Roosevelt basketball coach Ray Wilson honored by Dr. J, alumni

The Roosevelt Union Free School School District and Alumni Association honored Ray Wilson, legendary basketball coach of the school's Rough Riders during the 1960s. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

As a basketball coach at Roosevelt High School in the 1960s, Ray Wilson liked to stay in the background. Saturday, his former players put him front and center.

A gymnasium full of Roosevelt High School alumni, including pro basketball Hall of Famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving, cheered as the district presented Wilson with a section of the school's original gymnasium floor emblazoned with the team's Rough Riders logo.

"I don't think I was all that, but I was lucky to get away with it," Wilson, 81, quipped afterward.

The ceremony came as Roosevelt High celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first graduating class this year.

Erving credits Wilson, and two assistant coaches, Earl Mosely and Charles McIlwain, with shaping more than his basketball career.

"They were really models of how you should experience life," he said.

Wilson coached Erving in high school and in college at the University of Massachusetts, where he was an assistant coach and then head coach from 1979 to 1981.

The Roosevelt district saved the roughly 5-by-7-foot section of hardwood during a massive renovation of the high school in recent years. It will hang in the renovated building next to a plaque honoring Wilson.

"I want to be in back," Wilson, who now lives in Mount Dora, Fla., said in his remarks. "I want to wave, I want to critique, and I don't want to be up front. And still, they haven't gotten it."

His former high school players said he stressed integrity above winning.

"He actually was a father figure for all of us, particularly for me," said Stanley Tucker, who graduated in 1965. "My father was not with us, and he really just took me on under his wing if you will and treated me like his son."

Alumni said Wilson -- and his star players such as Erving -- symbolized a heyday in Roosevelt athletics when the entire school would rally around the Rough Riders.

"You could feel the fever building right after lunch" on game days, said Kenneth Levy, a 1971 graduate. "By the time you were in the gym, the energy was elevated tenfold."

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