May 23, 2007
Men's Basketball: Tom St. Clair Holds Down Two Professions
by Mike London, The Salisbury Post, salisburypost.com
Former Catawba coach Sam Moir jokes that every time Tom St. Clair calls, he's afraid his former player is switching careers again. St. Clair, who lives in Bastian, Va., a town on the West Virginia border, brings new meaning to the expression double-double every day. He's both a surgeon and a lawyer. Before that he was a dentist. Before that, he was a pretty fair basketball player.
St. Clair, who spent 1965-69 at Catawba mostly as a reserve, was a bit stunned -- "I'm hardly a legend" -- to be part of a series that includes Dwight Durante, Garland Davis and Dwayne Grant. But if you believe college basketball players are students first, then St. Clair ranks high on any list.
As the Dearborn Award winner for mathematics, he has to be among the brightest men ever to wear a Catawba uniform, and his post-Catawba careers have been varied and productive. St. Clair, whose area of specialty is midfacial surgery on children, has helped a lot of people. Catawba gave him that opportunity.
"When I was coming along, there were not a lot of athletic scholarships and not many avenues of financial aid," St. Clair said. "Coach Moir enabled me to have a scholarship to play basketball, and that's where it all started for me. I can't stress enough that I am humbled by the opportunity I had at Catawba."
St. Clair earned his scholarship by averaging 30 points a game for Princeton High in West Virginia. He made All-America lists and attracted the attention of Charlie Moir, an assistant at Virginia Tech and Sam Moir's brother. Charlie called Sam and recommended St. Clair. That was good enough for Sam.
St. Clair arrived in Salisbury in the fall of 1965, ready to keep the nets warm. It was good news and bad news that Durante arrived at the same time. "I thought I was gonna be the shooting guard, but I got down there and found out my job was to inbound the ball to Dwight," St. Clair said with a chuckle. "But there was no overshadowing or anything like that. Dwight was amazing, a phenomenal player."
A month into their freshman year, Durante was breaking every school scoring record. St. Clair was contributing mostly by pushing Durante -- at least trying to. "I played against Dwight in practice, played one-on-one with him a lot," St. Clair said. "The way I looked at it, the better Dwight got, the better I got."
St. Clair and Durante got along well, even roomed together on the road at times during their careers. St. Clair did have some shining moments on the court, including three quick buckets to stop a Western Carolina comeback bid his sophomore year. Durante was suspended in January of that season. That news came out of nowhere, and St. Clair was temporarily thrust into the starting lineup. He had the job of replacing an irreplaceable scoring machine.
"It was a different role but I was not hesitant to try it, so I accepted it and did my best," said St. Clair, who was placed in the lineup against Applachian State in a game in Boone. "I remember I'd stayed up all night before the game studying for a chemistry test. That made it even more challenging." St. Clair led Catawba with 15 points, proving he still had his shooting touch, but the Mountaineers won the game.
In January of his senior year, Durante was struggling with a leg injury in a game against Elon. St. Clair got a chance and scored 20 points -- all in the second half. The downside was Catawba got blown out.
A month later, Durante was healthy and pouring in points by the dozens, and St. Clair was back on the bench. But in the final regular-season game of his career, St. Clair was a hero on Feb. 22, 1969, in one of Catawba's greatest victories. Durante called it his most memorable game because the Indians beat a Gene Littles-led High Point team that was ranked fourth nationally and on the verge of running the table in the Carolinas Conference, something no one had accomplished since the 1957 Lenoir-Rhyne Bears.
Durante and Davis led the charge, but it was St. Clair who stood at the line for two foul shots with 31 seconds left and Catawba clinging to a 77-76 lead. St. Clair sank the first one. After High Point called timeout, he calmly made the second, and with no 3-point shot available, Catawba was nearly home free. After Durante and Davis made one foul shot apiece, Catawba celebrated an unlikely 81-77 victory in the North Rowan gym.
"I remember those free throws and making the one after the timeout with a little added pressure," St. Clair said. "I got them up there, and I was lucky they went in."
In the classroom, St. Clair didn't need much luck. Armed with a degree in math and a sterling GPA and inspired by Catawba professor Williams Gibbons, he entered graduate school at Wake Forest. In 1971, he started dental school at West Virginia. He spent years drilling and filling as sons Jeff and Shawn made their way through school. Jeff also excelled in the medical field and is now at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Shawn is a registered pharmacist.
By 1990, St. Clair had had enough of dentistry and entered Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. Then he passed the bar exam. From 1993-95, he studied pediatrics at New York University and performed residency training at Bellevue in Manhattan, an intense experience that included treating suspects brought in by the police.
Today, St. Clair makes good use of his diverse background, performing double duty as a practicing surgeon and counseling other physicians on legal issues. His wife, Debra, runs both enterprises. "I work for her," St. Clair said cheerfully.
St. Clair looks back on his time at Catawba with pride. He had the chance to play in a stellar league that integrated early and was arguably as good as the late-60s ACC. He remembers the Carolinas Conference all-stars beating their ACC counterparts in 1969. Mostly, he remembers Sam Moir and the precious scholarship that started his life down a successful road.
"Sam was a superb coach who liked to win, but he was also honest and fair," St. Clair said. "I had a chance to go to a great school to play ball and get an education. I got the best of both worlds."