Life, Career, Basketball and Dan Issel’s loyalty to Kentucky Continues
Posted by Dale Calvert
Daniel Paul Issel, popularly known Dan Issel, is part of some of my earliest childhood memories. Listening to Caywood Ledford on the radio talking about Dampier throwing the ball into Issel for the score. Dan Issel was the favorite player of many Kentucky kids during his four years at Kentucky. Back in the days before the one-and-done. Yes I wish great basketball players still stayed and played for four years, but I one hundred percent understand why they don’t. Any fan that thinks they have the right to expect them to, is thinking about themselves, and not what is in the best interest of the most talented players and their famalies.
As a kid, I remember thinking Dan Issel was a giant, he was one of tallest players to play at Kentucky that I had ever seen. Dan was the closest thing to a 7 footer I had ever seen, (6 foot and 9 inches).
Dan had remarkable achievments during his time at Kentucky and in the NBA and as a coach.
Born in Batavia, Illinois, on October 25, 1948. Dan graduated from Batavia High School as an All American in 1967. He played for coach Don Vandersnick Issel led Batavia to its first Sectional title when he was a senior, hitting the game-winning shot against Naperville Central High School to win the title. As a senior, Issel averaged 25.8 points at Batavia went 26 – 3. So coach Adolph Rupp and every coach from the college basketball elite were recruiting him.
Issel attened the University of Kentucky. Here he played Center, Power forward and set numerous Universtiy of Kentucky school records.
At the time of this writing Dan is 71 years old, he still makes the news through his interviews, where people still want his expertise and sound bites. Nicknamed “The Horse”, many people feel Dan Issel was the the hardest working basketball player in the history of Kentucky basketball and often people say that he has in fact been underrated.
Issel has played over 1200 basketball games in his professional lifetime and has achieved everything simply through old fashioned hard work. He reached the prime of his career when there were very few televisions and no Internet. Therefore, making a name in those times that is carried on even today is absolutely commendable. He was the best during his time because he worked tirelessly on the court, he never took a play off. This hard work mindset always has and always will be the distinquishing factor for talented players. Talent + Hardwork = Success. It always has and it always will.
His game was always rugged and offensive. Strong and decisive moves on the court, with his smooth 15 feet jump shot was the highlight of his game He was the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame star setting a whooping 23 school records under the legendary coach Adolph Rupp during college. He scored the highest points for his team - the Wildcats, including the highest number of rebounds and led the Wildcats to three Southeastern Conference titles. While in his senior year in the University of Kentucky, Issel averareged 33.9 points per game, this was before the 3-Point shot. He averaged 36 points during the Kentucky Wildcasts run to the elite 8 his senior year.
Family and friends
Born to Robert and Elanor Issel, Dan Issel grew up with his sister and brother - Kathi and Greg. Even in school, the Batavia High School, Dan hit the winning shot against Naperville Central High School and won the Sectional title as a senior. His average points on this game were 25.8 on Batavia's 26-3 team.
Issel’s home shared it’s backyard with his friend and former NFL football quarterback, Ken Anderson’s home. Issel and Anderson grew up together and later went on to co-own a 782 acre farm in Kentucky. A couple of other schoolmates and seniors of Issel in the Batavia went on to becoming future sports announcers, footballers and basketball players. Looking back Dan Issel gives the credit of the success for himself and few others to his school Batavia and says Batavia instilled “solid work ethic” in him and also in all their athletes in the small town of about 20,000 people.
Coaches and mentors that made him who he is
Issel’s coach in high school, VanDersnick, taught him how to dunk with volleyball and made sure he Issel would jump up and grab the rim at least 50 times a day during practice. Issel has stated several times his belief and dedication towards his coaches is one of the primary factors that lead to his succeed on his journey towards stardom. He said if his coach, Don Vandersnick had said that diving off a water tower would make them better basketball players, there would be a long line of dedicated men like him waiting to do it.
Issel, with his set of high morals and discipline passed on to him from his family and coach Vandersnick, graduated high school in the year 1967. There are so many coaches around the world that don't quite understand the important role they play in helping young men not just prepare for sports, but for life.
For his college basketball , Issel made the wise choice and chose to join the University of Kentucky. Here is where another legendary coach was about to chisel his game further.
His name was Coach Adolph Rupp. From the years 1966 to 1970, Dan Issel was a UK Wildcat fan favorite. He averaged of 25.7 per game – that is 2,138 points. He had 1078 rebounds and went on to be named All American for two of three seasons. In those days there were freshman teams, and freshmen could not be chosen as All Americans. Among the UK men's players, Dan’s total career points remain the highest. Because of the one and done this is a record that may never be broken. During Dan’s early games in his career, his teammates were ignoring him during a game. Adophy Rupp wasn't having it, he stepped in and called for a timeout.
He announced to the gathered team and in the hudle he told the older players they should “meet” Dan Issel as the man who would be “Kentucky's all-time leading scorer” in the future. This was a clear message to the team and as history is proof, Issel went on to do all of those things coach Rupp predicted for him, proving that high expectations is good for all coaches, parents, teachers, and those in leadership positions to have.
Dan Issel's Record breaking success
While playing for Kentucky, Issel broke several records. One of them was on 7th February 1970 where Kentucky won in a 120–85 match Issel scored 53 points over Ole Miss. This broke the Cliffford Oldham Hagan’s record of 51 in a single game. Dan Issel’s victory could not be broken for the coming 40 years until 2009, when Jodie Meeks, currently a free agent, broke the record against Tennessee with 54 points. Many Kentucky fans will remember when and where they are when Jody just took the Tennesee Vols to school.
