Tom Boerwinkle: A Wasted Scholarship?
Sounds like your standard success story, doesn’t it? That former Vol hoopster Tom Boerwinkle was a two-time All-SEC selection and had a 10-year pro career with the Chicago Bulls is a nice story. But when you look below the surface, it’s a Horatio Alger story that—even 35 years later—gives you a good feeling.
Boerwinkle was the University of Tennessee’s "legend" at the SEC basketball tournament this past March. He joined an impressive group of legends from the SEC member schools March 13 through 16 in New Orleans.
Perhaps no other Tennessee player has ever demonstrated the value of perseverance as much as Boerwinkle. The recruiting gurus of the early 1960s called him a wasted scholarship. But look at the Vols record book, and the name Boerwinkle jumps out in several categories. The seven-footer averaged 12.0 points per game in that SEC title run of 1967 and 15.2 a year later when he garnered All-America honors. (The only Vols to average in double figures for three years are Carl Widseth, Bernard King, and Gene Tormohlen.)
Boerwinkle played 10 years with the Chicago Bulls. "Never in my wildest fantasy did I dream of playing professional basketball," he said. "I kept telling myself I couldn’t even play college ball, so how could I play in the NBA?"
He blossomed in the pros the same way he did in college. In 1971, he was averaging 11 points and 14 rebounds against the likes of Willis Reed, Wilt Chamberlain, Karem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wes Unseld, another member of that 1968 All-America team. He averaged 7.2 points and 9.0 rebounds over his pro career of 635 games, including the one on January 8, 1970, when he made a franchise-record 37 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns at Chicago Stadium. He followed his career as a Bulls player with time in their broadcast booth.
Boerwinkle now lives in Burr Ridge, Illinois, where he is in business. When the Knoxville Journal selected its all-time Tennessee team for the 1953 to 1983 era, Tom Boerwinkle was one of the top 10 players.
Ray Mears and Bill Gibbs, working hard to build a program at Tennessee, took a chance on Boerwinkle and were amply rewarded. The big guy, known to his teammates as "Bull," certainly left his mark.
Boerwinkle himself has one specific memory of his time as a Vol: "I remember the wins over Kentucky."
We asked Chicago Tribune staffers to come up with some underappreciated Chicago athletes. Here are some of the names they mentioned. Go to the right to offer some of yours.
Bill Madlock won back-to-back batting titles, but was traded by the Cubs because he was perceived as outspoken. ... Billy Williams is a Hall of Famer, but he had his best years in the Mays-Aaron-Clemente era and had a hard time making the All-Star team because there were so many great outfielders, and he never won an MVP award despite some monster seasons. ... All the Cubs were overappreciated. ... Aaron Rowand: World Series champs with him, Sox out of playoffs without him. ... Robin Ventura excelled in shadow of Frank Thomas. ... Luke Appling—you never hear about him because White Sox history is so bad. ... Tom Boerwinkle was easy to make fun of because of his name and his height, but he was a pretty good rebounder and a great passer for a big man. ... John Paxson? Horace Grant? ... Scottie Pippen ("Yes, I think he was underappreciated.") ... Northwestern QB Steve Schnur. Seems like Darnell Autry got all the pub on that Rose Bowl team. ...
Bill White comes to mind. Rock-steady defenseman, but nobody was going to win a Norris Trophy with Bobby Orr in the league. ... Roland Harper, Walter Payton's blocking back, who had a lot of yards in his own right when fullbacks actually ran the ball. ... Mike Hartenstine, the least-known defensive lineman on a line that featured Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Steve McMichael. ... Doug Buffone, overlooked because he played next to Dick Butkus. But he was a very good player in his own right.
Thomas F. Boerwinkle (b. August 23, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio) is a former National Basketball Association center who spent his entire career with the Chicago Bulls.
Boerwinkle was drafted out of the University of Tennessee with the 4th pick of the 1968 NBA Draft and played with the Bulls until 1978. Although largely unappreciated during his playing days, Boerwinkle was a very efficient player, using his brawny seven-foot frame to grab rebounds and set picks while teammates like Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Bob Love did most of the scoring. On January 8, 1970, Boerwinkle set a Bulls record by grabbing 37 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns.
