South Bend Stories: Skip Holtz, basketball star?
One of the surprises when we interviewed former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz last month was learning that had his son Skip not decided to go to Notre Dame out of high school, he had an offer from North Carolina coach Dean Smith, fresh off a national championship, to be a walk-on with the Tar Heels basketball team.
When asked about his son's basketball abilities, Lou went on to share that while at Notre Dame, Skip had great success in the Bookstore Basketball tournament, a huge 5-on-5 tournament touted as the largest single-elimination basketball tournament in the country, with more than 600 entries in some years. Twice, we learned, Skip made it to the tournament's Final Four.
"Bookstore Basketball is very special," Holtz said last week, asked about his student experience at Notre Dame. "Bubba Cunningham and Steve Beuerlein beat us in the final game. It's funny how you remember these things. I remember ESPN, when we were there, wanted to put the game on television, but they wanted to move the final away from a Saturday, which they wouldn't do, because it was the Saturday before the spring game."
Cunningham, who played golf at Notre Dame and later spent time as a member of Lou Holtz's staff, is now the athletic director at Tulsa and remains close friends with Skip -- despite Holtz beating his Tulsa team in the 2009 Conference USA championship game. He said the secret to Holtz's basketball success was much the same as his strengths as a football coach.
"Skip has always been a really good recruiter, so the first thing he did was recruit a really good team," Cunningham said. "But Skip was a very good outside shooter, and he played like a guard, but he was bigger than most guards. His basketball is good, but his golf is better."
It didn't hurt Holtz's basketball skills that his roommate at Notre Dame as 6-foot-10 center Tim Kempton, who played for the Irish and would play for eight NBA teams in parts of eight seasons. The two remain close friends, and Kempton will be at Saturday's USF game in South Bend. He fondly recalls their Bookstore success, lamenting that by NCAA rules, basketball players couldn't play until after their senior year had ended.
"We were pretty successful," Kempton said. "Skip was that high school stud, the guard on the basketball team, the quarterback on the football team. Even at Bookstore, he was a very good basketball player. He had size on some of the guys, so he played that big guard position. He always had that leadership about him, so that was a part of it as well."
Beuerlein, who went on to play in the NFL and is now a football analyst for CBS sports, was the starting quarterback during Holtz's one season on Notre Dame's football team. Beuerlein was on the winning Bookstore team as a freshman on a team named "Tequila White Lightning" and made the Final Four two other times, and had fun this week taking a friendly jab at his former teammate.
"Skip didn't like to get in there and mix it up. He had a tendency to hang out around the 3-point line," Beuerlein said. "I'm being a little sarcastic. He loved to play basketball. I don't remember it vividly, but the bottom line was that he tried to shut me down and couldn't do it. ... My senior year we got upset in the semifinals. It was devastating, but I know it was not at the hand of Skip Holtz."