Ron Virgil (left) and Jeff Grayer (right) embraced, shook hands, then flashed smiles as the reunited at Friday night’s Iowa State basketball reunion at the Sukup End Zone Club. Both Virgil and Grayer were members of the Cyclones’ 1984-85 team that ended a 41-year NCAA Tournament drought. Grayer is ISU’s all-time leading scorer.
AMES — Jeff Grayer is Iowa State men’s basketball program’s all-time leading scorer. His jersey was retired in 1988 — just after his Cyclone career finished up. He scored 2,502 points, earned an Olympic bronze medal and played nine seasons in the NBA after being drafted with the 13th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.
But Grayer — whose 1984-85 ISU team was honored at Friday’s Cyclones hoops reunion — won’t take one shred of credit for the genesis of “Hilton Magic.”
That distinction goes to his friend since middle school in Flint, Mich.: the late, great Barry Stevens, who was a senior with the Cyclones in 1984-85 when the team reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 41 years.
“HIlton Magic,” Grayer said. “We all talk about Hilton Magic and it was created by none other than Barry Stevens.”
Grayer brought his family and a very special guest to Friday’s event: Stevens’ oldest child, Arriel.
Stevens, who passed away way too young at the age of 43 in 2007, ranks third all-time in scoring at ISU (2,190 points). He also showcased his slick shooting skills in the pre-three-point line era.
“He shot a lot of deep shots,” said forward Tom Peterson, who played for ISU the same seasons as Stevens. “Probably the best pure shooter I’ve seen and watched at any level, at least in that era. A lot of energy. … We miss him.”
A video tribute to the team was played for the reunion attendees later Friday night, including a special segment honoring Stevens.
“I was really, really overwhelmed when I got the opportunity to play one year, one season with him,” Grayer said. “So to actually watch and observe how he approached the game every singe night, in practice, out of practice, preseason, he taught me a heck of a lot. I was able to take that and move forward.”
Grayer averaged 12.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and two assists his freshman season. Stevens served, as usual, as the leading scorer (21.7 points), and then-junior Jeff Hornacek and freshman Gary Thompkins combined to average 9.2 assists.
Just how monumental returning to the tournament after such a long absence didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time — especially for Grayer, who was just getting started.
“At the time I was a freshman and I didn’t know anything except when can I get home?” Grayer said. “So I was really homesick during that time, but to actually look back on it and know what it meant to the university, to our players — it was something really, really special.”
Seven Cyclone players have had their jerseys retired. Grayer, Hornacek and Stevens are three of them. And Grayer’s view of what meant “home” grew to accommodate Ames as time wore on.
“It’s always good to come home,” Grayer said of Friday’s reunion. “I feel like Iowa State is home for me. This is where basketball really and truly got started, so I’m really excited, really feel good, and again, it brings back so many wonderful memories.”
Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm said it’s extremely gratifying to be able to help facilitate the revisiting of those memories.
“This is what’s cool about this event — and I’ve got this ’85 team now in a group chat,” Prohm said. “Just like the players, some text back and some don’t. Last night (former center) David Moss is looking for 15-size golf shoes. And I’m like, ‘I don’t got 15s, but I’ve got a pair you can have if you need ‘em.’ Then Tom Peterson jumps in, ‘Well, I’ve got 15s.”
Peterson then shared an image of the old red and white Pony-brand shoes the Cyclones wore at the time. They weren’t the players’ favorite kicks, to put it mildly — and mentioning their many shortcomings drew virtual chuckles from those in the group text.
“I took a picture of the old Pony shoes, which were terrible,” Peterson said. “They were a blister waiting to happen. We just had some good banter with that.”
Texted eventually turned into face-to-face hugs, toasts and laughter that filled the Sukup End Zone Club.
That’s what it’s all about, Prohm said. Old friends reunite. Those no longer with them become the subjects of tribute, reflection and celebration.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Peterson said. “A lot of the guys and I have been talking and it’s incredible, you know, the Hilton Magic, and all the things that have happened here since, we can kind of say we had a stake in that and we were a part of that. You could almost argue that we were the beginning of that, so that’s pretty exciting. It’s a big thing for us.”