Almost 20 years before Clarence Martin first patrolled the paint for the Western Kentucky basketball team another #55 roamed the middle for Coach John Oldham’s legendary Hilltopper squads of the mid-1960′s.
Steve Cunningham, a burly 6’5″ center from the small town of Chaffee, Missouri, came to Western in the Fall of 1962 after spurning offers from SMU, the University of Missouri, Memphis St. and others in order to play for Coach E.A. Diddle and the tradition-rich Hilltopper Basketball program.
During his three years of varsity ball on the Hill, Cunningham experienced extreme highs and lows and was a part of some of the most historic moments in WKU Basketball history. Most notably, he was one of only four players to play for both Coach E.A. Diddle and Coach John Oldham…..and in 1963 he witnessed the integration of the Hilltopper Basketball program when Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith joined the Western family.
After suffering through an injury-plagued (5-16) sophomore season in 1963-64, a season that proved to be the last for the ailing E.A. Diddle, Cunningham soon witnessed the re-emergence of the Hilltopper Basketball program back into a national powerhouse. Former Hilltopper All-American John Oldham took over the reins in the Fall of 1964, and with the influx of talented sophomores such as Haskins and Smith and the continuing maturity of veterans like Cunningham, Western was soon back to its winning ways.
Called by Oldham, ‘One of the smartest players he’s ever coached,’ Cunningham had a breakout season in 1965 as he finished second on the team in scoring with a 13.9 ppg average. Meanwhile, Western completed the 1965 regular season with a 17-8 record and accepted a bid to the then still prestigious NIT Tournament in New York City where they defeated Fordham (57-53) in the first round before being upset by a strong Army squad led by Louisville native Mike Silliman (58-54) in the second round. After shocking back-to-back (5-16) seasons Western finished 18-9 and had returned to postseason play….but even better days were ahead.
In 1966 the nucleus of Cunningham, Haskins and Smith was made even stronger by the addition of two more key components….Owensboro, Ky. native Wayne Chapman, a 6′ 6″ transfer from uk and 6′ 5″ leaper-extraordinaire Greg Smith, the younger brother of Dwight. Still considered by most to be one of the very best teams in Western history, the Toppers featured an interchangeable starting five that averaged around 6′ 5″ at all positions and who were as smart, quick and explosive as any team in the nation. Defensively, led by Dwight Smith, they could smother and frustrate opposing offenses while offensively they were next to impossible to defend as Cunningham, Haskins, Chapman and Dwight Smith all averaged in double figures for the season. They defeated their opponents by a margin of 18.04 points per game, a mark that still ranks third in the Western record book.
After rolling through the regular season with a 23-2 record, but still unranked and receiving no respect from national media, the Toppers faced off against 4th-ranked Loyola (Ill.), the 1963 NCAA champions, in the first round of the ’66 NCAA Tournament. Western dismantled the Ramblers by a score of 105-86 and moved on to face All-American Cazzie Russell and the University of Michigan in the next round. In a game that has gone down as the most infamous in WKU history, the Toppers were cheated out of their chance at an eventual national championship by the Steve Honzo’s “jump-ball” call on Greg Smith in the closing seconds of the game. Denied their opportunity at facing uk’s “rupp’s runts” in the next round, and most importantly a deserved shot at the title, Cunningham and Western still rebounded to defeat Dayton 82-68 in the consolation game, avenging one of their earlier losses on the season.
Thus ended Steve Cunningham’s successful playing career on the Hill. Steve was drafted by the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals after graduation but after suffering an ankle injury in training camp he decided to move into coaching when he accepted the head coaching position at Union County (Ky.) High School. After four successful seasons coaching he accepted a job in Medical Sales in Mississippi where he remained for 10 years. From there he moved on to Texas where he worked for a diagnostic company until his retirement in the Fall of 2005. Today, Steve and his family still reside in Texas where he still follows his beloved alma mater and team from a distance.
This interview was conducted on January 6, 2006 and has been transcribed for the most part in its entirety.
HH: Now did you play organized ball ever since you were a kid?
SC: Well, we had organized junior high ball and I started in the seventh grade and I played continually from then. It was a small school. I had 51 kids in my graduating class. Football was primarily king in my school but we did win a few basketball games.
HH: Now as far as your high school career. What kind of career did you have? Did you go to the state tournament any?
SC: We went to….what you would call in Kentucky….we went to the regional finals two years and lost by one point and lost by two points both years. So we didn’t get to the state tournament.
HH: Did you put up pretty good numbers in high school?
SC: I averaged…..I think my junior year it was 23 and 29 my senior year.
HH: Did you have a lot of schools recruiting you besides Western?
SC: Yes, I did.
