Darel Carrier was a Hilltopper years before he ever donned the Red & White of Western Kentucky. A native of nearby Bristow, the 6’3″ sharpshooting guard grew up in the shadow of perennial college basketball powerhouse Western Kentucky and legendary coach E.A. Diddle. As a result, Kentucky’s leading high school scorer at 39 pts. per game, spurned numerous “flashier” offers from larger schools and followed his heart to the Hill, where over the next four years he would establish himself as perhaps the greatest shooter in Hilltopper history.
In addition, Carrier also holds the honor of being the last player under Coach E.A. Diddle to receive All-America honors in 1964. He was also a member of Diddle’s last NCAA team in 1962, a member of the last Hilltopper team to play in the Old Red Barn, a member of the FIRST team to play in the new E.A. Diddle Arena, and a member of the last Topper team to be led by Coach Diddle before his retirement in 1964.
Carrier grew up on his family’s farm a few miles outside of Bowling Green where he learned to shoot basketball on a goal nailed to the side of a barn. In later years, he would usually arrive at the school gymnasium at 6:30 a.m. and spend the next hour and a half shooting baskets until classes started. The hard work and dedication that Darel exhibited during these early years paid off handsomely as his fame spread all across the state during his high school career.
Carrier was named to the Kentucky All-State squad three times during his years at tiny Bristow High School, averaging 30+ points per game in both his junior and senior seasons. A 64-pt. game by Darel was for several years the Southern Kentucky record until it was later broken by Rich Hendrick in 1964, who himself was also a Bristow student and future Hilltopper. Carrier was also selected to play in the annual East-West All-Star game and in the all-star series between Kentucky and Indiana’s top senior players.
Naturally, being in Mr. Diddle’s backyard, the old coach had his eye on the local superstar for years and it was a common occurrence for Carrier to make trips to the Hill to play in pickup games with Hilltopper stars of the day. Most notably was former Western All-American Bobby Rascoe, with whom Darel struck up a life-long friendship with.
Arriving on the Hill in the Fall of 1960, Carrier naturally became the star of the Hilltopper freshman team in his first season, while giving Western fans a glimpse of the great talent they would witness over the next three seasons at the varsity level.
Despite losing powerful Charlie Osborne to graduation, the 1961-62 Topper squad that Darel joined as a sophomore was a talented and veteran team led by Bobby Rascoe and fellow senior 6′ 8″ Harry Todd. However, Carrier blended perfectly with the veterans and finished the season as the team’s second leading scorer with a 13.7 ppg. average.
Fighting their way through a tough schedule that included several close losses, the ’62 Toppers earned the school’s third straight OVC Championship and second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years. Finishing the season with a 16-8 record, Western was matched up against Detroit and their All-American star Dave DeBusschere in the first round.
A matchup that proved to be a nip and tuck affair for the majority of the game was broken open in the second half thanks to the deadly outside shooting of Carrier, Rascoe and fellow teammate Jim Dunn. And in the end, Carrier’s 26 pts. and Rascoe’s 25 pts. paced the Toppers to the first round win over Detroit 90-81. Newspaper reports later described Darel’s performance as being very “senior-like” and called him the thorn in Detroit’s side the entire game, with most of his points coming at “crucial moments of the game”.
Up next however, was the biggest challenge possible….#1 ranked Ohio State and their superstars Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. It would mark the second time in three years that the Toppers would have to face the Buckeyes in the second round of the NCAA Tourney. In 1960, Western led by Osborne and Rascoe, had given State their only serious competition during the Buckeye’s national championship run of that year, and the Topper faithful were once again hoping for a repeat performance of that gutsy effort.
With six minutes remaining in the first half, the Toppers held a 27-26 lead and showed no signs of backing down from the much bigger and stronger Buckeye squad. However, the closing minutes of the half saw Western go ice-cold while State rolled out to a 43-30 halftime lead. The second half proved to be a very competitive contest despite the huge setback faced by the Toppers when they lost senior center Harry Todd for a portion of the game with a chipped jawbone. In the end, the size and experience of the Buckeyes was too much to overcome and the Hilltoppers fell 93-73.
The final game of the season for Western would pit them against the Butler Bulldogs in the Mideast Regional Consolation game at Iowa City. Playing without the services of senior star Harry Todd, the Toppers still managed to take control of the game and led well into the second half. However, a strong comeback by Butler took the game into overtime where they eventually pulled off an 87-86 victory over Western after Rascoe’s final desperation shot missed its mark by inches as the horn sounded. Rascoe finished with 29 pts. and Carrier, making amends for a sub par game vs. Ohio State, scored 22 pts. in a losing effort.
