Dave Stallworth, regarded by most as the greatest Wichita State basketball player, died Wednesday night at the age of 75.
Stallworth, a 6-foot-7 forward from Dallas, carried the Shockers into their greatest era. He earned Associated Press All-America honors in 1964 (first team) and 1965 (second team) after helping the Shockers become a nationally prominent program.
“He was the icon of Shocker basketball,” said former Shocker Ron Mendell, who got to know Stallworth in the late 1960s and played pickup games with him at Levitt Arena.
Funeral services are pending. A family friend and former teammate Bob Powers confirmed his death on Thursday.
“Dave Stallworth would rank as the best of all my players,” former coach Ralph Miller told The Eagle in 1985. “He was so smooth that he could pull off some of the great plays you’ve ever seen and hardly get a ripple of applause because it was so easy for him.”
Before Stallworth, the Shockers had not won a Missouri Valley Conference title, played in the NCAA Tournament, ascended to a top-10 national ranking or averaged more than 7,000 fans at the arena then known as the WU Fieldhouse.
After Stallworth’s arrival on the varsity in 1962, the Shockers did all that, and more.
“Stallworth was the most important player to play at Wichita State,” Mendell told The Eagle in 1985. “He made the program as successful as it has become.”
The Shockers won Missouri Valley Conference titles in 1964 and 1965 and played in the NCAA Tournament both seasons. They ascended to the top spot in the Associated Press poll on Dec. 15, 1964, on their way to the 1965 Final Four.
Stallworth, nicknamed “Dave the Rave,” ranks third on Wichita State’s career scoring list. He totaled 1,936 points, averaging 24.2 a season. He also averaged 10.5 rebounds and made 53 percent of his shots.
His No. 42 jersey is one of five retired at WSU, and he was in the Missouri Valley’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1997 — alongside Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Wes Unseld, Ed Macauley, Hersey Hawkins and coach Henry Iba.
I told some dude the other day that I bleed black and gold. That’s the first time that’s ever come out of my mouth. But it’s true.
Dave Stallworth in 1997
“The man was unbelievable,” Larry Nosich, a former teammate, told The Eagle in 1990. “They talk about Michael Jordan today, but Dave Stallworth was as good with a basketball as anybody I’ve seen.”
The New York Knicks drafted Stallworth with the third pick of the 1965 NBA Draft. He won an NBA title with the Knicks in 1970 and played eight seasons in the NBA. A heart condition sidelined him for two years in the middle of his career.
“I didn’t get a chance to see him play for the Shockers, but I did get a chance to see him play for the Knicks,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said Thursday in Indianapolis, where his team plays Dayton in the first round on Friday night. “… He was a tremendous gentleman and a true fan of the Shockers.
“In my first six or seven years as the head coach, he would be at games, just about every game. As his health started to fail, he was there less and less. We knew about his illness and we sent a card to him early in the week. We’ll be playing in this tournament with a heavy heart because he was a true gentleman and a wonderful representative of Wichita and Wichita State University.”
After basketball, Stallworth returned to Wichita and worked at Boeing. He regularly attended Shocker games, although health problems made his visits less frequent in recent years.
WU assistant coach Dick Miller, Ralph’s brother, spotted Stallworth while recruiting Nate Bowman in Texas. Both became Shockers, and Bowman also turned into a first-round NBA Draft choice in 1965. WU, as did many MVC teams, benefited from the refusal of major schools in the South to recruit black athletes.
Stallworth grew up watching MVC games on TV in Dallas. Many schools in the South didn’t recruit black players. That opened the door for Ralph Miller. Stallworth visited Wichita for a game against Iowa State in 1960.
“It was ugly, a lot of snow and cold,” Stallworth told The Eagle in 1997. “But I liked the competition. And what really grabbed me was that Wichita played in the Missouri Valley Conference. Oscar (Robertson) was in it, Chet (Walker) was in it. These guys were my idols.’’
Stallworth came to WU under unusual circumstances that later spoiled the end of his Shocker career. A childhood accident delayed his schooling, so he graduated from James Madison High at the end of the fall semester and came to WU for the spring semester. After playing for the freshman team two semesters, he became eligible for varsity games in January 1962.
He debuted with 18 points in a win over Marquette and averaged 20 over eight games. The Shockers qualified for the National Invitation Tournament for the second time in program history.
That meant he exhausted his eligibility after the first semester of the 1964-65 season. He played in 16 games, but missed the run to the 1965 Final Four. Bowman also sat out, a victim of academic ineligibility. The Shockers defeated SMU and Oklahoma State in the NCAA regional before losing to UCLA in the national semifinal.
“With me playing and with Nate out there I thought we had the best club in the country,” he said in 1990. “I couldn’t even watch the team play after I left. I think I saw them once. It was hard. My dream was to play in the Final Four.”
Shocker radio broadcasters Mike Kennedy and Dave Dahl date their relationship to Stallworth to his playing days. Kennedy watched him in the Roundhouse. Dahl watched him from afar and admired his skills, influencing him to play for the Shockers. When Stallworth returned to Wichita as a pro, he scrimmaged and worked out with the team.
Stallworth, Kennedy said, could watch a game and immediately diagnose strengths, weaknesses and tendencies for players.
“Greatest of all-time,” Kennedy said. “In that era there weren’t that many guys that size that could do little-man things. He could handle the ball. He was a great passer. In today’s game, he would have been an outstanding three-point shooter.”
Stallworth’s unremarkable NBA career has allowed his legacy to be overlooked, Kennedy said.
“Because he didn’t have a great pro career, because of some health issues, I think he’s less remembered than he should be for as great a college player as he was,” Kennedy said. “The league was as good as there was at that time. He was a dominant player.”