HH: Who were your top choices besides Western?
SC: SMU, when Doc Hayes was the head coach there….Cal Luther at Murray was over at my house about every three weeks. I had the University of Missouri….Memphis St…..it was kind of a regional area there. The only reason SMU really heard about me in Texas is that I had an aunt that was a professor on the SMU campus and she knew Doc very well. Back then word of mouth was about the only way anyone heard about anybody.
HH: So were you very familiar with Western and Coach Diddle when they recruited you?
SC: No I was not, to be perfectly honest. I got a letter from Mr. Hornback talking about a desire to meet with me and he came and I met with him first. That was in early spring of ’62. And pretty well after touring the campus….I went to the state tournament that year in Kentucky at Louisville and met President Kelly Thompson and Coach Diddle and Coach Hornback again and a lot of the players…..and toured the campus. And I was pretty well set on it. It was basically what I was looking for. There were only like 3,900 – 4,200 people on campus at that time. It was a small school but it was beautiful and it had a REAL GOOD basketball tradition.
HH: I know Coach Diddle was pretty sick those last two years. Did he have much to do with recruiting you or was it pretty much all Coach Hornback?
SC: Well, one of the funny stories…..right as I was making my mind up on where to go to school Coach Diddle showed up in my front yard. We were out there sitting on the lawn, I had just finished mowing the yard. He and Charlie Osborne, who was a great ballplayer, had been fishing at Kentucky Lake and Mr. Diddle just made the comment that, “Well, it happened to be on the way home and we just decided to stop by and see you.” And that pretty well convinced me. It was a two hour drive from Paducah to Chaffey. So, we sat there and had a nice conversation and it turned out that Charlie ended up being my freshman coach at Western the next year.
HH: Well, after you got to Western…..your first year on varsity was Coach Diddle’s last year. I know you guys finished 5-16. Talk about how tough that year was….you know, with Coach Diddle going out like that…..
SC: Well, it started out pretty rough for me. I broke my foot….like in the fourth or fifth day of practice that year. So, I didn’t get to practice…..in fact, one of the things Coach Diddle said after the end of the year was, “we should have redshirted you.” Because I got to play like 8 or 10 minutes in the opening game with Vanderbilt in ’63 when they dedicated the new arena. Then on I’d hurt it a little bit and miss four or five games and come back and play some more. By the end of the season I was pretty healthy. But we really had a tough year that year. A lot of it had to do with the fact that we had some tension of the team…Coach Diddle was sick. And we had, at the end of the year….I think four or five guys left the ballclub and didn’t come back.
HH: Was that because of differences with Coach Diddle or what?
SC: I think it was the losing more than anything. Ronnie Kidd and Bane Sarrett who were in my freshman class and a couple of other guys that decided….oh, Ray Keeton, who was a great forward, he decided that he didn’t want to go to school any more and we went to East Tennessee for the last game of the year and he was from West Virginia….he just got on the bus and went home….never showed up again. He joined the army and ended up one of the all-stars on the Army team during the Vietnam War. He was just plenty tough. We just ran into some really….I don’t know what to say….we were running the old second guard around offense that Western had run for like 25 years and we really didn’t have the personnel to run it that well. We had a guy like Darel Carrier who was a great shooter and Darel would fill it up but other than that we were kind of lacking on a lot of the other sound positions. And like I say, here I am, I’m hobbled and I’m trying to play center when I’m healthy. So it was a hard year.
HH: So did any of those guys that transferred go on to go to another school and have successful careers?
HH: So, you didn’t play very much at all after you got hurt your freshman year?
SC: Yeah, I played in maybe……see we played 21 games and I probably played in about 10 or 11 of them.
HH: That would have been great if they would have redshirted you ’cause you could have hung around for the ’67 season.
SC: You betcha, you betcha. I think Coach Oldham would have given anything if that would’ve happened. Because the time that I played really didn’t make much of a difference on the team itself due to the fact that we just had a poor year, we couldn’t get a break. I would’ve given anything to have played on the ’67 team.
HH: Coach Oldham called you as smart as any player he’s ever coached and that you were consistent and played the same way every game. Do you think that was maybe your biggest asset, just being such a smart player? What do you think the best part of your game was?
SC: Well, I think the consistency is probably the main thing…..a lot of our offense ran through me. Not so much that I was handling the ball but I had pick assignments, I had places that I had to be on our plays that would be crucial, especially in timing for Clem and Dwight, and when they would come curling off. I just really dug down and made sure I didn’t miss any assignments.
HH: You had a pretty good outside shot too didn’t you?