After a very successful sophomore season, both individually and team-wise, Carrier looked to help the Topper’s improve on their prospects over his final two seasons on the Hill. Unfortunately, despite tremendous individual efforts by Carrier, the next two seasons proved to be the most disappointing in Western history up to that point, as the squad posted back-to-back 5-16 records. Due to his failing health, Mr. Diddle had been unable to successfully recruit and replenish the Topper’s roster with adequate replacements for stars such as Rascoe, Todd, Osborne, etc. and as a result most of the load fell directly onto the shoulders of Carrier.
Despite the overwhelming responsibility, Carrier responded magnificently by recording two of the finest seasons in school history by an individual player. His 19.2 ppg led the team as a junior and his 26.0 ppg average as a senior was at that time the highest single-season average in Western history and today still ranks third behind only Jim McDaniel’s marks of 29.3 and 28.6 averages.
The fact that Carrier posted such exceptional numbers is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he was regularly assigned the responsibility of directing the team’s offense on the floor, that he was almost always required to guard the opponent’s top scorer, and finally the fact that the opposing teams always made it a priority to shut down Carrier by constantly double-teaming him. In spite of this, Darel simply worked even harder to get open shots for himself and his teammates, and individual scoring marks of 50, 42, 42, 38, and 35 points during his senior season showed the determination that Carrier possessed.
A head coach from a rival OVC school stated, “This Carrier boy is a real fine athlete. He is out there working to beat you all the time and giving everything he has every minute. He just never quits hustling.”
To this day, Carrier still ranks among the very best in the Hilltopper record book in numerous categories. He is the 14th All-Time leading scorer with 1,318 pts.; 5th in career scoring average at 19.1 ppg.; 3rd in points scored in a single game with 50; and he is tied for first with 18 free throws made in a game. The two-time All-OVC player capped off his career by being Mr. Diddle’s last player to earn All-America honors in 1964, and Diddle summed up Carrier’s career on the Hill with these words, “I think his accomplishments will speak for themselves. But, I’ll tell you this….those accomplishments didn’t come easily. I’ve never had a player who worked harder, practiced longer or gave the game more than Darel has. And I’ll tell you something else….Darel always worked the hardest when the going was the roughest.”
Upon graduation, Carrier was drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1964, but instead he chose to join former teammate Bobby Rascoe with the Phillip’s 66′ers AAU team and take the opportunity to travel around the world. Carrier’s success continued as he was soon named as an AAU All-American. In 1967, Darel finally made the jump to the professional ranks when he joined the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels, where over the next five years he would establish himself as one of the league’s most popular and successful players due in large part to the crowd-pleasing, long-range aerial shows he regularly exhibited on the court.
The ABA was the innovator of the three-point shot and no one was more deadly behind the 23’9″ line than Carrier. Four out of the five years that he played with the Colonels he led the ABA in three-point accuracy and he holds the ABA record of hitting 11 three-pointers in a row. One former Kentucky Colonel’s official states that, “Darel was as good as Larry Bird shooting three-pointers.”
Carrier described his ability as such, “There are great shooters and there are pure shooters, my strong point was shooting. Pure shooters are born with the ability but that doesn’t mean shooting comes easy, they have to work at it. The pure shooters will shoot a 100 more shots or shoot for 30 more minutes after the team has left practice.”
In the past, Carrier would often conduct basketball clinics for young kids in which he would put on shooting displays during which he would regularly hit 30 or more three-pointers in a row. As Carrier states, “I always felt my range began when I crossed the halfway line. I don’t reckon too many shot the pill from much farther than I did.”
When Carrier retired from the league in 1973, he left behind an impressive record. He was a 3-time ABA All-Star; the All-Time ABA leader in three-point FG% at .377; led the league in FT% in 1969-70; and in 3-point FG% from 1967-70. In 1997, Carrier was awarded the ultimate honor by being named to the 30-member All-Time ABA team….an impressive collection of players that includes the likes of: Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Connie Hawkins, George Gervin, and many more.
After retiring from basketball Carrier returned home to Warren County where he resumed farming, in addition to ventures in real estate, county government and high school coaching.
Today, Carrier’s basketball legacy has been continued by his two sons: Jonathan, who recently starred at Bowling Green High as a point guard, and Josh, who like his father before him, is a highly sought after high school recruit known for his long-range shooting ability…..a fact that would surely have made Mr. Diddle proud. However, one thing that would undoubtedly make the old coach even prouder would be to see the younger Carrier follow in his father’s footsteps and continue the family legacy that’s colored red….WESTERN RED.
In 1993, Darel Carrier became a member of the third class inducted into the Western Kentucky University Hall of Fame.
Name: Darel Carrier
Basketball Letters: 3 (1962-64)
High School: Bristow, Ky.
All-OVC: 1963, 1964
Pro Basketball: Drafted St. Louis Hawks (1964); Phillips AAU (1964-67); Kentucky Colonels (1967-72); Memphis (1972-73)