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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

Former Drake great Dolph Pulliam followed in the footsteps of his eight brothers and sisters before emerging as a college basketball icon in the middle of a mid-court meeting.

Pulliam, one of six inductees of the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame Friday morning in St. Louis, was literally born in front of a fireplace. In the late 1940s, in West Point, Mississippi, African-Americans didn't have the same rights as they do now. They didn't have any, as a matter of fact, and Pulliam struggled with his family in a one-room shack.

"We lived, in those days, in the auspices of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws. We didn't have rights in Mississippi, couldn't go to the hospitals to be born," Pulliam said during his Hall of Fame speech. "We had no rights. But my mother, as strong as she was, was able to get us out of Mississippi, sneak us out of Mississippi, and got us to Oran, Missouri, where we were to pick cotton there for a farmer that lived there in that little town. Soon after that, my mother died, and she's still buried there in Oran, Missouri."

Dolph's older brother, Dr. Roger Pulliam, became the first man in their family to earn a scholarship to go college. That proved to Dolph that he could earn a scholarship, too, he said, and one day in the summer of 1965, he earned a second after committing to Indiana University.

After guarding Butch Beard, who went on to win an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors in 1975, Pulliam met the 6-foot-3 point guard at mid-court to shake hands. Beard told Pulliam he was so happy he was headed to Louisville, which was in the MVC, and Pulliam was headed to Indiana, so that he would never have to see him again. After the two parted ways, another man approached him.

His name was Maury John. He questioned him about his academic plans at Indiana, and was able to swing him to the Bulldogs. After his freshman year, John convinced Pulliam if he could become a defensive stopper, he could take Drake places it had never been before.

The Bulldogs won the MVC in 1968-69, and reached the Final Four. Drake won the Midwest Regional over Texas A&M 81-63 and Colorado State 84-77, then took UCLA to the limit in the national semifinals. The Bruins won 85-82 and beat Purdue for the national title.

Upon returning to Des Moines, Pulliam received a call from Tom Landry, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who had hoped to turn him into one of the top defensive backs in the NFL. The Boston Celtics drafted him in the sixth round. He spurned them both to help his community and go into broadcasting.

Pulliam became the first African-American television broadcaster in Iowa and was an analyst for Drake's basketball broadcasts from 1969-93 and again from 2002-13. He wore a blue leather suit to every Bulldogs game during the 2007-08 season, when Drake won the MVC regular-season and tournament titles.

Drake retired his No. 5 jersey in 2009.

Pulliam joined former Saluki guard Kent Williams, former Northern Iowa wrestler Bill Smith, longtime Indiana State track and field/cross country coach John McNichols, former Illinois State player Kristi Cirone and former Bradley player/coach Joe Stowell in the 2019 Hall of Fame class.

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TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.

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