Former Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton, a former Shocker golfer, played golf with Stallworth as a youngster, part of a regular game led by Linwood Sexton, Eric’s father and a former Shocker football star. The group played at public courses and on WSU’s campus course. He described Stallworth as quiet, humble and a tenacious competitor.
Stallworth “hit the ball long and straight,” Eric Sexton said. “What a great experience for me to be exposed to great men like my father and Dave Stallworth. They were role models for me.”
In 2011, the Shockers won the NIT in Madison Square Garden. On the team’s path to the locker rooms, a picture of the 1970 Knicks with Stallworth and Nate Bowman hung on the wall.
“You can’t believe what little bit of a calming effect it had on all of us,” Sexton said. “Those are guys that are our guys. We made a point to have every player stop and see that picture.”
Stallworth remembered most of his Shocker days fondly. He averaged 26.5 points in 1963-64 and 25 in 1964-65. He earned All-MVC honors three times.
The Shockers won their first MVC title in 1964, an era in which the conference stood among the best in the nation.
“Every night was a championship night,” Stallworth said in 1997.
His effort in 1963 against No. 1 Cincinnati ranks as his most memorable performance. Stallworth scored seven points in the final 3:10 to rally WU from a six-point deficit for a 65-64 win in Wichita. His total of 46 points set a school record that stood until Antoine Carr scored 47 in 1983.
After Stallworth played his final game for the University of Wichita, he told the crowd, “It’s been my pleasure playing for you.”
For thousands of Shocker fans who became hooked because of Stallworth, the pleasure came in the watching.
Dave Stallworth’s biggest games
▪ Stallworth scored 38 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 92-90 overtime win over Arizona State at the WU Field House on Dec. 17, 1962.
▪ The largest crowd in arena history (11,375) watched the Shockers upset No. 2 Ohio State 71-54 on Dec. 29, 1962. Stallworth scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting
▪ Stallworth made two free throws with 1:14 remaining to give the Shockers the final margin in their 65-64 win over No. 1 Cincinnati at the WU Field House on Feb. 16, 1963. He scored the team’s final seven points as the Shockers rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 3:10 to finish with a then-school record 46 points. He made 18 of 23 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds to end Cincinnati’s 37-game win streak. “It was team guts – that’s what did it,” Stallworth said after the game.
▪ Facing the eventual NCAA champions, Stallworth scored 28 points, including the go-ahead three-point play, in a 73-72 win over Loyola at Chicago Stadium. The Shockers handed the Ramblers their second and final loss of the season.
▪ Stallworth helped the Shockers clinch a share of their first MVC title with 34 points and 11 rebounds in a 90-83 win over North Texas State at the WU Field House on March 2, 1964.
▪ In the program’s first NCAA Tournament game, Stallworth scored 22 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in an 84-68 win over Creighton at WU Field House on March 13, 1964.
▪ Stallworth ended his Shocker career with back-to-back 40-point games. He scored 45 in a 93-92 overtime loss at Loyola on Jan. 29, 1965, and said farewell to the home crowd with 40 points in a 96-76 win over Louisville on Jan. 30, 1965.
Dave on Dave
Dave Stallworth quotes from over the years:
In 1963, after Wichita rallied to beat No. 1 Cincinnati 65-64, ending a 37-game Bearcats win streak; Stallworth scored 46 points and was carried off the Roundhouse floor afterward: “None of us let up for a second. If we had, we wouldn’t have won.”
In 1990, on the hurt of not being able to play in the 1965 Final Four: “With me playing and with Nate out there, I thought we had the best club in the country. I couldn’t even watch the team play after I left. I think I saw them once. It was hard. My dream was to play in the Final Four. That’s every kid’s dream.”
In 2001, on why he wasn’t more selfish as a scorer: “People asked me all the time: ‘Why don’t you shoot the basketball more, why?’ I was pretty accurate, so I didn’t have to really put up a whole lot of shots. I wouldn’t know what it was like to shoot the basketball 25 times in a game. I did that maybe once or twice in my whole career.’’
In 2013, on the the attention he received in Wichita, even 50 years after his Shocker career ended. “I try not to change. I try to be the same old Dave the Rave. That’s a nickname I got from (former WSU sports information director) Tom Vanderhoofven. He’s the only guy I knew in the (administration) at that time, and at the time I didn’t really revel in it. But it was a pretty good nickname, wasn’t it?”
What other Shockers are saying about Stallworth
“What a great man! Dave was a mentor to me when he returned to live in Wichita in the mid-’70s. He prepared me to be a pro player along with Kelly Pete. He shared with me his wisdom, experiences and personal life at WSU and at the pro level. He was so generous with his time, humbled of his status and a true champion of the sport and most important the people.” Calvin Bruton, 1972-76
“Dave Stallworth was one of the best people that I ever met in my life. When I was 12 years old, I used to watch Dave and Nate (Bowman) when they played for the New York Knicks. That’s how far long we go back. I will really miss him, he was one of my mentors.” Cheese Johnson, 1975-79
“He was a great person and the greatest Shocker of all-time. He would always give us advice about life and basketball back in days when we played in the 1980s. We are truly going to miss him.”Aubrey Sherrod, 1981-85
“Dave was a great person and a great basketball player. Dave is what Shocker basketball is all about, which is greatness. He will surely be missed.” Xavier McDaniel, 1981-85
“Dave inspired me each day I walked into the arena and saw his picture hanging from the rafters. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dave while I was at Wichita State. His words of encouragement and confidence he shared with me will never be forgotten.” P.J. Couisnard, 2004-08