SC: Yeah, I shot pretty well. I think I led the team….I don’t know whether it was my junior year or senior….in field goal percentage….so, I guess if we had three-point shots back when we were playing….Dwight and Clem and my shots were at least from the the top of the key. There would have been a lot of three pointers.
HH: Well, in ’65 you were the second leading scorer on the team behind Clem with 13.9 pts…..
SC: Right. Dwight passed me the next year, my senior year, I was third. I still did like 15.1.
HH: Well, you were one of the few players that actually played for both Coach Diddle and Coach Oldham.
SC: Yeah, Ray Rhorer and Ralph Baker were I think the only two others. I think there was Ralph Baker and Ray Rhorer that were seniors my junior year that actually had played on both Coach Oldham and Coach Diddle’s first and last teams.
HH: Well, as far as playing for Coach Oldham and Coach Diddle what was the big difference between the two?
SC: I would say that Coach Diddle had a lot of bite. You know, he was on you for a lot of little things that at the moment you didn’t really think that they were important because they seemed petty. But Coach Oldham…the difference with him is….you knew that if he talked to you or said something to you about what he wanted done, you knew it was important. And it was the discipline that Coach Oldham brought that I think that really made our ballclub. I really do, it was just the confidence he had in telling us what he wanted done and then us doing it that made everything work.
HH: So, in Coach Diddle’s last year was he really that involved with the team because his health was failing and everything?
SC: No, Coach Hornback did most all of the on-court coaching. Coach Diddle was primarily the rah-rah guy. He was there for support but…..in his last years he had bouts with gout that were extremely painful and he had a real hard time getting around. So, he was not in good health under any circumstance.
HH: Your junior year of course Clem and Dwight came in and that was the beginning of integration at Western. How did that go? Did that go smoothly with everyone on the team and everyone on campus?
SC: As far as I know there were not any conflicts. I think the only conflicts that took place were when we had to go out of town and spend the night in say, Mufreesboro or Cookeville or somewhere in Tennessee. None of the motels there or restaurants were integrated back then. It was really a difficult time for Clem and Dwight. We ate on the bus. A lot of times we wouldn’t even spend the night we’d go to Clarksville and we’d get a box lunch after the ballgame and drive back to Bowling Green so that it wouldn’t be a conflict. I think Coach Oldham was very, very conscious of making certain that no one was put in harm’s way.
HH: Now actually, as you’ll probably remember, the first black players that Western actually signed were Mike and Robert Redd from Louisville.
SC: Oh absolutely, and then they backed out. I thought we had a shot at Wes Unseld at one time too.
HH: Well, talk about Clem and Dwight as far as players and friends….
SC: Well, I think we all had….that first year it was a feeling-out process between all of us just to kind of get to know each other. We had a pretty good ballclub under Coach Oldham with that 18-9 season. I think we probably could have gone further in the NIT. We just flubbed up against Army and lost by four, but we had a good enough ballclub that I think we probably could have gotten to the semis anyway, if not won the whole thing. And it was a feeling-out process with Clem and Dwight as far as we all would treat each other. I found that it was very easy for us to all get along. I never had a conflict with anybody on any of our ballclubs. I just love them to this day. It killed me when I heard about Dwight. It absolutely killed me. Dwight’s father and my father were really close friends. They always sat together at the ballgames. It just floored us. And he was a good, good person too.
HH: Yeah, I know that’s what everyone says. I know Greg a little bit and he seems like a great guy too.
SC: Oh, Greg was funny. He had a great sense of humor, just an outstanding person. Mr. Smith raised his family as well as anybody I’ve ever met. I mean to the tee, the girls, the boys all of them were raised very proper. They were just fun people to be with.
HH: Let me ask you also about another player that Western signed that decided to leave….Willie Watson, do you remember that name?
SC: Yes, Willie was a freshman at one time when I….I think I was a senior when they signed him as a freshman, yeah.
HH: Do you remember anything about why he left and what happened with that because I know he went on to have a great career at I think Oklahoma City?
SC: I think he went to Oak City. Yeah, he probably played under Tex there. I didn’t hear because the very next year I was gone he didn’t show up on the varsity team. It could very well have been grades, that happens sometimes. Like my freshman recruiting class of Sarrett, Kellar Works and Ronnie Kidd and there was another one……Dick Davidson. They didn’t make the grades. You know, they were in the “D” category and it just wasn’t going to fly.
HH: I think Willie was like 6’8″ or 6’9″ I believe?
SC: He was a big guy. He was about 6’9″. He had LARGE, big hands. Not the Connie Hawkins type but they were very big. He had a lot of raw potential. He was sure hard to guard when the freshmen would scrimmage with us because he had sharp elbows and he’d hit you on the top of the head (Laughs). He was so much taller than you were.
