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Standing tall in BC's Hall of Fame

Billy Curley will be inducted today as a hoop program savior

Rewind: One in an occasional series about former prominent athletes from the area.

He was recruited to help the Boston College men's basketball program establish itself as an NCAA power. Tonight, 12 years after he hit his final pillow-soft, fade away jumper for the Eagles, Billy Curley of Duxbury will be listed among the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Heights when he is inducted into the BC Athletic Hall of Fame.

"In my mind, Billy is one of the best players ever at Boston College," said Jim O'Brien, the BC head coach at the time who in 1990 cleverly swayed Curley away from scholarship offers by perennial national championship contenders North Carolina, Duke, and Villanova.

So, the Hall of Fame honor, O'Brien said, is no surprise.

"Billy Curley could have gone anywhere," O'Brien said. "At the time, our program was struggling, and recruiting Billy wasn't easy. It's not like I could point to the program and show him a lot of success."

In the absence of championship banners, the coach wisely appealed to Curley's sense of competition, challenging him to take the BC hoop program to another level, as Curley had done in soccer-crazed Duxbury. A McDonald's All-American his senior season, Curley was sold.

And he did not disappoint, leading the Eagles in 1994 to an NCAA "Elite Eight" appearance and a memorable cover shot on Sports Illustrated (the banner: "Take that, Tar Heels").

For the soft-spoken Curley, being enshrined today during ceremonies scheduled to be held at the Sheraton Needham Hotel will bring an up-and-down basketball career full circle. The thought of his name and likeness hanging on a wall alongside the likes of Doug Flutie, Bob Cousy, and O'Brien (class of '71) brings a sense of disbelief, he said. Personal achievements were never anything that mattered to the 6-foot-9 power forward who spent five injury-riddled seasons in the NBA.

"It's pretty neat," Curley said from his home in Duxbury, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and children, Jack, 7, Caroline, 5, and Andrew, 1. "Getting into the BC Hall of Fame is not anything I ever really thought about. All I ever wanted to do was get something started as far as the basketball program went. I think we did that."

In all of his four years at BC, Curley was named the team's most valuable player. Following his freshman season in 1990- 91, he was named Big East Rookie of the Year. He averaged 17 points per game at the Heights, canning 2,102 points, and grabbing 996 rebounds in 126 games. He was named to the All-Big East First Team after his junior and senior seasons. His final year at BC, he was given the school's "Eagle of the Year" award as its top athlete after leading the Eagles to victory in the NCAA tournament over both top-seed North Carolina and Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers to advance to the Elite Eight.

But if high school and college basketball provided Curley with untold success, the NBA provided more than its share of frustration and disappointment. A first-round draft pick by the San Antonio Spurs in 1994, Curley would spend more time on the trainer's table than on the hardwood during a playing career that saw him wear five different uniforms. He would play 53 games that first season, 1994-95, in Detroit after he was traded to the Pistons by the Spurs, but only four games for Houston in 1999-2000, and a total of 20 games for Golden State and Dallas in 2001-02, his final season.

"I don't want to talk about the NBA too much," said Curley, 34, who earned more than $6 million in the league. "I left BC hurting. Everything seemed to crumble on me. I was beat up after that senior season at BC. The way I always played was, if you feel hurt, you just kept playing."

And so he did, through surgeries on his ankles and knees brought on by a balky back that caused him to shift his 220 pounds in ways a player should not. Five years after he scored his 394th and final NBA point, Curley still walks gingerly, being careful not to pick up the children too quickly.

"I finally met my dream of the NBA, and it turned into a nightmare," said the son of Michael and Terry Curley. "I never relied on athletic ability to play the game. I understood how to play it. But the way I played -- how hard I played -- took its toll."

Currently he is running successful week long basketball camps throughout the South Shore. Thoughts of getting into coaching, he said, creep into his mind. "But it would have to be the right job, one that fits with my family," said Curley, who in warmer months often can be found after dinner sneaking in a few holes at North Hill Golf Course with little Jack as his caddy. "I like my life."

In early September, Curley spent a day in Boston with O'Brien and former BC teammates Howard Eisley and Malcolm Huckaby. Once a month, the men gather for lunch and, weather-permitting, a round of golf. "We have some great times," said Curley, who acknowledged that, in the days leading up to that program-solidifying victory over North Carolina, Eagle practices often were more about boxing than basketball.

"We were frustrated after being blown out by Georgetown in the Big East tournament, and guys were fighting in practice. The coaches had to keep breaking it up. But we got together and decided none of us wanted to go out like that. We wanted to walk away from North Carolina with a win."

And so the Eagles did. And tonight, William Michael Curley will walk out of the hotel conference room off Interstate 95 a permanent part of BC athletic lore.

"The players I coached, we have that bond of helping establish BC basketball," O'Brien said. "We'll always have that. And it started with Billy. He was a coach's dream-type of player -- hard-working and team-oriented. He deserves to go in the school's Hall of Fame."

Robert Carroll can be reached at rcarroll@globe.com.

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