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An Extremely Tall Tale
Jackie MacMullan
February 26, 1996
Untested but 7'4", Gingold has pro scouts drooling, Childs' play, Mourning to Payton: Come on down!
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February 26, 1996

An Extremely Tall Tale

Untested but 7'4", Gingold has pro scouts drooling, Childs' play, Mourning to Payton: Come on down!

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Player

Expansion Team (Season)/Scoring

Previous Team/Scoring

Improvement

Don May

Braves (1970-71)/20.2

Knicks/2.6

17.6

John Block

Rockets (1967-68)/20.2

Lakers/2.9

17.3

Tony Campbell

Timberwolves (1989- 90)/23.2

Lakers/6.2

17.0

Bob Kauffman

Braves (1970-71)/20.4

Bulls/4.3

16.1

Kelly Tripucka

Hornets (1988 89)/22.6

Jazz/7.5

15.1

Walt Hazzard

Sonics (1967-68)/24.0

Lakers/9.3

14.7

Jerry Sloan

Bulls (1966-67)/17.4

Bullets/5.7

11.7

Greg Anthony

Grizzlies (1995-96)/16.4

Knicks/6.1

10.3

Hank Finkel

Rockets (1967-68)/11.6

Lakers/1.5

10.1

Gail Goodrich

Suns (1968-69)/23.8

Lakers/13.8

10.0

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Eric Gingold felt giddy as he drove east on I-70 near Baltimore with his new West Virginia teammate Zain Shaw sitting beside him and the Labor Day 1994 weekend about to begin. For the first time in his life, Gingold, who was then 20, believed he had a future as a basketball player. He had been playing pickup games for three weeks with members of the Mountaineers' team, implementing the drop steps and jump hooks he had previously attempted mostly in an empty gym against imaginary competition. Against the real thing, the 7'4" Gingold absorbed the pounding with little trouble. He weighed 285 pounds, and his body fat was down to 11%. Maybe the NBA was an attainable dream, as his personal coach, Larry Gillman, kept insisting.

Gingold was daydreaming about the possibilities when a moving van zoomed past him in the right lane and then swerved into the left lane in front of his Pathfinder. The van's driver jammed on his brakes and then swerved again. The van spun out of control, and the two vehicles collided. Gingold remembers everything up to the point of impact. After that, darkness. "I passed out," says Gingold. "I came to when I heard this tremendous bang. I couldn't see. Something was in my eyes...."

It was blood. His blood. When Gingold wiped it off, he realized his Pathfinder was spattered with it. Where was Shaw? His new teammate wasn't in the vehicle. Oh, god, he's dead, Gingold thought.

Shaw, in fact, had already gotten out of the vehicle, having sustained only minor injuries. Gingold had been unconscious for several minutes and found himself trapped by the crushed door. The tremendous bang he had heard was the Jaws of Life trying to free him. The paramedics pried off the driver's-side door, the passenger's-side door and the roof. Finally they removed Gingold, whose left femur had shattered. "I kept asking the paramedic the same two things over and over," he says. "Am I going to live, and am I going to play basketball again?"

The second question was fraught with irony. At the time of his accident Gingold, who hails from North Caldwell, N.J., had played precious little organized basketball. His hoops r�sum� included one year on the varsity at Gill St. Bernard's, a private high school in Gladstone, N.J., and three unproductive seasons at Division III Williams. His career college statistics: 30 games, 31 points, 36 rebounds. "When we recruited him, he was 7'3" and could not dunk," says I Larry Sheehy, Williams's coach. Adds Sheehy, "He improved dramatically with us in three years, but he never beat anybody out."

The NBA? Get real. That was fantasyland—until Gillman, the coach at East Carolina in 1977-78 and '78-79 and a longtime if low-profile NBA agent (his sole client now is the Nets' Yinka Dare), called him in the fall of '93 and offered to help him develop his game. Gillman had read about Gingold in an SI story on Williams (Nov. 29, 1993). "I called him up and asked, 'How much do you play?' " says Gillman. "He told me, 'I don't.' "

The next summer Gingold began two-a-day workouts with Gillman. The immediate dividends included refined footwork and the ability to shoot with either hand. Together, coach and student persuaded West Virginia coach Gale Catlett (who had heard of Gingold but had not seen him in action) to take Gingold as a walk-on transfer.

But that was before a metal plate was inserted into Gingold's cracked hip and a rod into his shattered leg. Play basketball? His doctors were hoping Gingold would walk again.

Eighteen months have passed. Gingold has endured nine operations, eight blood transfusions and postoperative complications that left him in critical condition for three weeks. He never did play a game for West Virginia or another minute for Williams (where he has reenrolled and is finishing his degree this semester in economies). But under the watchful eye of Gillman, Gingold has recovered from his injuries and developed at such a startling rate that NBA scouts have been flocking to Newtown, Conn., to observe his workouts. The dearth of college big men has made Gingold a candidate to be a first-round draft choice.

When the scouts arrive in Newtown, they see a strapping, agile player who shows no effects from his accident. "The doctors told me, 'We hope you'll be walking in a year.' I said, 'O.K., that means six months,' " says Gingold. "Then I went out and walked in four."

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