Cats Facts: Dan Issel

Dan Issel, six-time ABA All-Star and one-time NBA pick Credit: Sports Magazine Archives

It’s that time of day again! This newest addition to UPK’s Cats Facts is dedicated to former UK Center Dan Issel. This Hall of Famer was named an All-American twice thanks to him being the all-time leading scorer with a record of 25.7 points per game between the years 1967 and 1970.

Beyond reaching an average of 13 rebounds per game and achieving the title of ABA Rookie of the Year in 1971, 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 may 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.

In a nutshell, that was Coach Rupp’s philosophy.”

To read more, Wildcat Memories is available at your favorite bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky.

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