Ralph Crosthwaite’s tremendous impact on Hilltopper Basketball is a tale that will surely never be forgotten. Forty years after his remarkable playing career on the Hill ended, Crosthwaite’s name is still among the most prominent in the Western Kentucky record books.
The 6′ 9″ Cincinnati, Ohio native arrived on the Hill in the Fall of 1954 and immediately made his presence felt, as he became the team’s leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman*, posting averages of 16.8ppg and 10.9rpg, while helping lead the Toppers to an 18-10 record and the OVC championship. On a squad that had just graduated two All-Americans in Tom Marshall and Art Spoelstra the season before, Crosthwaite’s dominating inside presence was indeed a welcome addition to Mr. Diddle and Western fans everywhere.
Forced to sit out the 1955-56 season due to personal reasons, Crosthwaite returned with a vengeance in the Fall of 1956, and he once again established himself as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 20.3 ppg and 11.9 rpg, while leading the Toppers to yet another OVC crown. The big center’s inside power and strength was proving almost impossible for Western foes to contend with. Hilltopper legend John Oldham, then coach at Tennessee Tech, recalls going up against the intimidating Crosthwaite. “Ralph was one of the best big men ever at Western, definitely among the top three centers ever to play here. He was physically strong and very tough around the basket. He controlled everything on the court from 10-feet on in. He had a way of leaning into the defender to clear out room while driving towards the basket that was frustrating to try and stop.”
Another Western great, All-American Bobby Rascoe, recalls this about Crosthwaite,
“A person that had a tremendous record here and achieved and accomplished a lot of things, and probably never reached his full potential was Ralph Crosthwaite. He played…….he was a senior when I came in as a freshman, of course freshmen weren’t allow to play during those years, but Ralph had a lot of all-around ability at 6′ 9″. He led the nation his junior and senior years in field goal percentage, and he was a great passer and also a good rebounder, so he was an all-around terrific player really.Crosthwaite’s final two seasons on the Hill proved to be his greatest ever as far as individual marks go, but team-wise they proved to be disappointments as the Toppers suffered through two sub-par years with records of 14-11 in 1957-58 and 16-10 in 1958-59. Of the two seasons, Crosthwaite’s junior year was undoubtedly his best ever as he posted remarkable averages of 22.8 ppg and 15.8 rpg, while leading the nation in field goal percentage accuracy with a mark of 61.0%!! The incredible rebounding average he recorded that year is still the highest single-season average in Western history.
For his efforts that season, Ralph became the thirteenth Hilltopper player, up to that point in time, to receive All-America honors. Among these various honors, Dell magazine awarded him a spot on their second-team All-American squad.
Heading into his senior season, Crosthwaite was primed for even bigger and better things. Despite being the focal point for opposing defenses, all efforts to stop or even slow the big man, were usually futile attempts. One article prior to the 1958-59 season described Crosthwaite as such, “This rugged giant is devastating around the basket with his operations. He can fake and drive for a dunk shot; he can come down the lane like a steamroller; he can hook from either side; or he can drop in a soft overhead push shot from the head of the circle. Once the ball is on the boards, Crosthwaite is always dangerous with his ability to follow for bat-ins. He has no peer as a rebounder. With Crosthwaite ready to go, Western Kentucky will not be a “soft touch” for any of the 26 opponents on the 1958-59 schedule.” Crosthwaite finished up his career by posting averages of 20.8 ppg and 12.8 rpg in his senior season.
These four magnificent seasons that Ralph gave to Western Kentucky fans are still prominently etched in the Hilltopper history books. Upon graduation in 1959, Ralph was the all-time leading scorer in Western history, and to this day, he still ranks as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with a career point-total of 2,076 and a career scoring average of 20.1 ppg, which is the fourth-highest mark ever for a Hilltopper, placing him behind only Jim McDaniels, Clem Haskins, and Bobby Rascoe. His freshman scoring average of 16.8 ppg is still the mark by which all others are judged. One area where Crosthwaite may NEVER be surpassed is in rebounding. His career total of 1,309 rebounds places him firmly in first-place in that category, and it’s highly unlikely that he will ever be displaced in that department. His career rebounding average of 12.7 ranks him second only to Jim McDaniel’s career mark of 13.8.
With such a combination of talent, size, and power, it was naturally assumed that Crosthwaite would continue his dominating play on the professional level. And in 1958 he was indeed drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and the following year he was drafted by the Boston Celtics. However, for whatever reasons, Crosthwaite never made a mark in the NBA. Some say he simply didn’t have the personal desire and interest to commit to the professional lifestyle. Still, the memories that he provided for Hilltopper fans in the mid-to-late 50′s, as well as his place in Western lore will never be forgotten.
In 1995, Ralph Crosthwaite became a member of the fifth class to be inducted into the Western Kentucky University Hall of Fame.
Name: Ralph Crosthwaite
Basketball Letters: 4 (1955,57-59)
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio.
Pro Basketball: Drafted by the Detroit Pistons (1958);
Boston Celtics (1959).
*note: in 1954-55 freshmen were eligible to play varsity ball