HH: Yeah, it’s like I said, as good as you guys were it’s scary to think about how good you could have been with the Redds, Willie Watson, and especially Wes Unseld too. I mean you guys would have been the top team of the 60′s instead of UCLA.
SC: Well, I think we really could have challenged a lot of them, I sure do.
HH: I mean as it was you probably should have won at least one title, I know Coach Oldham thinks you should have. At least in ’66 he thinks you should have won and in ’67 that maybe you should’ve at least gotten to the championship game against Jabbar (UCLA).
SC: In ’66 there’s no doubt in my mind that we could have beaten kentucky. Everybody pointed to and looked at it but we were playing so well and the Michigan game….that was a fluke, it was a fluke. That was the only time before and only time since that that call has ever been made…..it’s a dead ball.
HH: Talk about that season a little bit first. You finished 23-2 in the regular season and pretty much blew everybody out.
SC: In the regular season, yes. In fact, we gave Vanderbilt a lot of trouble. You know, they were ranked in the Top 10 at the time with Clyde Lee and that group and we went to Vandy and played them. I think they beat us 72-69 or something like that and we were in the ballgame the whole night. The game that was totally out of character was when we went to Dayton. We spent 8 1/2 – 9 hours on a bus getting there. It was snowing and everything. We got off the bus, went in and played the ballgame. I think we shot like 15% the first half. I mean we couldn’t even make a layup. Everybody was making excuses, including myself…..we didn’t know why, we didn’t why, ’cause we were getting wide open shots. They just wouldn’t go down. And I think we went to halftime trailing by 20 and ended up losing by 20. And that was the only lopsided game we played all year.
HH: Yeah, looking at the schedule here almost every game besides those two games were blowouts in your favor. I mean nobody even played you close hardly at all.
SC: Yeah, we came back and played Dayton in the consolation of the tournament in Iowa City and beat ‘em by 14.
HH: Now you finished the regular season at 23-2 but going into the NCAA Tournament you guys still weren’t even ranked.
SC: They did not have us ranked at all.
HH: So I guess when you played Loyola,(Ill.) the first game you guys really had a chip on your shoulder because you really weren’t getting the respect you felt you deserved and everything?
SC: Not only that, we had a chip on our shoulder for Coach Oldham. You know, Coach Oldham in ’63 had taken his Tennessee Tech team to the NCAA and they played Loyola who eventually won the NCAA in ’63. And this George Ireland who was the head coach at Loyola just poured it on Coach Oldham. They beat ‘em like 111 to 60-something. He didn’t take his starters out the whole ballgame. And we pretty well knew that because we knew Tennessee Tech very well having played them twice a year every year and we knew Coach Oldham was a Western person. And we were thrilled when he took over the position in ’64. And I think a lot of it was revenge, I really do. Plus the fact, they kept touting about the great fullcourt press that Loyola had and I think it was…..to start the ballgame I don’t think Loyola made it across the halfcourt line for like the first six trips. We stole the ball or got the ball back or they made a turnover and we jumped out to a quick lead. That was the greatest defensive game I’d ever seen Dwight Smith play. He was ALL OVER the floor and he had a very productive scoring night that night too. I think he ended up with 29. He was just everywhere.
HH: I think you had a pretty big game that night too didn’t you?
SC: Yeah, I got 16. I had a pretty good NCAA Tournament. I scored 24 against Michigan and 20 against Dayton the next night…so, yeah 60 points. That was about five points above my average. A lot of that could’ve been because they were keying on Clem and Dwight as well though.
HH: Well, after the Loyola game of course came the Michigan game. I guess everyone remembers that because of the jump ball.
SC: Well you know, the thing about it….they talk about it but being on the floor and watching it…..it was a seesaw thing back and forth, back and forth. And I can’t say that during the game Michigan got a LOT better calls than we did, some were questionable, but when Clem hit me with a pass and I put us up by one with about 24 seconds to go and coming down the floor Cazzie (Russell) slipped and when he slipped he lost the ball and Wayne Chapman picked it up and started down for a fast break and Cazzie just took his…..kind of like a stiff arm and held it out and hit Wayne right in the nose. He got a one shot foul, he didn’t call flagrant, they didn’t call anything. Here’s Wayne, he’s bleeding from his nose, his eyes are watering, he can’t see. He has to go up and shoot a one shot foul for that. And he hits the front of the rim, the ball goes straight down and Greg and Cazzie get into a jump. And just looking at it you think, “well, we’ve got 13 seconds left. If we can just get the jump ball we can probably run this thing out or at least get free throws.” And where I was standing, which was at halfcourt on the side….Greg went straight up, he always tipped the ball with his left hand even though his right arm was toward Cazzie. He went straight up and Cazzie leaned under him….Greg came down on him. It’s a no-call, you re-toss it, that’s all you ever do. You don’t…..
