BOULDER – Cliff Meely was saluted on Sunday for his basketball achievements. But as monumental as they were, those highlights contributed only one chapter in the life of a man whose family, friends and co-workers remembered as being more of a giver than a taker.
Meely, who played for the University of Colorado from 1968-71 and was arguably the school’s best-ever in his sport, died at age 65 on May 28 in Boulder. He would have turned 66 on July 10.
Family, friends and members of the CU administration and basketball community celebrated Meely’s life Sunday afternoon at the Folsom Field Stadium Club. About 200 persons, including CU Interim Athletics Director Ceal Barry and men’s coach Tad Boyle, attended the 90-minute tribute.
Meely, who transferred to CU from Northeastern (Colo.) Junior College in Sterling, played in Boulder for the late Russell “Sox” Walseth. Walseth’s son, Joe, told Sunday’s audience that, “Dad would say, ‘Cliff won us a lot of games.’”
No one could argue that point. In 1968-69, the Buffaloes won the Big Eight Conference title, finishing 10-4 in league play and 21-7 overall. Meely’s 24.3 points per game career scoring average remains a school record and his 427 points scored in league play in 1971 set a Big Eight mark. Earlier this year, Meely was CU’s alumni nominee for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Hall of Honor.
But Meely’s two sons, Jamil Garrett, of Atlanta, and Tordell Meely, of Valparaiso, Ind., said their father’s legacy would not be the myriad records he set during a career highlighted by three first-team All-Big Eight selections and inclusion as a first-team All-American as a CU senior.
“All those points he scored and rebounds he pulled down mean a lot less right now than what he meant to the people in this room,” Jamil said. “Records can be broken, but what will last forever is the way he touched people’s lives.”
Conducting Sunday’s gathering was Hansford F. Vann, the former longtime pastor of Boulder’s Second Baptist Church. Vann, who served as CU’s basketball chaplain during the tenure of former Buffs coach Ricardo Patton, said Meely persevered through “the race of life” and cautioned that everyone is “in a tough, tough race . . .
“In life you don’t shadow box, you have to make every hit count. Life will blindside you . . . Cliff was no angel, but none of us are. He got his degree and used it to help other people.”
Meely was born in Rosedale, Miss., but grew up in Chicago. In May 2011, he was one of 11 former high school stars inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. And in 1995-96, the Associated Press named Meely to its all-time Big Eight first team, joining the-late Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma), Danny Manning (Kansas), Jo Jo White (Kansas State) and Rolando Blackman (Kansas State).
After a short stint in the NBA – six seasons with Houston, Los Angeles Lakers – Meely returned to Colorado and worked for 25-plus years as a counselor and instructor in the Denver Public School System. Dan Curtiss, representing the DPS on Sunday, called Meely’s effect on the students he counseled “pretty profound . . . he was working in some tough schools but he made an impact. In those schools he will be fondly remembered.”
Denver businessman Derek Faison, a CU alum, recalled a regular gathering that longtime attendees – including Meely – jokingly dubbed a “fish fry, Buffs lie” event. “Of course, everybody there was an All-American . . . but this was the only true All-American,” he said, pointing over his left shoulder to a Cliff Meely poster.
Boyle, who attended with current CU players Josh Scott, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, said he was grateful for Meely’s visits to practice and Meely offering his take on incoming Buffs freshmen.
Said Boyle: “He’ll forever be a Buff and he’ll never be forgotten.”
Meely is survived by his two sons; daughter Nemika Meely, of Dallas; sisters Patricia Meely and Beverly Meely, both of Augusta, Ga.; former wives Cynthia Meely, of Houston, and Arlinda Garrett, of Huntsville, Ala.; and 13 grandchildren.
Contributions can be made to the Clifford B. Meely Memorial fund, c/o of University of Colorado Foundation, 4740 Walnut St., Boulder, CO 80301, or online at http://www.cufund.org/giving-opportunities/memorial-funds