Not too many people live their lives in distinct stages. Most go through their school years, try to find suitable employment, marry, reach retirement age and see what the grandchildren have in mind.
[cleeng_content id="949860217" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]There’s a continuity to lives.
It hasn’t been that way for one of the state of West Virginia’s most famous personalities.
Rodney “Hot Rod” Hundley, now an author who will be at the Book Faire and Chocolate Festival in Martinsburg on April 27, lived most of his years in stages. And on a stage flooded with lights that he created and positioned for the most part.
Hundley’s childhood and high school years were spent in Charleston. As early as 10 he was shuttled between relatives and led more of an existence than a life.
Hundley has told of a small space under a staircase where he had a bed. He skipped school as often as not and kept to the YMCA building in the city.
Basketball became his best friend. Mornings, afternoons and nights were spent in the gym perfecting his dribbling, ballhandling and shooting skills. He played against older teens and was toughened by his daily experiences on the YMCA court.
Later, Hundley attended Charleston High often enough to be eligible to play basketball. His on-court abilities were many. And his notoriety was spread wide. He visited Coach Everett Case at North Carolina State, the school with the largest basketball arena in the country and home of the famed Dixie Classic tournament.
When Hundley scored 45 points in the West Virginia-Kentucky All-Star game, Case had competition for his services. He had scored over 32 points a game as a senior and drew All-America recognition from publications and wire services that had only heard of his exploits and had never seen him play.
Because of his spotty school attendance record and soiled academics, Hundley couldn’t be accepted by many college registrars.
Attending a school of higher learning didn’t much interest him. Playing basketball on his own terms did hold his attention.
When word passed through the coaching community that the NCAA might investigate any school that accepted Hundley, N.C. State’s Everett Case backed away. And West Virginia and Coach Red Brown came to the front of the diminished recruiting parade.
Rodney Clark Hundley, the scoring and entertainment legend from Charleston High, would attend WVU. The NCAA found nothing wrong with the enrollment in Morgantown of the casual student-athlete from Charleston.
The first catch-as-catch-can stage of Hundley’s life was finished.
At WVU, Hundley was by NCAA rule confined to the freshmen team his first year on campus. Freshmen were not eligible to play on the varsity when Hundley entered school in the fall of 1953.
Even as a freshmen, Hundley’s abilities as a pool player and basketball showman were well known. Even if his professors couldn’t swear to his knowledge of algebra, the Greek muses or how to conjugate a verb the campus population and the citizens of Morgantown were aware of the precocious freshman.
WVU’s freshmen team played games at the old Field House just in front of the varsity. Hundley had a 62-point game against Ohio University. His ballhanding tricks and never-seen antics brought large crowds to the freshmen games.
There were nights when Hundley and the freshmen had entertained the people, and when their game was finished much of the crowd would leave. The 1953-54 varsity sometimes played before smaller houses than the freshmen saw just an hour before.
Somehow Hundley was eligible to play his sophomore season. Red Brown had taken the athletic director’s position and Fred Schaus became West Virginia’s coach.
Hundley would average 23.7 points and 8.1 rebounds a game as a 6-foot-4 guard. His high game was a 47-point effort against Wake Forest. West Virginia would win the Southern Conference tournament, and in the finals Hundley was on the foul line with a chance to break the event’s scoring record. He tried a hook shot and a behind-the-back shot. Both were air balls, and Hundley didn’t set any record.
Following his sophomore season, Hundley couldn’t see himself as a student for another year. Instead, he went to a tryout held by the famed Harlem Globetrotters.
But in one of the first workouts, he injured a knee and was unable to play again for several weeks. Hundley was forced by circumstances to return to WVU if he wanted to continue with basketball.
As an eligible junior, he scored 26.6 points and had 13.1 recounds a game. West Virginia won another Southern Conference championship and went to another NCAA tournament. A 42-point effort against Furman was Hundley’s highest scoring game.
Still another Southern Conference title came in Hundley’s last year. He scored a school-record 54 points against Furman while averaging 23.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.
He became only the fourth player in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 points during a three-year career. Made a two-time All-America, Hundley still holds eight school records.
When he was the first player selected in the 1957 NBA draft, another stage of Hundley’s life had been completed.
The Cincinnati Royals drafted Hundley and immediately traded him to the Minneapolis Lakers.
Another stage was beginning.
The Lakers would relocate to Los Angeles and Fred Schaus would be their coach and another WVU All-America, Jerry West, would be one of the team’s star players.
Hundley’s knee problems resurfaced and he was limited in what he could do.
He stayed in the NBA from 1957 to 1963, playing in two All-Star games. But his professional career was over at age 28.
The third stage of Hundley’s life was closed.
When asked to describe his years in the NBA, Hundley said, “I partied all night, slept all day, and fit basketball games in between.”
A natural showman with no shortage of words and smiles, it was suggested to Hundley (who had left WVU without a degree) that he might try broadcasting.
He worked four on-air seasons for the Phoenix Suns and the next four seasons with Chick Hearn and the Lakers’ broadcast team.
In 1974, Hundley was the first radio and television broadcaster for the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz. When that team went to Utah, Hundley relocated with the team as the voice.
Through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s, Hundley remained a celebrity as Utah’s rapid-fire, staccato-paced voice.
Hundley was approached by an academic administrator at WVU about possibly completing the requirements for a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree. When he did the school work necessary and had his life’s work experiences added, Hundley received his RBA degree in 2000.
Then well past 70 years in age and with both hips and both knees having been replaced, Hundley retired from broadcasting in 2009.
Stage Four in the life of Rodney Clark “Hot Rod” Hundley had gone by.
Full retirement didn’t sit well. Hundley has returned to part-time broadcasting with Joel Myers on Lakers games as a sometimes analyst.
Hundley’s No. 33 was retired by WVU in 2010. The only two basketball numbers retired by the university were those of Hundley and Jerry West.
In 1998, Hundley and Tom McEachin co-authored the book “Hot Rod Hundley: You Gotta Love It Baby”. It is this book that Hundley will autograph at the visitors bureau from 10 a.m. to noon on April 27 and later be the featured guest speaker at a luncheon that same day at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg. He will sign copies of the book at the luncheon as well. Tickets are $50 per person for the Holiday Inn event and may be purchased by contacting Sherri Janelle at 304-260 4380, ext. 2410.
This is the fifth stage in the life of Hot Rod Hundley.
And it has as many one-liners, smiles and fast-paced explanations of all things Hot Rod Hundley as the other four held.[/cleeng_content]