HH: Why make that call? Do you think there was something behind it? Like you said, it’s nothing that’s ever been called before and never been called since…..
SC: I have coached, I’ve talked to basketball to people through the years. There have been fouls called on the players that are outside the circle when the ball was tipped to them where one would foul the other person….but NEVER on the two jumpers. They made them re-jump it because it’s a dead ball. It was HORRIBLE.
HH: You almost think that there’s something else behind it, you know?
HH: You were playing kentucky the next game, you gotta wonder if rupp had something to do with that.
SC: Well, I tell you what…I remember mr. rupp attending Coach Diddle’s birthday party (The day after the Michigan game at the team motel in Iowa)……that wasn’t a whole lot of fun.
HH: Tell me about that. I’ve asked Coach Oldham about it but he doesn’t remember it. I heard rupp came in uninvited to the birthday party and there was a lot of tension in the room.
SC: Yeah. Coach Diddle and I shared the same birthday, March 12. And the players and everybody, Coach Hornback and everyone, had a cake for Coach Diddle and had a new red tie for him. And he was opening up the tie, ’cause he always wore a red tie, and he took his old red tie off and handed it to me and said, “this is my present to you.” Well, about that time adolph rupp just walks in unannounced and just, you know…..took over the conversation. And everybody just kind of stood back. Coach Diddle didn’t have much to say, just kind of listened to coach rupp talk…….I don’t think there was any love lost between those two gentlemen…..ever. But it was a little tense.
HH: Do you remember if when rupp came into the room if he had much to say about that call or anything to Coach Oldham?
SC: No. I don’t remember him even speaking to Coach Oldham. He may have but I don’t remember it.
HH: How long was he in there, do you remember?
SC: Five or six minutes, it wasn’t long. It was just like everything stopped when he came in. The main reason I remember it was I was standing right by Mr. Diddle when he was opening up his red tie and he took the one that he had on off his neck and gave it to me. And he said, “Here’s your birthday from me.” And I still have that red tie. That’s when I knew rupp was there because he walked right up beside me. There was a picture in the paper with Mr. Diddle sitting and rupp standing and there was an unidentified person in the background and that’s me.
HH: I’ve seen the last 12 minutes or so of that (Michigan) game and I noticed also towards the end that were at least two calls…..one was a charge called on Clem that was ridiculous too. I mean, it wasn’t even close and they called the charge on Clem and there was at least one or two other calls I saw. So, it looked like toward the end there were several things going against Western.
SC: You know, we had a spurt right before halftime and really kind of kicked the wind out of Michigan there during the halftime. They came back out and things did start changing though……you know, here we are 13 seconds to go in the game and we’re not even in a 1 and 1?? We’re still shooting one shot fouls??
HH: I think Coach Oldham said that when Cazzie made that foul on Chapman that the Michigan coach was screaming out, “foul him, foul him.” Everyone could hear him. So it was obvious that it was an intentional foul.
SC: Yeah, and I watched Wayne pick the ball up from him and Cazzie deliberately swung at him. It was a stiff arm with his fist closed….and hit him right in the bridge of the nose. It was flagrant if anything was. He didn’t try to grab him, he didn’t try to go for the ball, he just swung at him.
HH: I think Greg mentioned that he thinks that you guys might have been looking ahead to the possible matchup with kentucky? Do you think that was the case with some players maybe?
SC: I don’t know…..I get to looking back at that Michigan team….that Michigan team was probably as talented a group that played in the NCAA that year. I mean they had some big guys. Their frontline was like 6’8″ and 6’9″ and they were strong dudes too, they weren’t thin guys. They had some big guys. And they had Cazzie running the point and he was 6’5″ or 6″6″. They were a big ballclub. I don’t think we looking…..I wasn’t anyway. I just wanted to go as far as we could and I think we were all were playing one game at a time. I don’t think we overlooked them ’cause Cazzie was the player of the year. You had to be taken aback at the fact that we were playing on the same court with him but I found that….hey, we played with Clyde Lee and some of the big names as well and that didn’t have a great deal of effect on us, so……
HH: Well, of course you had Clem and Dwight, two of the best in the country too……
SC: Absolutely, absolutely. We had a lot of confidence in our ballclub. And you know, Wayne Chapman was one heck of a player.
HH: Now Greg said, that as far as the matchup with kentucky, that if you had played you would have been so fired up that it might have taken you a while to get going but he says that if you guys were clicking on all cylinders that he didn’t think anybody could have beaten you. He thought you guys were better than anybody in the country. Do you feel that way too?
