Van the Man always listened to Daddy

Van Chancellor, one of the great characters I have covered in Mississippi sports, will be the keynote speaker at our C Spire Howell and Gillom Trophies luncheon on March 11 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He’s perfect for the occasion. Bailey Howell was Van’s childhood hero. Peggie Gillom played and coached for him for years. Both Van and Bailey are members of the Naismith (international) Basketball Hall of Fame. Peggie is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Luncheon tickets, which are $35, are available by calling the museum at 601 982-8264. What follows is a column I wrote on Van the Man on the occasion of his father’s death in November of 2002.

 

THIS happens to be one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever written, and, if you happened to read it the first time, please excuse the retelling.

This was back in the spring of 1997. Winston Van Chancellor was trying to decide whether to leave Ole Miss to take a job with the Houston Comets of the then-brand new WNBA.

As Van Chancellor had done all his life when he has had a big decision to make, he consulted Winston B. Chancellor, his daddy.

We’ll let Van Chancellor take it from there.

“I told my dad about this Houston thing, and he told me I’d never take it,” Van said. “He told me, `Son, just remember all the friends you’ve made in Oxford. You don’t know nobody in Houston.’

“So I said, `Yeah Dad, but what if they offer me a whole lot more money? I mean, a whole lot more.’

“And Dad said, `Well, Son, just remember you can always make new friends.’ “

Of course, Van Chancellor did take the Comets job for much more money and his teams won the first four league championships. Chancellor was voted Coach of the Year three times. What’s more, this past September he coached the U.S. national team to the gold medal in the World Championships at Nanjing, China.

Through it all, he has remained the same friendly, humble, countrified, good ol’ boy who grew up on a Nanih Waiya farm.

He has made a lot of those new friends, too. And he made his daddy proud.

•••

Winston B. Chancellor, a retired cotton farmer, died last Saturday at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer. He went peacefully, in his sleep, with his son at his side. I didn’t know Winston B. Chancellor, but I know his son well. And people who knew them both tell me that if you know Van, you have a good idea of what his daddy was like.

“The character side of Van is his daddy to a T,” says Ole Miss track coach Joe Walker Jr., Van’s close friend.

“Just like Van, his daddy never met a stranger and had that sense of humor,” Walker said. “He knew everybody and was fun to be around. Like Van, he loved to tell a story and, like Van, he was good at it.”

It’s a long way from Nanih Waiya cotton fields to having a world championship gold medal hung around your neck in Nanjing, China.

Van Chancellor will tell you he never would have made that journey had it not been for demanding, yet loving father.

“Growing up, I worked,” Van says. “But Daddy loved basketball, and he’d let me off work on the farm to practice or play basketball.”

At their house, the father carved the son a full-court, hard-dirt basketball court.

“I played all the time,” Van says. “He only got mad at me when I used flour from Mama’s kitchen to make the free throw lines and the lanes. He thought that was a waste, and he was right.”

As good fathers will, the daddy taught the son lessons for life, and some were harder than others.

“I remember one year at East Central (Community College) when I came home with bad grades,” Van says. “Well, Dad put me to work and I ain’t never worked harder in my life than I had to that summer. When I went back to school, all my buddies were drinking beer and chasing women. I was studying. I didn’t want to be back on that farm.”

•••

In recent years, as the daddy battled cancer and was treated at M.D. Anderson in Houston, the daddy lived at the son’s house. They went to baseball games together. The daddy enjoyed the son’s success and made darned sure the son never got too full of himself.

Not long ago, Van complained about losing one of his best players to retirement and others to injuries.

“Looks to me like you better stop whining, get off your butt and start coaching,” the daddy told the son.

Says Van Chancellor, “Daddy was right, as usual.”

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