Salters were like family to McGuire’s USC players

bspear@thesate.com November 16, 2013 

They didn’t mean to cause the mini-traffic jam; they were just doing what came naturally – playing a pickup basketball game on a backyard hoop after a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner.

But it’s not often people can see a game like the ones that unfolded each Thanksgiving on Ivy Hall Lane in Forest Acres in Columbia. Those games included several 6-foot-10 towers of power and some of the sharpest shooters ever to come down the pike.

Their names included Cremins and Joyce and Thompson and Roche and Dunleavy and all the others who made basketball king during the heyday of coach Frank McGuire at the University of South Carolina, and they tested their skills on those Thanksgivings – and at other times, too – at the home of Dr. William Salter and his family.

Those scenes come to mind now after learning of the death of Salter, a dentist and long-time friend of USC, its athletics teams and, especially, the basketball program during the days of McGuire through Felton.

“A neat way to grow up, being around all those guys,” Richard Salter, Bill Salter’s younger son, said.

Who else but Richard, now a dentist, and William Salter III, an assistant attorney general, would have Bobby Cremins for a baby-sitter? Who else would have Jack Thompson teach them how to play pingpong? Then, Richard said, “he beat me terribly.”

All this resulted from the relationship between McGuire and Salter, and friendships established then lasted until the day Salter died.

“Bobby came by the other day for a visit, and probably the last coherent thing Dad said was, ‘Hey, Bobby, thanks for coming by,’ ” Richard Salter said.

Of course Cremins came by. The Salters became what Cremins called “a second family to me. They really adopted all the basketball players, especially me, Kevin (Joyce) and the Dunleavys. Most of us were far from home, and they became very close to us.”

Players often could be found at the Salters, and they would always be there on Thanksgiving. The season did not start until Dec. 1 in those days, and the gang would flock to Ivy Hall Lane for Thanksgiving dinner after a morning practice.

“I think those dinners would be the first time (players from New York) had sweet potatoes and other Southern dishes,” Richard Salter said, and laughed. “Anyway, after we had dinner, they would go out to shoot a bit and, pretty soon, they would play games.

“The neighbors would come by and pretty soon we noticed the same cars coming by again and again (to watch).”

Bill Salter, who practiced dentistry for 47 years before retiring in 1998, became a member of the “Bubbly Group,” a cadre of McGuire fans who would pool resources to charter planes to away games in order to follow the Gamecocks in those halcyon days, and still return to work the next day.

“They would pay for the plane,” Kevin Joyce remembered. “(The players) would sit up front and they would be in the back. They got that nickname – the Bubbly Group – honestly.

“Being away from home ... we needed someone like the Salters. We were very close. They were always there for us, and their friendship meant so much. They were friends when we needed friends.

“The boys were like brothers to me, and the family helped me get over homesickness. Those were happy times, and thinking of them now are happy memories.”

Bill Salter’s relationship with McGuire “opened their home to us,” Cremins said. “When our families would come to visit from New York, we always went to the Salters’. When Coach would bring in recruits, they would visit the family.

“They were incredible, the perfect example of Southern hospitality. I know that anytime we had a problem, and I had my share, we would go to the Salters for advice.”

Naturally, Salter handled the players’ dental needs, and Cremins laughed at one memory.

“When you got into his chair,” he said, “he was the boss.”

Richard Salter remembers a trip to Philadelphia early in Cremins’ career. The charter plane landed and the passengers stepped out into a Pennsylvania winter.

“Bobby was there in his sports coat shivering,” Richard Salter recalled the story told by his father. “Dad asked, ‘Where is your top coat?’ Bobby said he didn’t have one. The next trip, they had a London Fog for him. Dad just tried to help young people growing up.”

Bill Salter died Thursday after battling leukemia for nearly a year. Services will be Monday at 2 p.m. at St. Michael and All Angels’ Episcopal Church.

He was always a Gamecock, but friendships from the McGuire days knew no bounds. Richard would take his dad to College of Charleston games during Cremins’ years with the Cougars and, Richard said, “Bobby treated us royally.”

Of course he did. They were family.

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