44 Dan Issel

Name
Dan Issel
Position
Center
Hometown (Last School)
Batavia, IL (High)
Ht
6'8"
Wt
240
Seasons
1967-68, 1968-69, 1969-70
Birthday
October 25, 1948

The most prolific scorer in University of Kentucky basketball history was number 44, Dan Issel.  The 6’8″ center-forward held 36 records at one time for the Wildcats.

Issel was raised in but didn’t play any sports until his family moved to Batavia, Illinois.  Issel was the son of Robert and Elanor Issel, and grew up with sister Kathi and brother Greg. Issel attended Batavia High School, graduating in 1966 as an All-American.  Issel led Batavia to its first Sectional title as a senior, hitting the game-winning shot against Naperville Central High School to win the title. As a senior, Issel averaged 25.8 points on Batavia’s 26-3 team.

According to Russell Rice’s “Big Blue Machine”, Dan says:

“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 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.”

According to Sports Illustrated: 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.”

“In the spring of my junior year, I got a letter from the University of Wisconsin.  When you get a letter, it makes you take a good hard look.”

“I played football, basketball, baseball and ran track until my senior year.”

“Then the recruiting started pretty heavy.  Joe Hall made a visit or two.  I really wasn’t interested in Kentucky.”  Dan 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.”

“I flew into 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.”

“My dad still wasn’t satisfied.  He said, “Let’s take another look at Kentucky.”  We made another trip, this time with him paying the expenses.  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.”

The 1967 UK Fact Book says of freshman Issel:

“Everybody’s prep All-America choice, Dan is classed by Coach Rupp as “the best pivot prospect in the country.”  Scouts called Dan one of the top three schoolboy cagers of the nation.  He could well be the big man that UK has looked for in recent years.  He is blessed with fine speed, great agility and a bagful of moves near the basket.  Issel grew almost 2 inches last year and is an excellent student.”  As a freshman, Issel averaged 20.8 points a game and 17.7 rebounds.  In his sophomore year, his best performance was 36 points against Marquette in the NCAA tournament.

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.”

In his junior year, Issel averaged 26.6 points and 13.6 rebounds.  He scored 41 points against and hit 36 points in three other games.

The heartbreaking game for Dan was the loss to Jacksonville during the NCAA tournament.

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.

According to Russell Rice:  “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.”

In 1970, Pistol Pete Maravich, who had been filling the arena since he was a freshman playing on the junior varsity team, was in the midst of leading the nation in scoring for a third consecutive year. Having averaged 43.8 points as a sophomore, 44.2 as a junior, Maravich was once more averaging over 44 points per game. That and 6.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.  On February 21, 1970, No. 2 Kentucky easily defeated 121-105 in Baton Rouge, but the game was about two players and their epic battle. Senior Dan Issel for Kentucky and senior “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.

“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 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.

  • 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  on January 13, 2009
  • Also scored 51 at 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 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 in 1970
  • 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.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Bio of Issel reads:

“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.”

interviews Dan Issel: