- Dan Issel
- Hometown (Last School)
- Batavia, IL (High)
- 1967-68, 1968-69, 1969-70
- October 25, 1948
Dan Issel was born Daniel Paul Issel on October 25, 1948, in Missouri to Eleanor (Meyer) Issel and Robert Issel and grew up with sister Kathi and brother Greg in Batavia. His father was of Austrian descent and owned and operated Issel Painting and Decorating in Batavia for many years. Dan Issel was the most prolific scorer in University of Kentucky basketball history. The 6’8″ center-forward held 36 records at one time for the Wildcats.
Issel attended Batavia High School, graduating in 1966 as an All-American. Issel said, “I grew four inches, to about 6’6″, between my freshman and sophomore years. Don Vandersnick was the coach. He gave me my first real break. He made me work. Before school, I would shoot free throws and jump shots; after school, I would practice for one-half hour or 45 minutes on moves under the basket and the outside shot. The fact that he was there made me work harder.” Don VanDersnick showed Issel how to dunk by training him with a volleyball and had Issel jump up and grab the rim 50 times each day at practice. Issel did not start for Batavia High’s basketball team until he was a junior and considered himself fortunate that he had Don Vandersnick as his coach, saying, “If he’d told us that if we dove off a water tower it would make us better basketball players, there would have been a line waiting to do it.” Issel played football, basketball, and baseball and ran track until his senior year. As a junior in high school, Issel, a 6-7 center, led Batavia in scoring at around 20 points a game. He moved well and could shoot from either hand anywhere on the court. Batavia won 14 straight games on its way to the Little Seven Conference Championship. Issel led the conference in rebounding and was second in scoring. On March 3, 1965, Issel led all scorers with 34 points as Cinderella team Batavia defeated Napierville in the East Aurora Regional semi-final game. On March 10, 1965, Issel scored another 34 points to lead Batavia in an upset of Elgin in the opening round of the Hinsdale sectional of the Illinois state tournament. The Bulldogs were defeated in the next round by East Leyden after Issel was benched for foul trouble for most of the game. He had picked up three fouls in the first quarter. Issel grew another 2-inches before his senior year. As a senior, Issel averaged 25.8 points and 18 rebounds on Batavia’s 26-3 team. After coming home in the No. 2 spot in the individual scoring race in the Little Seven Conference as a junior, Issel, easily captured scoring laurels his senior year. Issel, by scoring between 14 and 42 points in 14 league games, ripped the nets for 347 points and a 24.7 mark. He rammed 145 field goals and 57 free throws through the nets for his total. He had a league-high of 42 points against Oswego, ended up with 34 against West Chicago, was in the 20’s in 10 league games, and had 15 and 14 in the other two games. On March 4, 1966, Batavia’s Bulldogs barely escaped an upset in the West Aurora Regional, needing a goal by Issel to capture the championship and advance to the East Aurora Sectional. The Bulldogs, Little Seven titlists, edged Naperville of the Upstate Eight, 59-58. Issel flipped in a backhand shot with a second to play, the ball dropping through the net as the gun sounded. Naperville owned a 58-57 lead on a bucket by Terry Stunden, then Batavia called time out with two seconds to go. When play resumed the Bulldogs put the ball in play under their bucket, with Dean Anderson looping a pass to Issel, who just managed to snag the ball, and score. Issel led all scorers with 19 points. On March 10, 1965, Little Batavia, led by Issel, kept its Cinderella status intact by rolling past Proviso East, 84 to 69, in the Aurora East Sectional of the Illinois High School Basketball Association tournament. It was the 20th victory in a row for Batavia. Issel led all scorers with 29 points and controlled the backboards, flinging frequent lead passes downcourt for easy baskets as the Bulldogs’ fast-break offense proved telling throughout the game. Batavia lost in the regional final to Wheaton Central, 93-81. Issel scored 21 points. He was a unanimous choice for the All-State team. In addition, Issel was named to high school All-America honors by Parade, World Week, and Scholastic magazines, and by the Basketball Yearbook. At the end of his high school career, he had scored amassed 1,365 points and grabbed 997 rebounds in two seasons of varsity ball.
