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Campy Russell’s Draft Day Memories

by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Classic Cavalier Campy Russell took some time to talk to about his Draft Day memories. In his junior year, Russell led the Big Ten in scoring and was second in rebounds. He declared himself eligible for the 1974 NBA Draft and was chosen in the first round by the Cavaliers with the No. 8 overall selection. That same first round featured Bill Walton, Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes, Bobby Jones and Maurice Lucas.

Campy talks about how he was first told about being selected by Cleveland, his ABA draft status and what he did on the day he was chosen by Bill Fitch to wear the Wine and Gold.

Did you work out for any teams back then?
Campy Russell: No, not at all. At the time when I came out -- actually I came out after my junior year. Which was similar to what guys do know, leaving early and declaring for the draft, and it was pretty much the same format. You had to send a letter to the NBA to say you were declaring yourself, but back then, once you sent that letter and once the NBA accepted it, you had around 30 days to withdraw it. And if you didn’t withdraw, you were in the Draft and you essentially lost your college eligibility.

The difference now is that you can enter the Draft and if you don’t get an agent, then you can come back to college. But in terms of working out, I never worked out for anybody. I just declared myself. I had an attorney. There was a lot of interest out there so I went ahead into the Draft.

Did you ever have any second thoughts?
Not really. I guess the only second thought I ever had about it – and I didn’t think about it until later in my professional career and in talking to some of my college teammates – we won the Big 10 championship in my junior year. We were in the Final 8 in my junior year. And we were really coming back with the same team that year.

And the only the regret I have is that if I would have stayed in college for my senior year, we probably would have won the National Championship, because they (Michigan) lost to UCLA, and they won the National Championship. I thought we would have been the superior team. That year, I led the league in scoring and was second in rebounding. We still keep in contact to this day.

Did you have any idea the Cavaliers were going to draft you?
Well, no. No I didn’t. Through my agent, we were talking about maybe going to the ABA, which was very prominent at that time. There was rumors about me going to the Knicks, or Los Angeles or maybe Phoenix. Almost everywhere except Cleveland. So that was a real shock when I got the phone call – it was literally just a phone call from a local newspaper guy – it wasn’t the big brouhaha like it was today.

I remember I was in my apartment. I knew the draft was going off that day. My roommates and I were just sitting around, kind of waiting. (It wasn’t televised or anything. Like I said, not the spectacle it is today.) I just got a phone call from the Detroit news. He said, ‘Based on what we just heard, Cleveland Cavaliers just drafted you. And I said, ‘Cleveland Cavaliers?’ [laughing] ‘Where’s Cleveland at?’

And the ironic thing is a lot of those guys that were on the team -- Jim Brewer, Austin Carr – we had spent summers playing ball in New York.

Do you think they might have influenced the Cavaliers to draft you?
No, not really. I think it was more that Bill Fitch was a real Big 10 guy. He liked Big 10 players a lot. He drafted Jim Brewer the year before (from Minnesota) and he’d seen a lot of me and I guess they were just looking for a well-rounded player who could score, rebound, defend, dribble the ball, pass the ball. And I think that’s how I would up with the Cavaliers.

You mentioned the ABA Draft. How did that work back then?
Well, I was drafted by the ABA back then. So back then, the ABA could draft you, whether you were eligible or not. What they could do, essentially was draft players – I was drafted as a sophomore by the New Jersey Nets – and they could draft you again, which I was after my junior year, by the St. Louis Spirits. So it was that kind of thing. I was never really interested in going to the ABA. It was primarily a bargaining chip.

But I never really had any thoughts of going to the ABA.

So you got the call saying you’d been drafted by the Cavaliers. What’s next?
I called my parents after the phone call, and then just pretty much went on with my day. Then I think I called my parents and told them that I got drafted by Cleveland.

A couple weeks later I got together with my agent, went to Chicago and we sat down to talk about things. The funny thing is, I almost didn’t sign, just because of some quirks in the contract – we thought one thing and they thought another – and it even got to the point where we had flown into Cleveland, was at the airport coming in here to sign and the language wasn’t right, the money wasn’t right. There was a disagreement between my agent and Bill Fitch (who was also the GM at the time) and we just got back on the plane and went home.

I knew they’d eventually sign me. They weren’t going to draft me and let me go to another team. And I knew there were just little quirks in the contract.

Did you know you were going to be a first round pick?
Yeah. There was no question about that. It was just a matter of where I was going to go and what pick.

What about this year’s draft?
There’s great expectations here. There’s great expectations coming from 17 wins to 35 this year. I think we need to get a player that’s going to help us today. Because I don’t think the fans or the city will let us take a step back. I don’t even think ownership will let us take a step back. So I hope we can get a solid player who can help us right now.


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