On Friday night, the phone rang in the Sutton household. It was a call they’ve been waiting six long years for.
“This is a very special and exciting day for our family,” Sean Sutton said. “My dad was so honored and humbled to receive a phone call from the Naismith Hall of Fame that he was going to be inducted in the 2020 class."
While Eddie Sutton’s 806 wins, 13 NCAA tournaments and three Final Four appearances gave him the opportunity to make it into the Hall of Fame, it was his personality off the court that had everybody fighting for him to get in.
Sutton treated many of his former players, co-workers and friends as if they were family. And what happens when a family receives long awaited good news? They tell the rest of their relatives.
So, after receiving this call, Sean made his own calls to people whom Eddie considers family. One of the first people to receive one was ESPN’s Dick Vitale.
“The joy in the voice of Sean Sutton when he called me -- his Dad was with him -- (Friday night) was special,” Vitale said in a tweet. “It was finally a glorious moment when they said Eddie you are a Hall of Famer. Six times he heard ‘Sorry, remember it is an honor to be a finalist.’ Trust me I know that feeling.”
The reason Vitale received a call so soon was because of his deep connection to Sutton.
“Eddie Sutton and I go back a long way,” Vitale told the O’Colly. “I was coaching Detroit, a Jesuit school, he was coaching the Catholic school in Creighton. We used to do some clinics together, didn’t make a whole lot of money -- we’d get $50 and be happy -- for a speech at a clinic. That changed as you get more successful. But Eddie was just a great fundamentalist, great teacher of the game.”
The way Vitale reacted to the news was as if someone in his own family was named a Hall of Famer. That’s how deep Sutton connected with people.
“I’m jumping with joy,” Vitale said. “This should’ve been years ago. I’m so happy that he’s here to be able to get the call and to be able to enjoy that special moment and his family I know is going to be thrilled beyond belief. It’s long overdue, my friend, long overdue.”
The “long overdue” aspect of this is something that has been stated for a long time. For years, members of the media, former players and people at Oklahoma State University have had to plea for Sutton to get in the Hall of Fame. One major voice sounding out was OSU public address announcer Larry Reece, who was overjoyed when he received the news.
“Well (I’m) just so happy for the Sutton family, but I’m also happy for the OSU family because we’ve all wanted this,” Reece said. “We’ve all known that he deserved it and it should have happened years ago.”
Reece also noted that despite Sutton’s past snubs, he’s glad this announcement can give OSU a nice relief from COVID-19 news.
“It’s kind of nice that it’s happening right now because we needed a distraction during this time and something to cheer about,” Reece said. “We don’t have sports, but we still have our sports legends like Eddie Sutton and he’s now in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame… I’m glad it’s finally come true.”
Reece and Sutton’s careers intertwine. Reece became the P.A. announcer for OSU in Sutton’s second season back on campus and always felt welcome, thanks to Sutton’s hospitality.
“I was a student when I started calling Cowboy basketball games in his second year at Oklahoma State, and he’s always treated me as part of the team, as part of the family,” Reece said.
The part of the family that spent the most time with Sutton, however, was the actual players. This allows every former Sutton player to have an interconnected bond with their old coach. Former OSU guard Bryndon Manzer discovered the news thanks to a vague text from another player.
“Yesterday I was in my office and Doug Gottlieb texted me and he just texted ‘He’s in,’” Manzer said. “My first reaction was I felt so happy for him and the Sutton family… My second reaction was gratification as somebody who played for him and all of us that’s ever played for him.”
Sutton was a Division I basketball coach for 36 years and has interacted with many players, staff members and fans over that time. That said, the number of people in his “family” is huge. Manzer tried to describe the sheer size of this.
“There’s no question, he is the patriarch of a very large family,” Manzer said. “It consists of former players and their families, assistants and their families. I saw it firsthand at Oklahoma State. The extended family of anybody who was an OSU person or involved in any way to Stillwater, Oklahoma, you were part of his group and I’ve always felt that way.
“It was always my dream to play at Oklahoma State because I grew up in Stillwater, but the timing of it where Eddie Sutton was the coach, having played for him, there’s really a sense of pride, a sense of toughness that he leaves you with. And certainly a tremendous amount of loyalty for someone that would absolutely do anything for you.”