According to Issel, “Then the recruiting started pretty heavy. Joe Hall made a visit or two. I really wasn’t interested in Kentucky.” Issel had his eye on Wisconsin — for important reasons like the fact the school offered a waterskiing course and sold beer in the student union. Issel said his parents wanted him to go to Northwestern, “for a very silly reason: the fact it was one of the finest academic institutions in the country.” Issel went on, “I flew into Louisville for a visit to UK. Joe Hall and Phil Argento picked me up at the airport and drove me to Lexington. It was a nice trip. But I picked up the school newspaper and read a story on recruiting. My name was not mentioned. I couldn’t help feeling I wasn’t No. 1. So I went home and signed with Wisconsin.” His father, who favored Kentucky and Coach Rupp still wasn’t satisfied and wanted to visit Lexington one more time. They visited again on the weekend of May 28, 1966, this time footing their own expenses. Issel said, “Mr. Logan Gray, the airport manager, had the red carpet rolled out. The stewardesses were running around, wondering who it was for. The big guys UK wanted had signed somewhere else. I changed my mind and signed with UK. Later I learned that I really was their third choice at center.” Issel signed with Kentucky on June 13, 1966. He was the last player to sign for Rupp that recruiting season and according to Rupp. “I don’t think there’s any question that, on paper, this is the best freshman team we ever have had.” Joining Issel was Mike Casey, Travis Butler, Terry Mills, Randy Pool, and Mike Pratt.
As a freshman at Kentucky (freshmen were not eligible for varsity play back then), Issel was classed by Coach Rupp as “the best pivot prospect in the country.” “We think he’s sensational,” said Rupp. “We think he’s the best center prospect we’ve had here in some time. He’s a big, strong boy and he moves well.” Scouts called Issel one of the top three schoolboy cagers of the nation. He was blessed with fine speed, great agility, and a bagful of moves near the basket. As a freshman, Issel tallied 416 points in 20 games for 20.8 points a game and 355 rebounds in 20 games for 17.7 rebounds per game. He had a season-high of 34 against West Virginia. He was awarded the Jaycees Freshman Leadership Award at the end of the season.
According to Sports Illustrated: In a game early in Issel’s Kentucky career, teammates were neglecting to give him the ball, so Rupp called a timeout, and said, “This guy is going to be Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer by the time he’s through here. I thought you might like to meet him.”
As a sophomore, Issel started at the center position. On December 4, 1967, in a 99-76 thumping of Florida, Issel snared a season and career-high 24 rebounds to go with 15 points. On February 26, 1968, Issel led 5th-ranked Kentucky with 21 points and 16 rebounds in an 89-57 win over Auburn to give Rupp his 23rd SEC Conference championship. This pushed their record to 20-4. Issel was named to the All-SEC team. On March 15, 1968, in a 107-89 win over Marquette in the Mideast Regional Semi-finals, the blonde bomber from Batavia, Illinois scored a game and career-high of 36 points, 26 coming in the first half as UK erected a convincing 53-40 lead. He connected on 14 of 18 shots and added eight free throws. He also led in rebounding, grabbed loose balls, blocked shots, and intercepted passes in a performance that backed up his All-SEC rating. This was the first time Kentucky had scored 100 points in an NCAA Tournament game. On March 16, 1968, Kentucky was tripped up in the Mideast Regional Finals of the 1968 NCAA Tournament by Ohio State, 81-80. Issel led Kentucky in the loss with 19 points. He was named to the All- NCAA Regional Team. He ended his sophomore year with 444 points for a 16.4 average and 329 rebounds for a 12.2 per game average.
In his junior year, Issel averaged 26.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game. On November 30, 1968, third-ranked Kentucky set a record for the most points scored in a season opener in a 115-77 win over Xavier. Issel led the Kentucky scoring attack with 29 points, on 12 of 17 attempts, and grabbed 24 rebounds. Going into the Christmas break, Issel was averaging 25.3 points and 13.7 rebounds a game. On December 28, 1968, in a 110-90 triumph over seventh-ranked Notre Dame, Issel scored 31 points to go with 13 rebounds. That was his third 30-point performance of the young season. On January 27, 1969, Issel scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Cats beat Alabama to give Adolph Rupp his 800th career win. On February 3, 1969, against Auburn, Issel picked up his fourth personal with 12:14 left in the game, but he poured in 22 points in a frantic stretch drive that carried UK to a 105-93 triumph. It was a victory marked by frenzied heckling of the officials by UK students and a rare technical-foul call on Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. Issel ended with 36 points, matching his career high. On February 8, 1968, Kentucky hit 100 points for a third straight time, tying a school record set in 1964 and equaled in 1965, in a 104-68 win over Ole Miss. Issel was scoreless after almost 12 minutes and missed the final four minutes of the game. Yet he led the Wildcats with 26 points as he reached his season average. He exhibited his usual wide variety of shots and marked up two three-point plays. On February 22, 1969, Kentucky rolled over LSU and Pete Maravich, 103-89. Issel, reaching his career high for a third time, led the scoring with 36 points and also set a career record in rebounds with 29. His work under the boards in the second half devastated LSU. On March 1, 1969, Issel scored a season and career-high 41 points in an upset loss to Vanderbilt. It was Kentucky’s fourth loss of the season. On March 3, 1969, Issel scored 34 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the Wildcats beat Auburn 90-86 to capture their 24th SEC crown. Marquette ended Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament hopes in the first round of the Mideast Regional, 81-74, on March 13, 1969. Issel scored a season-low 13 points. Issel scored 36 points in the consolation game against Miami of Ohio as the Cats won 71-71. The Wildcats finished the season 23-5. Issel finished the season with 747 points and 371 rebounds. He set 12 new records which had been held by some illustrious members of past combines – Cliff Hagan, Cotton Nash, Pat Riley, Louie Dampier, Groza and Casey:
- Most points (747); regular season (697); SEC only (492).