Issel made another record, which is currently the third best in the University of Kentucky’s history. This was when Dan Issel scored 51 points at the Louisiana State University on 21st February 1970. Issel remained a star in the University of Kentucky for three years. Here is where he set 23 school records in his career and led his team to bring home three South Eastern Conference titles.
The school that found him love
The University of Kentucky also holds a special place in Dan Issel’s personal life as he met his wife Cheri here. She was a cheerleader in the university and became an accomplished artist. They have two children Sheridan and Scott.
Dan Issel Stats
Hometown: Batavia, IL (High) Position: C Playing Height: 6-8 Playing Weight: 240 Date of Birth: October 25, 1948 Legal Name: Daniel Paul Issel
Game by Game Statistics Prep Notes: Parade All-American Scholastic Coach All-American Kentucky Career Notes: Retired Jersey #44
Season Notes: 1967-68: All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC [First Team (Coaches) Second Team (AP & UPI)] 1968-69: All-American [Consensus (2nd), AP (2nd), UPI (3rd), NABC (2nd), USBWA (1st), Converse (1st), Sporting News (2nd), Helms]; All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC [First Team (AP, UPI & Coaches)] 1969-70: All-American [Consensus (1st), AP (1st), UPI (1st), NABC (1st), USBWA (1st), Converse (1st), Sporting News (1st), Helms]; All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC [First Team (AP, UPI & Coaches)]; Academic All-American; Academic All-SEC Post-UK Career Notes: Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame State of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame Drafted #122 Overall in the 8th Round of the 1970 NBA Draft by Detroit
Issel graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1970. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons of the NBA and by the Kentucky Colonels National Basketball Association and the Kentucky Colonels, which is part of the ABA – the American Basketball Association. Issel decided to play for the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. He was awarded the ABA Rookie of the Year honors for his game in 1971. In the first season he averaged 29.9 points per game.
The next season he played 83 games of the total 84 games played and increased his average score to 30.6 points per game. He made the All-ABA First Team. In 1974-1975, the Kentucky Colonels team won the 1975 ABA championship, with key support from Issel. Through his career, Dan Issel was a six time ABA All Star and a five time ABA All Pro team member. After the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, Issel was with the Denver Nuggets and represented Denver in the NBA All Star game in 1977.
He was topping 20 points per game for five of his following eight years. Upon retirement after the 1985 season, Issel was awarded with the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for all that he had done, which was mostly remarkable and unbeatable. Wearing jersey number 44, he became the second all time high scorer for the Nuggets. Issel is currently ranked number 11 on the combined all time NBA-ABA score. The #44 jersey of Dan Issel has been retired in his honor by the Denver Nuggets.
He has also earned his rightful place in the American Museum and Hall of Fame called the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 1993. Dan Issel moved to his Courtland horse farm in Kentucky. He then became a Nuggets broadcaster from 1988 to 1992.
Dan Eissel Collectibles
In 1992, with no prior coaching experience, he was recruited as the head coach by coach, front office executive and senior advisor Bernie Bickerstaff. In 1994, he coached the team into winning the first record in four years. He resigned as coach after the 94-95 seasons as he was criticized for his coaching style and also admitted that he did not like the person that he had become as a coach.
In 98, he returned as president and general manager and named himself the head coach in the year 1999. This was an unsuccessful attempt as well as the Nuggets did not win this season. His tenure as coach ended abruptly in December 2001 with his resignation. Time and again, history shows us that we maybe masters of one trade and one trade alone and not a jack of all things. As a player he did what he could do best and earned name, fame, recognition and soar highs – this should be a celebration in itself. Not everyone can do everything and still be the best at it.
Dan Issel Honor roll
Dan Issel received several other honors through his life and career for his dedication, hard work and impeccable work ethic. Issel missed only 24 games in 15 seasons. He had a total of 27,482 points on his retirement from playing basketball in 1985. He earned his place in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, Batavia High School Hall of Honor in 2015, Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. The power of hard work and talent.
Dan Issel Today
Issel became the President of the Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group in Louisville, Kentucky in 2018 to pursue an NBA franchise. Issel said that he doesn’t know how much a future NBA team would cost but they are working with an estimated figure of $1.4 billion. He also added that it may sound like a big figure, but there are so many billionaires who would like to own a pro sports franchise.
Issel said in an interview that the most important reason to bring pro basketball to Louisville is the passion that exists in Kentucky for the sport. Kentucky Wildcats against Notre Dame which took place in Louisville’s Freedom Hall brought in 17,404 fans on 8 December 2018.
KFC Yum Center saw 21,049 for a game between Louisville Cardinals and San Francisco. Issel says, this has come to the notice of the NBA and the passion for basketball might be one of the key reasons to bring pro basketball to the place he calls home.
With the corona virus situation and lack of money everywhere, the Louisville case still hangs in the balance. However, a smaller city means less competition can be something that works in its favor. In Kentucky we love basketball, period. College, High School, or watching or grandkids play in community leagues. We all know that nothing will replace the University of Kentucky Wildcast in our hearts and souls. Those that grew up watching Dan Issel also know, we love the young men that play for the University of Kentucky, all of them, but if there is one that we will always hold just a slight bit higher, it is Dan Issel.