SC: YES. Without question. I really do. We could bring two guys off the bench….Mike Fawcett and Butch Kaufman….they could come in and guard and they were as good a shooters as I’ve ever seen for….and quick…small guards. So, if we got in foul trouble we weren’t hurting in that respect ’cause Dwight could slip down to a forward or whomever, you know. We were in pretty good shape in that aspect. And really kentucky only had those starting five. And I think we matched up with them unbelievably. I think that other than Louie Dampier and Pat Riley I think we overwhelmed them with more talent. Larry Conley and Thad Jaracz….they were mediocre ballplayers. I mean, not mediocre, they were good ballplayers but they weren’t in Clem and Dwight’s category.
HH: Do you remember very much about Coach Diddle’s reaction after the Michigan game? I’m sure he was crushed and everything but do you remember him saying anything about the call or anything like that?
SC: Oh, Coach Diddle always had something to say about a call. (Laughs) You know…expletives, name calls and that type of thing. He was upset, visibly. The one it hurt more than anyone I think was Coach Oldham. Coach Rhodes was very outspoken as an assistant coach. He was always talking about Honzo, who made the call, had television pancake makeup on and he was a primadonna and all these type of things. But Coach Oldham in his quiet, unassuming manner probably said about as harsh a thing as he could, coming from him….he just didn’t feel it was the right thing to do….it wasn’t the right call and he felt like we had really been taken advantage of.
HH: Also, after the Michigan game wasn’t your locker room broken into and a lot of your personal items stolen?
SC: Oh, I had my NIT watch, I had my college ring, I had my wedding ring and my wallet stolen. Everybody lost. And how that happened somebody had to have a key because you couldn’t get in that locker room without a key.
HH: That just made things that much worse didn’t it?
SC: Oh man, here you are a struggling college student that’s married and you get a $55 a month stipend to live on as a married student and I think I had $20 in my pocket and that’s probably all I had in my bank account. (LAUGHS)
HH: Well, after the Michigan game you guys played Dayton and you got a little payback for that earlier loss. And that was your last game as a Topper.
SC: Yeah, we played two more games in the College All-Star thing and Coach Oldham was coaching was but yeah that was the last Western game. Yes, we did, we did. We played well that night.
HH: Of course the title game ended up being Texas Western and uk. Who were you and the rest of the team pulling for in that one?
SC: I detested the bluegrass runts as much as I hated being cheated out of the chance of our lifetime.
HH: How do you think you would have matched up with TW?
SC: I recall watching the uk- TX Western game in my apartment with my wife. She is an avid fan and thought after watching us play 28 games that year that we were even quicker than TW. Bobby Joe Hill was small and would have had trouble with Dwight or Wayne. Greg and David Lattin would have matched up well and you and I know no one matches up well against Clem. uk made the mistake of making reaching fouls and TW was a good foul shooting team. Clem, Dwight and I talked about it the next day and there was no way Hill could have stolen the ball, like he did from Dampier, Kron or Conley, had it been us. Another thing is, Don Haskins was a very good coach, but Coach Oldham was an excellent coach that managed situations with great skill. It would have been one whale of a game between us.
HH: What were the most memorable games for you as a Topper besides the Michigan game….
SC: I guess it was my junior year and we were playing East Tennessee at East Tennessee and I hit a jumpshot from the foul line as time expired and we beat ‘em by one, we’d been down all night. That one I remember because I got knocked down. I guess another one would be when we played Murray at Western and they had Dick Cunningham, who led the nation in rebounding for years, God, he was a big man….6’11″ or whatever, and my job was to make sure that he didn’t get rebounds. I think he ended up the night with like, six rebounds and I had a pretty good night….scoring and rebound-wise. That was memorable because we had a very intense rivalry with Murray. Coach Oldham had definite theories on our zone defense that we played and my main thing was since I was playing the backside of the 1-2-2 is…..he didn’t necessarily, I mean he wanted me to rebound and I averaged seven rebounds I guess as a 6’5″ senior in ’66….but the main thing he wanted me to do was keep their rebounders off and that allowed Clem, Greg and Dwight to smother the ball and they did. They all averaged double figures in rebounding.
HH: Well, do you have any favorite stories about Coach Diddle or Coach Oldham?
