June 1, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Former University of Notre Dame standout and National Basketball Association veteran Orlando Woolridge, who played on Fighting Irish teams that four times knocked off the number-one-ranked team in the nation, died last night at his parents’ home in Mansfield, La., where he had been under hospice care due to a chronic heart condition. He was 52.
A 6-9, 215-pound forward from Mansfield, Woolridge played as a freshman on the Notre Dame team that advanced to the 1978 NCAA Final Four in St. Louis. He went on to average 11.0 points and 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore, 12.2 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior and 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds as a senior in 1980-81. He still ranks 36th among Irish career scorers with his 1,160 points. He earned third-team All-America recognition as a senior from United Press International.
Woolridge connected on 65 percent of his field-goal attempts (156 of 240) s a senior for the top figure in that category over the last 30 years. Part of an impressive Notre Dame class that also included Kelly Tripucka, Tracy Jackson, Stan Wilcox and Gilbert Salinas, Woolridge helped the Irish to a four-year combined mark of 92-26 and four appearances in the NCAA Championships under former Irish coach Digger Phelps — highlighted by the ’78 Final Four berth and a ’79 Midwest Regional title game appearance against Magic Johnson and eventual champion Michigan State. He joined Tripucka and Jackson as captains of the 1980-81 squad.
Woolridge played on Irish squads that defeated four top-rated teams — Marquette in 1977-78, DePaul in 1979-80 (he hit two free throws with 19 seconds left in the second overtime), then Kentucky and Virginia in 1980-81. Against Ralph Sampson and the Cavaliers (Virginia had won 28 straight games), Woolridge hit the game-winning, 16-foot jump shot at the buzzer in the 57-56 Notre Dame victory.
Woolridge was a first-round pick in the 1981 NBA Draft, as the sixth overall selection by the Chicago Bulls. He played with the Bulls from 1981-82 through 1985-86, the New Jersey Nets from 1986-87 (20.7 points per game) through 1987-88, the Los Angeles Lakers from 1988-89 to 1989-90, the Denver Nuggets in 1990-91 (25.1 points and a career-high 6.8 rebounds per game), the Detroit Pistons in 1991-92 and 1992-93, the Milwaukee Bucks in 1992-93 and the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993-94. He finished with career NBA averages of 16.0 points (13,623 career points), 4.3 rebounds (3,696) and 1.9 assists. He played in Italy in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Woolridge averaged 22.9 points per game with the Bulls in 1984-85 while playing with Michael Jordan.
Woolridge served as head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks in 1998 and 1999 and later coached the Arizona Rhinos of the ABA beginning in 2008-09. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Woolridge graduated from Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters in 1981 with a degree in economics.
He was born Dec. 16, 1959, in Bernice, La.
Visitation begins at 7 p.m. (CT) Friday at Jenkins Funeral Home, 170 Van Buren Street, in Mansfield, La., and funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. (CT) Saturday at Mansfield High School.
— ND —