Enjoying his stardom at Bristow High School, Darel Carrier was in the gym one day working on his storied jump shot. He looked over in the stands and noticed an older gentlemen and a young boy watching his every move.
The man came onto the court and said, “Darel, I’d like for you to meet this young man. He’d like to be a basketball player one day.”
Carrier turned to the boy, about 10 years old, and said, “Everyone wants to be a basketball player. Are you willing to practice and work hard to become one?”
That boy was Jim McDaniels. And he took those words to heart.
McDaniels died Wednesday at the age of 69 after a life dedicated to faith, family, friendship and basketball. In the days that have followed his death, including Monday’s visitation inside Diddle Arena where the shot clock read "44" and "2,238" and Tuesday’s funeral at Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, those closest to him have evoked the legacy McDaniels left – one that will be unmatched.
A tower of a man from Scottsville, McDaniels was a new-age player stuck in a old-school era. There was no 3-point line, dunking was prohibited and freshmen couldn’t play at the NCAA Division I level. That meant after scoring nearly 40 points per game as a high school senior, No. 44 wasn’t eligible in 1967-68 at WKU.
But he was so good and his legend had grown so much by the time he arrived at Western Kentucky that fans filled E.A. Diddle Arena to watch McDaniels and the junior varsity team play – then left before the varsity game.
McDaniels scored 2,238 points during his career and inspired 10 times as many dreams. Locals still remember sitting in the Diddle Arena stands with 13,000 of their closest friends who had waited outside for hours to get in, marveling at Big Mac’s every move. They were there when McDaniels had premeditated a late-game dunk against rival Murray State, but couldn’t contain himself and threw it down with two hands early in the game to send the home fans into a frenzy.
That was in 1971, a season in which McDaniels scored 29.3 points per game and led WKU to a 24-6 record, a 107-83 beatdown of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in Athens, Ga., and a trip to the Final Four in Houston. It was also a season in which McDonalds began to get pulled in different directions by agents competing to sign one of the world’s best players to an ABA or NBA contract.
McDaniels once told me, “I was just a poor boy from Scottsville.” When he was handed the money he took it – not knowing he wasn’t supposed to while still an amateur athlete.
His professional career lasted less than a decade, but perhaps it wasn’t meant to last any longer. McDaniels was able to return to Scottsville and Bowling Green to mentor children and serve as a pillar in the community – one friend called him, “a sincere Christian. I once mentioned my sister was sick and he stopped mid-sentence and asked we say a prayer for her.” He organized youth basketball camps where he gave children free basketball sneakers. He went to local prisons to speak with inmates and offer words of encouragement.
McDaniels also kept a keen eye on his beloved Hilltoppers. He would take local media members to lunch or call them up to rap about the state of WKU hoops. His desires didn’t stray too far from current Western coach Rick Stansbury’s in asking why can’t the Hilltoppers play in front of a sold-out Diddle Arena like they once did? Why can’t Bowling Green be buzzing about the Tops? Why can’t WKU return to the Final Four with All-Americans on the roster?
Just because he was the greatest Hilltopper of all-time on one of the best teams of all-time didn’t stop McDaniels from wanting to see those standards met – or even surpassed during his lifetime.
During Tuesday’s service for McDaniels, Clarence Glover said it was McDaniels who showed the world Western Kentucky could get off the porch and run with the big dogs. “Hillbilly” Jim Morris credited McDaniels with lighting a fire deep within his soul that gave him hope to be someone. Coach Tim Riley wondered if the good lord had a basketball team, because if he did he had just gained a great shooter and an unbelievable person.
As for Carrier, well he and McDaniels still kept in touch until the final days last week. McDaniels would tell Carrier over the phone that they were the two best shooters ever to play on The Hill.
Not one to turn down a compliment, Carrier agreed. But he never failed to note, “Yeah, but Jim, you’ll always be the most popular.”
PREDICTIONS SURE TO BE WRONG
This is shaping up to be a season of Western Kentucky football that could be largely unpredictable. And when that presents itself to be the case, one should go with history (as I should have done last week before stupidly talking myself out of it).
The Hilltoppers are seven-point favorites against Louisiana Tech this week. How is that possible, you may query? Well since joining Conference USA in 2014, WKU has not won in Ruston, La., and Tech has not won in Bowling Green.
The Bulldogs also got their bell rung last week (at home!) by Mississippi State. And Western has won 13 straight home conference games, seven straight CUSA games and six in a row at home.
So I’m sure all that factors into the Tops being favored a third straight week – although that doesn’t help us a hill of beans when picking this game.
Many of you have given up on Mike Sanford and company, and that’s fine. To each his own. I’m not ready to go there yet.
Tech may be the weakest defense WKU has played thus far, and that should aid a reeling offense in their efforts to put some points on the board. And Western’s defense has been more-than-solid through eight quarters.
So am I dumb enough to pick the seven-point favorite Hilltoppers to win? Yes. But not to cover.
WKU 20, Tech 17.
CARDINALS. CLEMSON. GAMEDAY.
Louisville. Clemson. Night game. ABC television. Sound familiar?
That was the scenario in 2016 before U of L and CU played a classic in South Carolina that ended in a 42-36 Tigers’ win. Lamar Jackson ran for 162 yards and two scores and threw for 295 yard and a score that night – he went on to win the Heisman and Clemson went on to win the national title.
This time around Dabo’s Dudes are in Petrinoville in what will be an electric atmosphere at PJCS. ESPN’s College Gameday even decided to pay a visit.
It’s tempting to pick UL to dethrone the champs in a monumental win, but I’m too chicken to pull the trigger on that one. Give me the Tigers, favored by three, to win 38-34.
CATS IN COLUMBIA GOING FOR 3-0!
South Carolina is 2-0 with an impressive win over a good North Carolina State team and a road league win over a bad Missouri team. The Gamecocks – favored by 6 1/2 – will be the first real, real challenge for Kentucky.
But if you look a bit closer you’ll notice South Carolina has one of the nation’s worst total offenses and total defenses and is allowing 330 passing yards per game. Much like UK, USC has relied heavily on turnovers to bail it out through two games.
So methinks this has 13-10 written all over it – and that’s how I’m pegging South Cackalack to win it.
Record to date: 5-1 after a 2-1 week against the spread – those sneaky EKU Colonels struck again!
Quote of the week
Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee: “They talk a lot. We have all their quotes all over the building. They are back-to-back Conference USA champs. They have a lot of kids on the team that have played and prepared and went down and won championships. I think they’re feeling that part of it gives them an advantage over us. But in reality, when we talk about our kids, we are the University of Illinois. When we get on the field, we’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re stronger. If we come out with the intensity we’re supposed to bring to the table as a Big Ten team, control the line of scrimmage and give our skill guys a chance to get out and go, on our field, at night, in front of our home crowd, we should take care of business.”
Musical pick of the week
This week nine years ago All That Remains released the album Overcome:
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop