Dan King made his mark on the Hill as an integral part of three of the greatest teams in Hilltopper history. Arriving at Western in 1950, from the small town of Paris, Tenn. , King teamed with Hilltopper legends Tom Marshall, Art Spoelstra, and Gene Rhodes to help solidify and further advance Western’s place among college basketball’s elite.
Turning down a scholarship offer to play football at the University of Georgia, the 6′ 6″ redhead was instead swayed to the Hill by Mr. Diddle where he developed into one of the most ferocious rebounders in the nation. Also possessing excellent scoring ability, King was one of the squad’s leading scorers during his sophomore and junior campaigns posting averages of 10.4 ppg and 13.8 ppg respectively. The three varsity teams that he was a member of posted a combined record of 80-14 from 1952-54.!!
Although not allowed to play football in college, Dan still enjoyed an excellent two-sport career as he became a standout pitcher for the Hilltopper Baseball team in the early 50′s. However, a serious knee injury prior to his senior season of 1953-54 prevented King from finishing his basketball career on an even higher note. Electing not to redshirt, Dan remained with the team for his final year but unfortunately the injury proved to be costly, and as a result the big Tennessean reluctantly watched most of the season from the bench. A season which saw the Toppers roll to a 29-1 record before being upset in the 1954 NIT during their quest for the national championship. One has to wonder how that season would have developed with a healthy King in the starting lineup!!
After brief stints in the NBA and in Major League Baseball, Dan King returned to Kentucky to further his education and pursue a career in coaching…….a career which saw King return to the Hill in the early 60′s as a graduate assistant and freshman coach for Hilltopper squads which included Western legends Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith. From the 1960′s to the present, Dan has remained in the Louisville, KY area, where he retired from coaching in 1992. Despite personal difficulties, which have prevented the former Topper great from returning to the Hill as often as he would like, King, like all true Hilltoppers, still holds a special place in his heart for his beloved red and white.
This phone interview was conducted on Sunday, August 8, 1999, and for the most part, has been transcribed in its entirety. Hopefully, it will give Western fans everywhere an interesting and insightful look at one of our true all-time greats.
DK: I’m from Paris, TN and I went to Grove High School.
HH: And when did you start playing basketball?
DK: Oh, I started playing basketball in about the seventh or eighth grade. I played basketball and football both…mostly football. I signed with the University of Georgia to go play football but I didn’t go, Mr. Diddle talked me into going to Western (Laughs).
HH: Oh really? So did you have a lot of schools recruiting you for football and basketball both?
DK: Basketball and Football, yes sir. We played one night down there….
a high school team from Jackson, TN for the championship, and there were about 50 scouts there in the stands. They were from everywhere.
HH: What position did you play?
DK: End, I played offensive end. I caught that ball, I caught a lot of touchdowns. I had good hands on me and I could really catch the ball. I had my uncle back there, Chick King, my daddy’s brother, and he was an All-American back. He won everything. And he could throw that thing pretty good and put it out there for me and I could run under it pretty good. I had good speed, you know.
HH: So you signed with Georgia and then Mr. Diddle talked you into going to Western?
DK: Yeah, I signed with the U. of Georgia, Chick and I both did, but Mr. Diddle kept coming down there and coming down there……he brought a pitcher down there one night….we had a semi-pro baseball team, he brought a pitcher down there from Bowling Green to help us out, and he asked me after the game, “Dan, why don’t you go back with me?” and I told Dad, “You know Dad, Mr. Diddle brought this pitcher down here all the way from Bowling Green to help us out. I’m going back with him.” So, I got a few things and went back with him, and by gosh I never did go back to Paris. (Laughs) He just took care of me. He took care of me like a daddy.
HH: What was it about Mr. Diddle that you think made everyone love him so much?
DK: Well, he was just like a daddy to everybody. He would help you and he’d chew you out and get after you and everything like that, but if you needed anything or whatever, he was there to help you. He stayed there in the front of the house, in the front of the dormitory, and watched over us and took care of us….made sure we didn’t get into any trouble. He was just a good man……I’m telling you…..I really adored the man, I really loved him.
HH: Do you have a favorite story involving you and Mr. Diddle that you think about quite a bit?
DK: He was just always….I never did cheat on the man. I trained, and I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink….I never have. And he really respected me for that. I don’t know…..he just treated me like one of his sons. We never did have any disagreements or whatever. I helped him out at the house and everything and I played on the baseball team……I helped him out quite a bit on that, you know, he had it by himself.
HH: Yeah, you were quite a pitcher too weren’t you?
DK: Yeahhhh boy. I’m the only guy that ever pitched and won a doubleheader at Western. I pitched a doubleheader and beat Murray twice. (Laughs) Yeah, I sure did. I pitched the first game and I was sitting over there under a tree and this boy started the second game and they started knocking him everywhere, and Mr. Diddle asked me if I wanted to pitch, and I said, “Well, sure.” And I went back in there and we came back and won. I pitched nearly seven innings again and we won that game. See, Murray’s about 20 miles from me (Paris) and I always had the jump on them in that baseball. All I had to do was kinda throw my glove out there and I could beat them, it seemed like. You have certain teams like that, you know.
HH: Well, what did you enjoy most?…..Baseball, Basketball, Football??
DK: I enjoyed all of them. You know, we had three All-Americans, football players, on the basketball team, but Mr. Diddle wouldn’t let us play…….me and Tom, and Kay Greer…..three All-American Ends. He wouldn’t let us play. He said, “No, you’re not going to play anything but basketball.” (Laughs).
HH: Tom was telling me when I talked to him that you and him almost transferred to Memphis State to play football your freshman year?
DK: Yeah, Tom was a little upset about some things and he asked me if I knew of anybody and I said, “Yeah, I know a guy down at Memphis State.” and we called him down there at Memphis, Tom and I did. We went to a hotel down there in Bowling Green and called, and the next morning…..Boy (Laughs) about seven o’clock, they came over there to the dormitory and got Tom and I out of the room and took us over to Mr. Diddle’s office and he asked what was wrong. But we got it straightened out and we stayed. And I’m glad we did stay.
HH: Was is just a case of you two wanting to play football?
DK: No, we were just going to play basketball. It wasn’t football. We were going down there to play basketball.
HH: So what was the misunderstanding about?
DK: I don’t know….Tom was just kind of unhappy about something. Tom was a heck of a player but he wouldn’t let you get close to him much. But we got everything settled over there in the office. We stuck it out, and I’m glad we did….Tom was too.
HH: Well, tell me a little bit about some of the teams you played on and the players you played with. Talk about Tom Marshall and what kind of player he was.
DK: Tom……I’ll just tell you, he was one of the best ball players I ever seen. He had big ‘ole hands. Man, he had some of the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. He was just a great ball player. He could shoot, he could do it all. He came to play…..when he got on that basketball court he was a different fella’ man, he was ALL business. I mean, he came to win, no matter what. I was mostly a rebounder. I did a lot of rebounding for him and Frosty Able. I’d get that ball off the board and get it to them and let them put it in the hole. I didn’t do much shooting. I averaged about 11 or 12 pts. I think, my sophomore and junior years…..I got to shoot a little bit.
HH: So rebounding was you strength mainly?
DK: Yeah, I really rebounded. Hank Iba, who coached out at Oklahoma, we played out there and he told somebody that I was the greatest rebounder he had ever seen. He said he couldn’t believe the way I rebounded. We played Penn State out there and they had this big guy, I forget what his name was, but man he was a big guy, and I just wore him out. I beat him up on rebounding. Hank Iba made that comment after the game in the paper, and I’ve still got it in my clippings.
HH: Is that when you were named the MVP of that tournament (All-College Tourney, Oklahoma City, OK) out there?
DK: Yeah, Yeah.
HH: Are there any certain games that stand out for you?
DK: Yes Sir, One. We played Dayton up in Dayton….three Overtimes. We played three overtimes and finally won.(Laughs) Back then you know, in the 50′s, they were loaded. Man, they had some ball clubs. But we beat ‘em in three overtimes, I never seen such a ball game in my life. We got home and the airport was full of people and the airplane couldn’t hardly land when we got back that night. I never seen as many people in my life out there greeting us back. They were in the Top Ten (Dayton).
HH: Well, you guys were too though.
DK: Yeah. One year (1953-54) we won 21 in a row before we lost a game.
HH: What about the NIT games? I know Western always came so close to winning a number of championships but something always happened. Was that pretty frustrating to the team to always come so close?
DK: Yeah it was, especially our senior year, we thought we were going to win it all up there, but we ran across Holy Cross with Tom Heinsohn and another guy named Togo Palazzi. And they beat us….we thought we had a shot at it that year. We came awful close. We always made a good showing up there though. The fans really liked Mr. Diddle and his teams, and his Red Towel.
HH: Well, the game against Holy Cross, that was the one that Jack Turner got hurt in right?
DK: Yeah, that hurt us quite a bit.
HH: Well, after graduating from Western you got drafted in the NBA, right?
DK: I was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets. I made the team….back then there weren’t but eight teams (Laughs). I guess I was just lucky…..I was in the right place at the right time. They had a lot of talent….Frank Selvy, the guy that scored all them points at Furman. They had some big ‘ole boys up there, I tell you, it was a tough league. Al McGuire played on my team. I played about five months……..I busted a knee up my senior year at Western and Baltimore folded up and nobody else picked me up, so I came on home. The Brooklyn Dodgers tried to sign me my junior year at Western but I wouldn’t sign. They called again and invited me down to Vero Beach after I got back from basketball. I went down there….I met my buddy Sandy Koufax, we roomed together down there. He played on the University of Cincinnati basketball team, he remembered seeing me when we played them. But Sandy and I roomed together down there at Vero Beach. But I hurt my arm my junior year at Western real bad, I hurt it throwing. And I got down there to Vero Beach, and instead of pitching they wanted to put me on first base because I could hit the ball pretty good……you know, I was a pretty good hitter. They wanted to send me to Bakersfield, California to their farm system where it was warm and maybe bring my arm around, you know? I just decided….I don’t know, I went back to Paris, Tennessee, they flew me back to Paris, and Dad and me talked about it and I said, “I’m going back to Western.” I liked twelve hours getting my degree and I was going back to get that degree and coach a team. That’s what I wanted to do.
HH: After you got your degree, did you go into high school coaching then ?
DK: Yeah, I started out over in Edmonson Co. High School, in Brownsville.
HH: When did you start coaching up there?
DK: ’59-60. I coached there for two years and then I came back to Western. Mr Diddle and Mr. Hornback invited me back down there as a graduate assistant and I coached freshman basketball and varsity baseball for two years. I coached Clem, Dwight, and all that bunch….me and Frosty Able did. He and I coached that year (1963-64) with Clem, Dwight Smith, Pearl Hicks….boy, we had a bunch of good ones. Then after two years as a grad assistant I got my master’s degree and Mr. Diddle retired. Then Johnny Oldham came in and he brought his own coaches, so me and Frosty got sidelined. So I decided to go back into high school. I went back to Edmonson Co. and coached for two years.
HH: When you were coaching the freshman team….tell me what you thought about Clem and Dwight and what kind of players they were?
DK: The best ball players I’ve ever seen. Clem Haskins was the best athlete I’ve ever seen, I guarantee you. He had the best touch of any kid I’ve ever seen. He worked hard, him and Dwight, there wasn’t no substitute for them. They gave you 110%…they hit the floor, they didn’t care what it took to win….that’s the way they were.
HH: Now you’re still pretty good friends with Clem aren’t you?
DK: Yes Sir. Clem and I are real good buddies. I went up to his house. I helped try to recruit him, I stayed up there with his parents. I got along with black folks real well, all my life. I was raised down there in Paris and there was a black family raised right behind me there and they took care of me and fooled with me and everything like that, and I just got along with black people really well.
HH: What do you think about this trouble that Clem’s got into now?
DK: I really hate it. I’m really disappointed. I just didn’t think he’d do that. Whether he did it or not I don’t know….he says he didn’t. I hope he didn’t. I ‘d like to see him get back into coaching myself, because I think he was a good coach. I wish we could have kept him at Western. You know, we’ve had some pretty good ones down there that got away from us….him and Keady, and Willard. We let some pretty good coaches get away from us down there.
HH: Well, after you got out of coaching what did you do for the next 25-30 years or so?
DK: I didn’t retire until ’92. I coached high school up here. After I left Edmonson Co., this guy from Louisville, Bud Cagle, he had a softball team up here, one of the best teams in the country. And he wanted me to come up here and play softball for him, him and Frosty Able. He got me a job up there at Bishop David High School, Mr. Cagle did, so I could go up there and play softball for him. So I left Edmonson Co. after those two years I had went back after my graduate assistant time at Western. I went up to Bishop David and stayed there for eight years coaching varsity baseball and varsity basketball. It was an all-boys school, an all- Catholic School. And after that I went to Pleasure Ridge High School here in Louisville and I stayed there until ’92. I got medical disability, I lost a foot from sugar diabetes. They put me on medical disability. I lost my left foot. I coached girl’s softball for about eleven years…we went to the state tournament about seven of those years. And I helped Mr. Schaeffer with the varsity basketball and I coached girl’s basketball up there. That’s all I did. I never did coach football.
HH: Do you keep up with Western much anymore?
DK: Yeah, I keep up with it quite a bit. But about 2 1/2 years ago my wife had a bad stroke and she can’t walk or do nothing. I’ve taken care of her the last 2 1/2 years. I haven’t been anywhere hardly, just trying to take care of her, you know. I take care of here though and do the best I can with her. I sure would like to get back down there. I used to come down all the time to ballgames. I used to go watch them practice. I’d go watch them practice baseball and go the game. My wife’s from Bowling Green, I met her in Bowling Green while I was at Western. I used to go down there all the time and watch them play.
HH: Well, we’re getting ready to have some more really good teams down here real soon.
DK: Yeah, I hear that coach is doing a pretty good job. He’s getting some new people in there. You’ve got to have them horses to pull that wagon, you know that. I’d like to see Western get back….I know there’s a lot of people up here in Louisville that really like Western, they always have. They’ve got a lot of fans up here.
HH: Well, do you think you could you make it down sometime if they ever held a reunion of the ’54 team maybe?
DK: Yeah, I’d try to get down there for that.
HH: Do you keep in touch with any of those guys?
DK: I called Tom, I got his number, and I finally got Art’s. I haven’t seen them since ’54, but I’ve talked to them on the phone.
HH: I’m trying to get Tom to come back up here sometime this year. I think he’s interested in coming back now.
DK: I hope so. I’d like to see him get back up there. The people in Bowling Green really loved that guy, he was a big, big favorite down there, boy.
HH: Yeah, people still talk about him all the time.
DK: Yeah, I imagine they do (Laughs). Mr. Diddle got us a job out at the drive-in theater down there directing traffic. As soon as I got there Mr. Diddle got me and him a job….me and Tom went out there and worked every night. Tom really enjoyed it. I didn’t even go back home after Mr. Diddle got me up there (Laughs).