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A reminder that the late Tony Gwynn was a terrific college hoops player

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

It's more than the baseball world that's mourning the way-too-soon death of an all-time great in Tony Gwynn. The sports world as a whole is dropping and shaking its head over the cancer-cursed ending, just 54 years into Gwynn's highly accomplished life.

And while he'll forever be rightfully remembered as one of the best true hitters in the history of baseball (lifetime batting average: .338 over 20 years!), we have to take note that he was, overall, just an outstanding natural athlete. Don't let the images of a chubbier Gwynn squeezing into a Padres uniform affect the reality: Gwynn was a total jock. Specifically, he was recruited to San Diego State in the mid-1970s because he was talented, quick and deft -- in basketball. At point guard.

“I had the privilege to get to know Tony over a 15-year span," SDSU basketball coach Steve Fisher said via statement. "I know him the way the country knows him, as an icon, an All-Star and a batting champion. I will remember Tony, the icon of San Diego, Mr. San Diego, along with those knew him, as a dad, as a loving husband and as someone who cared deeply for people. That's the legacy that I think is most impressive and important to me. (He was) never affected by his celebrity status, always having time for people and was a father and a husband first and foremost.”

Gwynn didn't even arrive on campus at SDSU to play baseball; he joined the team his sophomore year.

From his most recent biography detail in the San Diego State media guide, "In addition to three years of baseball, Gwynn was also a point guard for the Aztec basketball squad for four seasons and was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference team on two occasions. He remains the only athlete in WAC history to be honored as an all-conference performer in two sports."

Gwynn is still seen as one of the best hoops players in school history. He had 18 assists in a game against UNLV on Feb. 3, 1980, an Aztecs record that still stands, and he has the three best single-game assist outputs at SDSU. His 221 assists in 1979-80 (8.2 APG) and 590 career dimes for SDSU (5.5 per game) are still school records. He's seventh all-time in steals in basketball, and had 35 swipes on the bases in college.

All this while building himself into a future legendary player in a separate sport. Gwynn's final game in a basketball uniform came on March 7, 1981, when he went for 16 and 16 in points and assists against New Mexico.

Later that spring, Gwynn was taken in the third round of Major League's Baseball draft by the Padres and in the 10th round of the NBA's by the then-San Diego Clippers.

He ultimately made the right choice, but there's no denying he could've had a chance at a solid pro career on the hardwood. True multi-sport talents are rare at the pro level. Gwynn was one of them, and it speaks to how good he is as a person and an athlete that you'll hear about his college days as prelude to an exalted professional career.

 
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