SC: (LAUGHS) I’ve got a lot about Coach Diddle. A funny story….I was a freshman and we had some seniors on the ballclub that year that were just absolute clowns. Jim Dunn was one and Warner Canes and Danny Day and Larry Castle. One night they went down to the town square, Park City Square, down near where the movie theatre was….and the pond down there had a lot of goldfish in it and they got a bucket of goldfish and brought it up and filled up the shower in Diddle Dorm. They put about a foot of water in there and put the goldfish in it. And the next morning Mr. Diddle got up….he always got up around 5:00 a.m. and came through and made sure we were all awake and the first thing he did when he opened the door was, he just said, “did you do it?” and everybody said, “do what Coach?” And he said, “I know you know what I’m talking about. Did you do it?” And he kept on until he talked to everybody there. And finally he said, “Alright, who put the goldfish here?” and they all cracked up. (LAUGHS) And he laughed about that later. The fact that they pulled one over on him. But most of the time you couldn’t get anything on Mr. Diddle. He was a character, he did a little bit of everything……he was a kind-hearted man too.
HH: I guess he was kind of hard to play for sometimes but as far as how he treated the players off the court I know everyone pretty much loved him to death.
SC: Oh, absolutely. We used to have a….I’m trying to think of the market…Charlie’s something…..Charlie had a son that was there at Western about the same time that I was. He owned a grocery store downtown, I think one street off of State Street. Anyway, Coach Diddle would go down there and for all the married students he’d get cases of frozen chicken and go around and deliver it to all of the married players and we always had frozen chicken in our freezer. And just out of the goodness of his heart that’s just who this man was.
HH: Now what about Coach Oldham, do you have any good stories you can tell about him? He was always calm during games wasn’t he? He never really screamed and stuff like Coach Diddle I guess?
SC: No,but I’ll tell you there were a couple of nights that he really gave us a raking during a timeout. It was because we had specifically made the same mistake three or four times down the floor. I remember one night….this was our senior year, we played Union (Tenn.) and we scored 71 points in the first half, we couldn’t do anything wrong. We came out the second half and we couldn’t do anything right. We ended up scoring 29 points the second half and the game got a little closer than it should have been. I think we still beat ‘em pretty good. (94-69) but he raked us over the coals during the timeout and he had reason to ’cause we got sloppy. We had just built too big a lead and we just got lazy and we said, you know, “this game’s over.” And he didn’t mince words with anybody…..and I respected that ’cause I had to do a lot of that later when I was coaching, and I always remembered that.
HH: I’m looking at the schedule from that year (1964-65) and it looks like what he said you guys kinda took to heart because the next game you played Middle (Tennessee) and you scored 134 points.
SC: Yeah, yeah. (Laughs)
HH: That was the game Clem scored 55.
SC: It was, it was.
HH: Do you remember that game very well?
SC: Oh, very well. We ran…a play called “outside” where Wayne would bring the ball down and kick it to Clem on his side and it was my job to over there and sit a pick and roll and every time Clem came off that pick that night nobody would break through and he was wide open and he was shooting 20-footers, he was banking them with both hands, I mean he was just unconscious. I watched Darel Carrier score 44 against Morehead one night but Darel took a lot of shots. Clem, he must have hit 70% of his shots that night. (25 of 39) It was amazing. Clem had the great ability to be able to use both hands off the glass from about ten feet in….it wasn’t a hookshot, it was more of a push shot but he was three feet off the ground when he shot it, so it looked like…..these kids today that are shooting these runners, when they go down the lane and just shoot these runners, well, Clem would do it only he would use the backboard.
HH: As far as your time at Western, do you have any regrets about your choice in coming to Western?
SC: Not a one.
HH: What do you remember the most about your years at Western, not necessarily on the court?
SC: The people. All the people, including all the faculty and staff that I dealt with. I was treated very fairly. I worked hard. In fact I took 12 hours of my Graduate work the last semester of school. I was just dedicated that I was going to get my degree and go on beyond that too. It was the atmosphere though….I remember Dr. Sherrill in Biology, he was a great person. All the people that were involved…..Dr. Downing….especially Dr. Kelly Thompson. For a college president he was the warmest person to be around. He just made you feel good because he was always building your ego with everything he did. And I saw Lee Robertson, I just remembered, I saw Lee at the tournament here in Denton and Lee was always one of those people too. I mean if you’re Western…..it’s kinda like if you’re once a Marine, always a Marine….if you’re a Western person, you’re always a Western person. And that’s the way Lee approached it. He’s a great person.
HH: Well, after you left Western what career did you go into?
SC: I was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals. I got to their rookie camp and went to play in the regular camp….got hurt and tore an ankle up and they offered to re-hab and do this and in the meantime they wanted me to go the Eastern League. And I had an opportunity to take over as head basketball coach at Union County High School there in Morganfield, Ky. So, I opted for that, there wasn’t much difference in the money, believe me. (Laughs) The Eastern League and head coach at a high school in Kentucky were just about the same money.
HH: What was the Eastern League?
