By LARRY VAUGHT
I remember growing up in Danville and hearing stories about just how good Wes Unseld was at Seneca when his team won the 1963 and 1964 state high school championships. He was so good that he was the first African-American player offered a Kentucky scholarship by Adolph Rupp and there was a lot of pressure on him to attend UK before he opted for home-town Louisville.
Those memories came back to me with the recent passing of Unseld, an All-American at Louisville and a generational player in the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Players honors both in the same season.
He was a 6-6 rebounding machine in college and then in the NBA where any player who faced him knew he was going to have a lot of trouble scoring.
Former UK All-American Kevin Grevey played with Unseld at Washington. He called him an “amazing player” and not only was he the team captain but also the “alpha dog” for the Bullets.
“Every day his leadership and character was a model for us young players on and off the court,” Grevey said. “He was a great family man, terrific businessman.
“Everything he did in his life was of the most high esteem. I have nothing but respect for Wes Unseld. I played with a lot of great guys but he was a cut above them all.”
I remember that Unseld could throw an outlet pass harder and faster than any player I had seen and also could destroy an opponent with a legal pick to free a teammate for an open shot.
“He made us all better. He did all the dirty work. He was not motivated by points. He just wanted to win and it was easy to win with a player like Wes,” Grevey said. “What everybody doesn’t remember is that was our best passer, too.
“We all knew our roles but it all evolved around Wes Unseld in the middle and that’s when the game was played with the most important position being in the paint. Nobody had off night trying to score on him. Wes would control that and he made it easier for us. He was an unbelievable teammate
“He was mean as a grizzly (bear) on the court. Nobody would challenge him. You would not dare poke that big bear in the middle. You wanted to play nice nice with Wes.”
Grevey said Unseld had so much respect that he seldom had to show his toughness because no one would challenge him.
“That is when the game was really physical. Everybody had to match physicality with physicality,” Grevey said. “Incidents happened every night. Wes could take matters in his own hand within reason legally. Nobody was going to get into a fistfight or a real problem as long as Wes was on the floor.”