WKU will honor the 1953-54 Men’s Basketball team against FIU

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WKU Towel(WKU)
Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 5:15 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Western Kentucky University will recognize its 1953-54 Hilltopper Basketball Team as a member of the inaugural class of WKU Athletics Hall of Fame Teams during halftime ceremonies at the Hilltoppers’ next home game against FIU, next Saturday.

In 2019, the WKU Alumni W-Club expanded the WKU Athletic Hall of Fame to include great teams, not just individuals. Sixteen of the greatest athletic teams in WKU sports history make up the multi-year inaugural class of teams, including the 1953-54 men’s basketball squad.

Several athletes and staff from the team are expected to attend, while others will be represented posthumously by their loved ones.

The 1953-54 Hilltoppers went 29-9 on their way to a fourth-place finish in the NIT after claiming the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and conference championships, including a 21-game winning streak.

Led by consensus All-American and WKU All-Century team member Tom Marshall’s 25.9 points and 14.9 rebounds per game averages, the Hilltoppers were ranked as high as number three in the nation and finished the season at 6th and 8th, respectively, in the UPI and AP polls. Also posting double-double averages – 17.1 ppg and 12.9 rpg – was 1953 All-American Art Spoelstra, who joined Marshall on the Topper All-Century Team selected in the 2018-19 season. Other double-figure scorers were Jack Turner (12.7 ppg) and Forest “Frosty” Able 11.0 ppg.

One of the most talented basketball teams ever on The Hill, six team members were selected in the NBA Draft – Marshall (1st round, 7th pick), Turner (1st round, 8th pick) and Spoelstra (4th round, 34th pick) in 1954; Lynn Cole (9th round, 65th pick) in 1955; Able (3rd round, 20th pick) in ‘56; and Bob Daniels (8th round, 56 pick) in ‘57 . And five played in the NBA – Marshall, Spoelstra, Turner, Dan King and Able. Marshall and Turner’s 1st round selections marks the only time in WKU history that two of its athletes went in the 1st round. And, for the 1st time in school annals, three players -- seniors Marshall, Turner and Spoelstra – were drafted. That feat has been duplicated just once since (1987 when Tellis Frank, Kannard Johnson and Clarence Martin went, one in each of the first three rounds). Marshall, Spoelstra, Turner, King, Able and Daniels are each enshrined in the Hall of Fame as individuals.

Athletes on the 1954 team included (listed alphabetically) Able, Tom Benbrook, Jim Callison, Ronnie Clark, Lynn Cole, Daniels, Kay Greer, Vic Harned, Bobby Kemp, King, Walt Litke, Marshall, Dencel Miller, Ferrell Miller, Dan Murphy, Bob Rader, Spoelstra, Max Stringfield, Turner, Charlie Vahlkamp, Frank Wallace, Jerry Weber, Ronnie Whitehouse, and Jerry Whitsell. The student managers were Hardin McLane and Roger Otten.

The ‘53-54 Toppers were coached by the legendary E.A. Diddle, who completed his remarkable 42-year career as the Topper head coach 10 years later (in 1964) as the winningest coach in college basketball history, and long-time assistant Ted Hornback, who was of particular importance in ‘53-54, handling the coaching chores by himself for much of the season while Mr. Diddle was recovering from illness.

The presentation will be on Jan. 14, next Saturday, against FIU in Diddle Arena. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.