- Highest average (26.6); regular season (26.8); SEC (27.3).
- Field goal attempts, SEC (358).
- Field goals made (285); regular season (269); SEC (193).
- Free throws, SEC (107).
- Field goal percentage, SEC (53.9).
Issel was named a consensus All-SEC player. Issel also became the University of Kentucky’s 25th basketball player to rate All-America honors. At the season’s end, he needed his cheerleader fiancee Cheri Hughes to assist in carting away trophies after UK’s annual banquet. Issel claimed awards as Most Valuable Player, the leading rebounder, the varsity player with outstanding leadership, character, and ability, and for positions on two All-America squads.
Issel married Cheri Hughes, June 14, 1969, at the Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. His brother, Greg, served as best man.
Kentucky basketball baron Adolph Rupp readily admitted that during the months following the close of the 1968-69 campaign he had visions of winning his fifth national championship in Issel’s final year. But then Mike Casey, a two-year starter at guard, broke his left leg in an automobile accident several weeks before the season started. To start the season, Kentucky was ranked second in the nation. In their season opener, Kentucky blasted West Virginia, 106-87 behind 34 points and 14 rebounds from Issel but the Cats produced 25 turnovers due mostly to inexperienced guard play. On December 6, 1969, Kentucky tied a Memorial Coliseum scoring record by defeating Kansas, 115-85. Issel did his customary job of leading with 29 points, 21 in the first half. Issel was blanked for four minutes after reaching 29 and went to the bench with four personals with nine minutes remaining. That game moved Issel past 1,200 points for his career and put him in 9th place, past Bill Spivey, on UK’s all-time scoring list. On December 8, 1969, second-ranked Kentucky, led by Issel, held off a late rally by seventh-ranked North Carolina for a 94-87 victory. Issel tied a career-high with 41 points (17 in the first half) in the game to lead the scoring and pulled in 15 rebounds. On December 13, 1969, Kentucky, now the nation’s number one-rated college basketball team, spanked offense-minded Indiana 109-92. Issel pumped in 32 points to lead Kentucky scorers. On December 19, 1969, Issel poured the ball through from point-blank range to score 40 points, 25 coming in the first half as Kentucky beat Navy, 73-59. Going into the Christmas break, Kentucky boasted an 8-0 record and the nation’s number 1 ranking. Issel was scoring 33 points a game. Starting on December 27, 1969, Issel went on a tear scoring over 30 points in 7 out of the next 8 games: 35, 33, 31, 31, 37, 32, and 35. In the one game in which he failed to score 30, he scored 28. On February 7, 1970, Issel scored a whopping 53 points in a 120-85 win over Ole Miss to become Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer. Those 53 points raised Issel’s total to 1,779, nine more than the previous high set by Cotton Nash from 1962 to 1964, and established a new single-game scoring record at Kentucky. The old record was 51 by Cliff Hagan set in 1953. “When I came to Kentucky I read in the press book what the school scoring record was, but I never dreamed I’d have a chance of breaking it,” Issel said. “Breaking the record is quite an honor when you consider all the great players who have played at Kentucky.” His massive scoring effort was overshadowed by another however as “Pistol Pete Maravich scored 69 points on the very same day. The win pushed Kentucky to an overall 17-1 record, their only loss coming at the hands of Vanderbilt on January 31, 1970. Issel, playing with a bruised heel, scored 26 points in that loss, six below his average. But he made just 10 of 21 shots and had only 11 rebounds as Kentucky’s front line was outrebounded 38-27 by Vandy’s. On February 16, 1970, Kentucky broke the Memorial Coliseum scoring record with a 116-86 win over Georgia. Issel dropped 40 on the Bulldogs. On February 21, 1970, No. 2 Kentucky easily defeated LSU 121-105 in Baton Rouge, but the game was about two players and their epic battle. Dan Issel for Kentucky and “Pistol” Pete Maravich for LSU put on a show for the 9,000 fans in attendance at John Parker Memorial Coliseum. Issel made 19 of his 33 field goal attempts and 13 of his 17 free-throw attempts to finish the game with 51 points. That, however, was only the second-best offensive performance of the contest. Maravich made 23 of his 42 field goal attempts and 18 of his 22 free-throw attempts for an astounding 64 points. To this day, their 115 combined points scored remains the NCAA Division I men’s basketball record for most combined points scored by opposing players in a single game. Issel followed that up with a 47-point performance against Alabama on February 23, 1970, to help Kentucky clinch its 25th SEC title and return them back to the No. 1 spot on the AP poll. On February 28, 1970, Issel surpassed the 2,000 career point mark by scoring 31 in a win over Vanderbilt. He also broke the free throw record with 181 made set by Alex Groza 22 years previously. On March 2, 1970, Issel played his final home game as a Wildcat. He scored 42 points and snagged 17 rebounds as Kentucky beat Auburn 102-81. Although Issel hit a slump where he missed six shots in a row, he finished the game with 16 field goals in 27 attempts and a perfect 10-for-10 at the. He also blocked six shots. This gave Kentucky 100 points for the 11th time, a school record, and also an SEC mark. The home career of Issel came to an end with a near-perfect 42-2 record at home. On March 12, 1970, in Kentucky’s 18th NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats came roaring from behind in a whirlwind second half, to blow down Notre Dame 109-99 in the semifinals of the NCAA’s Mideast Regional Tournament at Ohio State’s St. John Arena. There were many reasons why Kentucky took the wind out of Notre Dame’s sails before a packed house of 13,937 but the biggest one was perhaps Issel, who poured in 44 points after failing to get his hands on the ball for the first five minutes of the game. “I called time out after those first five minutes and told our kids, ‘Look I don’t know if you all realize it or not, but Issel wears a Kentucky shirt, too,'” said Coach Rupp after the game. “I told them to start getting the ball into Issel and when we started doing that, we started getting something done.” Kentucky outscored the tiring Irish from South Bend 21-12 in the final five minutes and 22 seconds with their 1-3-1 zone trap defense taking its toll. Kentucky, which trailed by a single point nine times in the first half but never could tie the score or inch ahead, took command for the first time with 18:07 to play in the game when Issel drilled in a field goal from near the free throw line. It was nip and tuck from then until Kentucky zoomed away at the end. On March 14, 1970, Kentucky lost to Jacksonville in the Mideast Regional final of the 1970 NCAA Tournament. Issel was magnificent. He scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds. And yet it ended badly for him, and he sat in the locker room afterward, crying. He fouled out with 10 minutes to play. Kentucky was behind 78-70. Without Issel, and later without three other UK players who fouled out, Kentucky still managed to move within two points in the last minute of play. But UK could not catch Jacksonville in those frantic last seconds, and it ended badly for Dan Issel, a spectator helpless on the bench. Kentucky ended the season 26-2 averaging 104.5 points per game. Issel averaged 36 points in the NCAA Tournament. At season’s end, Issel had been named consensus All-American, All- NCAA Regional Team, All-SEC, Academic All-American, and Academic All-SEC. At UK’s annual banquet he was presented with the A.B. Chandler trophy, co-MVP with Mike Pratt, the Harcourt Seale Award (most outstanding senior player), K-Men’s Scholastic Award, and the First Security Bank Award (leading rebounder).
Issel scored 2,138 points in 83 games. That’s just three seasons. He broke seven individual and two single-game records, and is the owner of eight career offensive records. “I’m as proud of the UK scoring record as of anything I ever accomplished,” Issel said. “When you look down at the list of All-Americans and great basketball players, it really makes you feel proud.”
“It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, playing for this great institution. The fan base, Big Blue Nation, is just incredible,” Issel said. “It’s been almost 50 years since I played at the University of Kentucky, almost 50 years. And I can walk down the street in Lexington and Louisville and people come up and talk to me like I graduated yesterday. Being an (alumnus) and a former basketball player at Kentucky is just the best.”
Issel gives his own, more personal, account of being a successful player under Coach Rupp’s guidance at UK in this excerpt from Wildcat Memories:
“A few people in particular had an influence on me during my career at UK. One was Coach Rupp. You don’t find many people who are lukewarm on Coach Rupp. They either loved playing for him or they hated playing for him, for a couple of reasons. Today, you have to coach the individual; you have to understand which player you have to pat on the back to motivate and which player you have to kind of kick in the pants to motivate. Coach Rupp’s philosophy was that you kicked everybody in the pants, and if you weren’t strong enough to take it, he didn’t want you on his team. I blossomed in that system because I grew up on a farm and I had a good work ethic. My mentality was I’m going to prove to you that I’m going to work hard enough be successful. So Coach Rupp’s philosophy of coaching was suited perfectly for my personality. He was tough, but he was fair. I got to know him a little better than a lot of his players did because he retired in 1972 and had a relationship with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA while I was playing there. We also launched a basketball camp together with my former teammate Mike Pratt called The Rupp-Issel-Pratt Basketball Camp. That camp took place at Centre College in Danville for a couple of years and then moved to Bellarmine University in Louisville.
I really grew to appreciate Coach Rupp. He was an amazing man. Here was a guy who never made more than $20,000 a year when he was coaching at UK, but when he passed away his estate was worth millions of dollars. He had a strong work ethic and he influenced me a great deal, the notion of being able to accomplish something if you worked hard enough at it. To this day, in my wallet I carry a typewritten quote from Theodore Roosevelt that Coach Rupp was fond of and often quoted. It reads:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Issel’s records and accomplishments at Kentucky can be summed up as follows:
- Averaged 25.8 points for his career
- Averaged in double figures in all three seasons, including a program-best 33.9 points in his senior season
- His 26.6 average in his junior year ranks as the second-best in school history
- Owns the single-season scoring record as well with 948 points in his final season
- Scored 53 points vs. Ole Miss on Feb. 7, 1970, breaking Cliff Hagan’s single-game record of 51. Issel’s mark held for almost four decades, until Jodie Meeks scored 54 points against Tennessee on January 13, 2009
- Also scored 51 at LSU on Feb. 21, 1970
- Also the school’s all-time career rebound leader with 1,078 boards
- Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer
- National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer
- NCAA Consensus First Team All-American in 1970 and NCA Consensus Second Team All-American (with first-team notes from the USBWA) in 1969
- Led UK to three consecutive SEC championships
- Made the NCAA All-Regional Team in three straight seasons from 1968-70
- Tabbed to the All-SEC First Team in 1969 and 1970 and the All-SEC Second Team in 1968
- CoSIDA Academic All-American in 1970
Upon Issel’s graduation in 1970, he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons (8th round) of the National Basketball Association and the Kentucky Colonels (1st round) of the American Basketball Association. On March 21, 1970, Issel signed to play basketball for the Colonels and the ABA for $1,400,000.
As a professional, Issel accomplished the following:
- Enjoyed a prolific professional 15-year career in the ABA and NBA
- Averaged 22.6 points in his professional career and averaged double figures in every season
- Averaged a double-double in six seasons
- Won the ABA championship with the Kentucky Colonels in 1975
- ABA All-Star MVP in 1972
- NBA All-Star in 1977
- All-ABA First Team selection in 1972
- Four-time All-ABA Second Team pick
- ABA Rookie of the Year in 1971
- Named to the ABA All-Time Team
- Honored with the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1985
- Denver Nuggets’ second all-time leading scorer
- Accumulated more than 27,000 career points in his ABA and NBA career, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving upon his retirement
- No. 44 is retired with the Nuggets.
- He enjoyed a 15-year ABA/NBA career with the Kentucky Colonels and the Denver Nuggets and concluded his Denver career as the franchise leader in rebounds.
“Daniel P. “Dan” Issel One of the hardest working players in basketball history, Dan Issel played in more than 1,200 games in his professional career and in fact missed only 24 games in his pro career. Nicknamed “The Horse,” Issel was the model of durability and consistency. His success was based largely on an old-fashioned, blue-collar work ethic. He had a rugged offensive game that featured strong, decisive moves in the paint and a reliable jump shot from 15 feet. A star at the University of Kentucky under Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp, Issel set 23 school records, including most points and rebounds, and led the Wildcats to three Southeastern Conference titles. In his senior year, Issel averaged 33.9 points per game and upped that average to 36 in the postseason to help Kentucky reach the Elite Eight. He enjoyed a 15-year ABA/NBA career with the Kentucky Colonels and the Denver Nuggets and concluded his Denver career as the franchise leader in rebounds.”
Kyle Macy interviews Dan Issel: