showed any interest.
I played a lot of great games at LSU but it was easy for me to concentrate because we had Chris Jackson shooting the ball. I didn't have to worry about going out there and needing to score 20 points. That's kind of where Dale and I saw eye to eye. Like Lyle Mouton was a shooter and that's what he did. So when we were in games and we didn't need people shooting, I realized very early that Chris was going to be special, then we had Rickey and also had Wayne. We needed someone to play defense and Dale loved defense, right? So it wasn't rocket science that I had to figure out "Don't shoot the ball! Just play defense!"..... That was my formula. I just played smart. I knew what Dale needed and I gave Dale what he wanted.
Q - So you missed your senior year because of injury?
Dennis - Yes.. A lot of people don't know that I have two knee replacements now. I got them at age 38. I went down with a knee injury and they took too much cartilage out of my knee causing bone on bone so I couldn't play most of my junior year. I had a second knee surgery after the season, so I sat down with Dale and we gave it a try. But after running up and down the court we knew it wasn't going to work. I had to sit out my entire senior year. There was just no way I could play. I couldn't run without a limp. It took me a long time to get over that. Still today I wonder if I wouldn't have gotten hurt, what could have been? I had a good career there and even though it was cut a little short I'm really happy I got to be there during those times.
Q - When you realized your playing career was over, how did the business relationship with Shaq come about?
Dennis - Shaq and I from the day he set foot on the LSU campus became fast friends. We both come from strong father backgrounds, where our father's held heavy hands on our families and being both military guys. That was really our bond. We worked together that first summer and through that became best friends. We played my junior year together, but Shaq was upset with me over the senior injury. He felt like I could play through it because he wanted me to be on the team, but at the same time Dale and I were against it. I knew I couldn't give 100%. It was an honor for him to try and fight to keep me on the team, but at the same time you need to have some common sense about what that would take. The team really needed another healthy player.
So yea, we had become good friends since he got there. We were always there for each other. Shaq helped pull me through the hard time I had of adjusting from being a popular student athlete back to a regular student. That was a very hard time for me. That shows you what kind of person he is.
Q - Tell us a little about what you're doing as a career now?
Dennis - Well I worked for Shaq for four years in Orlando as his personal manager. We owned a couple of restaurants together and when he decided to go to Los Angeles, I stayed back and took the restaurants on full time. Then I decided to come back in 1999. I got divorced, moved back home.
Dale Brown got together with me about going to medical school. I got together with Jack Andonie. Jack got me back in with a board of supervisors scholarship. I went back to LSU and took my prerequisites medical school and went on to medical school in the Caymans. Did all my hospital rotations in Atlanta, Georgia. Then I went on to get a masters in hospital administration.
Katrina hit during my senior year while I was in Atlanta, so I came in to help with the National Guard because my family was here. After being here for three or four months I decided to stay.
Went on a blind date and married a girl from New Orleans who I had two beautiful daughters with.
Instead of becoming a licensed physician, I went on a job offer for a medical company that needed a medical director and some medical help with a device that just got FDA approved and in a three month period I made more money then I made with Shaq.
So I had this very unique ability to do some sales and my medical background gives me a really unique ability, so I've been on this cutting edge device technology stuff since Katrina, so that's 15 years. It's really developed into my own company called Big East Medical. I distribute to dermatologist, plastic surgeons, Role Hospitals, and people looking for cutting edge technology mostly involved in the skin. We have done very well...
Q - I saw from doing my research that you acted quickly to save a man's life who collapsed in the New Orleans Airport?
Dennis - I have about 17 of those life saving situations that have happened to me. I don't know what it is. I don't know how it works out. Because of my knowledge now, it's just general CPR knowledge. It's not like I had to perform a surgery or anything. One thing I like about being in Med school is helping other people. I'm the kind of guy that even before Med school would run towards the fire and not away from it. I've had several incidents when people have needed emergency services. They need someone to lend a helping hand whether it's swimming out to them and saving them or taking a needle out of their arm before they overdose, having a heart attack, or pulling over and helping someone out of a vehicle in a canal.
That particular time I was flying out heading to a medical seminar to talk about the device I was representing and the guy out of the corner of my eye I see this guy hit the ground and this lady starts screaming. I saw a lot of people patting his back. At first I thought the guy was on fire. As I went up to him I realized that he was having a heart attack and needed some attention and he survived from just some basic first aid, emergency CPR, kind of like the Red Cross teaches. Some people say, you save lives because you're a doctor! No-no-no... anybody can do what I do, you just got to be willing to do it.
I feel that lucky to have been able to play basketball at LSU because of the way that it became, with Dale Brown reading that letter. All of the Prop 48 guys not making it and the coaches deciding not to have tryouts, me writing that letter, Dale actually reading it and calling me, then going out to that practice. Then me finally walking out on that court was a miracle. So it's kind of my way of giving things back.
Q - Anything else you would like to add as far as your personal life?
Dennis - I'm happily divorced with four children. I have an older son that played baseball at Mississippi State, his name is Cole Marsh. I have my son, Logan and I have my daughters who I can't take a breath without them, Jordan who is 11, and Sydney who is 12. We live in Lake View and we have a great little life here.
Q - Is there anything that you would like to tell the LSU fans?
Dennis - Yea, I've had the privilege to travel around with LSU as a player. I got to travel around with Shaq as a manager and with the Orlando Magic and I mean travel around the world. Shaq and I would be in Greece or be in Rio. We would be in Tokyo, Sidney Australia. There's not a place that Shaq and I didn't travel to in those four years, I have always been amazed and still am of how LSU travels well. I mean that by the people who would walk up to you and say, "I'm a LSU fan. I love watching LSU Basketball." ... In Rio people would walk up and say, "We love LSU, I'm from so and so place in Louisiana." .. The LSU support around the world absolutely takes the breath away from me. I don't know if this happens with other schools, but I can tell you that there is not a place on this planet that we have been that we haven't had LSU fans come up to us. It's truly amazing and special.
Copy of the Dennis Tracey letter written and sent to Dale Brown below....
Courtesy of Dennis Tracey and Dale Brown for your enjoyment....