As legendary college basketball coach Eddie Sutton's health started to decline in the past few weeks, many of his former players made a trip to Tulsa to visit with their coach one last time.
Sutton, who died Saturday at the age of 84, resided in hospice care prior to his death, and his loved ones started trickling into Tulsa to spend time with him, including Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and Randy Rutherford, who played for him at Oklahoma State.
The highlight of his final days came while in hospice, when Sutton received a phone call from his friend, former President Bill Clinton, whose voice over the phone made Sutton's "eyes light up," a source told the O'Colly.
Sutton was surrounded by his sons and their families, which include his "nine adoring grandchildren," when he died peacefully of natural causes at his home in South Tulsa on Saturday, less than two months after he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 3.
The Sutton family released a statement, which noted that he is now, "reunited with his No. 1 assistant — his bride Patsy Sutton — who passed away in January of 2013 after 54 years of marriage," and that, "He felt his recent Hall of Fame (election) was an honor and a tribute to the great players he coached and outstanding assistant coaches that worked for him."
With 806 wins, Sutton is one of 10 coaches with at least 800 wins in Division-I men's college basketball history. He played for legendary basketball coach Henry Iba, his mentor, at OSU and then began his coaching career as an assistant on Iba's staff. He later returned to Stillwater to coach the Cowboys from 1990 to 2006 and became the first and only coach to take four different schools to the NCAA tournament. He coached three Final Four teams, one at Arkansas and two at OSU, and with Sutton at the helm, OSU reached the postseason 14 times in his 17 years in Stillwater.
OSU dedicated its maple hardwood basketball court in Gallagher-Iba Arena as the "Eddie Sutton Court" in 2005.
As many stories arise from his coaching days, it has become abundantly clear that Sutton impacted the lives of those who worked for him and those who played for him far beyond just on the basketball court.
Rutherford, who played on Sutton's 1995 OSU Final Four team, told the O'Colly in April that Sutton, " ... has taught us a lot about life and about accepting responsibility for our actions."
In a text message from one of Sutton's former players who asked to remain anonymous, he wrote:
"Coach has ALWAYS been a Hall of Famer off the court!! And everyone who knew him can attest to that. I thank God they finally recognized his actions and contributions to the game, but it was OFF the court where he really made a difference in everyone's lives.
In a separate message, he wrote:
"I'm proud to have played for Coach Sutton."