William “Red” McCrocklin holds the unique and impressive distinction of being the first ever Hilltopper cager to be named as an All-American. The 6’6″ Louisville native was so honored in 1938, after helping lead the Hilltoppers to an outstanding 30-3 season, making Western the first-ever NCAA school on record to post a 30-win season. In fact, the three varsity teams that McCrocklin was a member of posted a remarkable three-year record of 77-9!! Included in that impressive run was three straight KIAC championships and two SIAA championships.
What makes McCrocklin’s achievements even more amazing is the fact that before arriving at Western, he had never played a single game of high school ball at his alma mater of Louisville Male!! The discovery of “Red” was one of Mr. Diddle’s favorite stories. “Red’s” parents had owned a small “hamburger joint” in the Louisville neighborhood of West Point and one day while passing through Louisville, Diddle stopped off at the McCrocklin’s restaurant. Upon spotting the tall, lanky red-haired kid, complete with big hands and big feet (a Diddle requirement !), Mr. Diddle inquired whether or not “Red” was a basketball player. Upon hearing that he wasn’t, the coach began the recruiting sales pitch that lured so many other fine athletes to the Hill over the years. Before he was done, “Red” was already destined to become a Hilltopper.
The development of McCrocklin into an All-American can be attributed to the terrific coaching of Mr. Diddle and Ted Hornback. Billy Robinson, a teammate of “Red’s,” states that, “Red McCrocklin was a boy that improved every game. He was a good student and just a fine boy. He was a team player and I just have to say something good about him all the time.” In describing “Red’s” skills, Robinson had this to say, “He was a pivot-man, and of course at that time we jumped center after every basket made and we usually controlled every jump ball (ed: the jump-ball rule ended in 1939). Red knew how to jump. He had a good hook shot, he developed that. He was good at follow-ups, jumping up and putting the ball back in. He was just a heck of a good ballplayer. He could have played today…….he was one of the great ones.”
No doubt, the lessons learned during his years at Western helped contribute to “Red’s” extremely successful life after basketball. During WW II, he became a highly decorated B-24 pilot who flew numerous, harrowing bombing missions over Nazi Germany.
Soon upon returning to civilian life, “Red” took a position with the General Motors Corp. where he eventually moved up the ladder to become a highly successful GM executive. In fact, at the 1963 dedication of Diddle Arena, he was on hand to present his former coach with the keys to a brand new GM automobile. A gift from WKU.
In June of 1982, at the age of 65, William “Red”McCrocklin passed away.
In 1994, “Red” became a member of the fourth class inducted into the Western Kentucky University Hall of Fame. At the induction, the following quote was read from a letter written by one of McCrocklin’s sons, “Red always described his time at Western as one of the greatest opportunities ever offered to him. He saw his efforts on the court as the least that he could return to the institution which gave him a future.”
Name: William “Red” McCrocklin
Basketball Letters: 3 (1936, 37, 38)
High School: Louisville Male
Height: 6′ 6″
All-American: 1938 (Chuck Taylor)