SC: That was the old league that covered some of the small towns….Scranton, Pa., some of the industrial towns that were like, teams that had left….like Rochester, that had lost their (NBA) teams. So they developed a sort of CBA-type of league which played there in that area….and I’m not an Eastern boy, I didn’t think I would fit. I figured now’s my chance, I’ve got a head coaching job, I might as well look at that. You know, I played basically all my life with my back to the basket and they wanted me to play guard. (Laughs) I went through a couple of practices and things with guys like Odie Smith and Oscar Robertson and man, it was all I could do to stand there. They would just fly by me. I remember trying to guard Dwight, it was the same way. Unless you’re a guard playing in a defensive mode as a guard….other than the way I played, I had to play center, and was always either with my back to basket or halfway around somebody. It’s a totally different thing, that’s a big world out there in the backcourt.
HH: So how long did you coach at Union County?
SC: Four years. We went to the finals of the regional in ’69, we were 28-3. We lost to Hopkinsville in the Hopkinsville gym in the finals of the regional. They had a guy named “Bird” Averitt, you may have heard of him. He played at Pepperdine and then played a couple years of pro.
HH: So, how did he get away from Western?
SC: You know, that’s a good question. I had two boys at Union Co. that were given scholarships to Pepperdine too. So, Pepperdine got three players from Western Kentucky that year. I had a little guard on the ’69 team that I think Coach Oldham was very interested in, his name was Jimmy Frazier. Jimmy just couldn’t get a high enough score on his ACT so he ended up playing at Indiana University at Evansville.
HH: I guess you were coaching there when Dwight was killed in ’67.
SC: Exactly. I went to the funeral and met with the family and everything. In fact I got a phone call the night that it happened….it may have been Clem or it may been Wayne that called me to let me know about it. It may have been Wayne that called me.
HH: Most people you talk to say that they think Dwight would have been a better pro than Clem. Do you think that’s the case? Most people think he would have been a star in the pros.
SC: Well, you know, Clem had a nice career, there’s no question about it. There was something different about Dwight though. If you remember a kid that played in the later years for the Boston Celtics, Dennis Johnson….you know how defensive-minded Dennis was? They would always put him on the toughest guy….that’s Dwight, to the tee. I mean, he was like glue. I saw him score six points in a press one night in about ten seconds. He stole the ball. They guy would throw the ball in, he’d steal it, shoot a layup, you’d hand it back to him, they’d throw it in, he’d steal it and put it back in. I mean, just unbelievably quick hands. I would say defensively….that would have put him probably in a category that probably couldn’t have been touched by many people I’ve seen. He was a streak shooter….Dwight might miss 8 in a row and then hit 15. When he got hot he got hot, where as Clem was always very consistent, most all ballgames.
HH: Well, after you left coaching what did you go into after that?
SC: I went into medical sales. I had an opportunity to move to Jackson, Mississippi and went to work for an infant nutritional company. We sold Similac baby formula and I was there for 10 years and helped set up what’s known as the WIC program in Mississippi where you have underprivileged mothers and infants and children where they provided formula and food and things for the indigents in that area and I got very involved in that. And in fact we set up the first program in the state in 1971. It was very, very fulfilling. Then I moved to Texas in 1981 and went to work for a diagnostic company and was with them from ’81 until I retired in October of last year.
HH: Now did you meet your wife at Western?
HH: Do you still keep up with Western? I know you were back last year for the “Coming Home” celebration.
SC: I was there in ’82, then I was there I think the last year Clem coached but I didn’t go back when they had the filler-ins….I don’t mean to call ‘em “filler-ins” (Laughs) but you know, people that were non-Western people that were coaching. And I knew that they were just short-term to fill their resume and go on. And you can pretty well tell what the teams did….you can pretty well see it wasn’t really a dedicated effort. But I think they brought that back with Darrin.
HH: Yeah, I really hated seeing Clem leave, those were my favorite teams and Clarence Martin, I was friends with him, he was my favorite player ever. He was a great guy, one of the best people you’ll ever meet.
SC: You know, he made me proud, he wore my number. I think if a number or a jersey needs to be retired I think in Clarence’s memory that would be a beautiful tribute……
HH: Have you always kept up with Western from a distance though as far as scores and things like that?
SC: Oh, all the time, all the time. I’ve always watched and made sure to find out when they were either going to be highlighted or play on ESPN and everything like that and if they were ever anywhere within a three or four hour driving distance I’d go attend the games. It was wonderful that they had the tournament here in Denton this year. It’s about a half hour drive from where I live.
HH: Well, thanks for talking to me…
SC: Well, listen I’ve enjoyed it very much. It’s just fun to be able to reminisce…..it kind of clears the cobwebs out (Laughs) ’cause if you don’t talk about it for a while you begin to forget little details