Boerwinkle has also been considered one of the best-passing big men to ever play basketball. He retired with career totals of 4,596 points, 5,745 rebounds, and 2,007 assists.
http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/gvx_vol_basketball/article/0,1406,KNS_19596_4515614,00.htmlFormer All-America Tom Boerwinkle to be Honored as Vols' Chick-fil-A SEC Legend
Each League Member Will Have Honoree at SEC Tournament March 13-16
Feb. 14, 2003
2003 SEC Tournament | 2003 Chick-fil-A SEC Legends
A native of Independence, Ohio, Boerwinkle was the first 7-foot player in Tennessee history. He helped lead Tennessee to the 1967 SEC Championship with a 21-7 overall record and 15-3 league mark. Boerwinkle was first team All-SEC in 1967 and 1968 and in 1968 was named Helms Foundation first team All-America. He led UT in rebounding in 1967 (10.2) and 1968 (11.3). Boerwinkle was 4th overall pick by Chicago Bulls in the 1968 NBA Draft and played 10 seasons for Chicago (1968-78).
University of Tennessee nomination for 2003 Legends of SEC Basketball
Sounds like your standard success story, doesn't it? That Tom Boerwinkle was a two-time All-SEC selection and had a 10-year pro career with the Bulls is a nice story on the surface, but, once you look back at the entire picture, you get another perspective. It's a Horatio Alger story, one that, even 35 years later, gives you a good feeling.
Boerwinkle joins an impressive list from the SEC member schools March 13-16 in New Orleans. Selected from the member institutions are Keith Askins, Alabama (1987-1990), Lee Mayberry, Arkansas (1989-1992), Bill Alexander, Auburn (1966-1970), Gary Keller, Florida (1965-1967), James Banks, Georgia (1981-1984), Jack Givens, Kentucky (1975-1978), Pete Maravich, LSU (1967-1970), Carlos Clark, Mississippi (1980-1983), Joe Dan Gold, Mississippi State (1961-63), Mike Dunleavy, South Carolina (1973-1976), and Will Perdue, Vanderbilt (1983-1988).
Perhaps no other Tennessee player has ever demonstrated the value of a "don't give-up-the-ship attitude" as much as Tom Boerwinkle. The recruiting gurus of the early 1960s had all the standard responses, calling him a wasted scholarship.
He survived a redshirt season in 1964-65, played very little as a sophomore in 1965-66 then suddenly bloomed as a junior as one of the outstanding pivot men in the college game. When the helms Foundation All-America team was selected in 1968, the named "Tom Boerwinkle" was right there on the list, right below Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA.
The path from Millersburg Academy in Millersburg, Ky., to All-America status is the stuff of which dreams are made. This is his story.
One college scout called him, "the worst big man I've ever seen." Published reports indicated that Tennessee, led by the indomitable Ray Mears, who was not afraid to take a chance when necessary, was the only major school interested. Mears later said it was the best gamble he'd ever taken.
"I've very definitely gotten more satisfaction out of watching him develop than any boy I've coached," Mears said. "It's always pleasing as a coach to see a boy who is limited surpass his potential."
He spent much of his early time at Tennessee plying his trade against such Vols as Howard Bayne and Red Robbins. For Boerwinkle, it was either get better or hit the road. Those guys were tough inside and gave the young Boerwinkle all he could handle.
" That's how he became aggressive," Mears said. "You either were aggressive against those boys, to they'd knock you off the floor."
Boerwinkle persisted in his training and, when his time came in 1966-67, he became a starter on the "Fearless Five," a team that, like Boerwinkle, surpassed all expectations to win the SEC and finish 21-7.
You look at the Vols record book and the name "Boerwinkle" stands out in several categories. He averaged 12.0 points per game in that SEC title run of 1967 and 15.2 a year later when he garnered All-America honors. Only Carl Widseth, Bernard King and Gene Tormohlen have averaged double figure boards for three years during their careers.
Boerwinkle did it twice. His career average of 9.2 boards per game is tied for fifth on Vols record books. His 11.3 boards per game in 1968 stand as the 10th best mark all-time, while his 10.2 in 1967 is 15th overall. He was a crowd favorite at Stokely Center. When it came crunch time in the SEC title-clinching game in Starkville in 1967, Boerwinkle was on the court all 55 minutes. They, whoever "they" are, said he couldn't last, but he did. He calmed the doubters that night, much the way he did his entire career.
He played 10 years with the Chicago Bulls. "Never in my wildest fantasy did I dream of playing professional basketball," he said. "I kept telling myself that I couldn't even play college ball, so how could I play in the NBA?"
He blossomed in the pros the same way he did in college. In 1971, he was averaging 11 points and 14 rebounds against the likes of Willis Reed, Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar and Wes Unseld, another member of that All-America team in 1968. He averaged 7.2 points and 9.0 rebounds over his career. He played in 635 games for the Bulls. It was Jan. 8, 1970, that he had a franchise record 37 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns at Chicago Stadium.
He followed his career as a player with the Bulls with time in the broadcast booth. He now lives in Burr Ridge, Ill., and is in private business there. When the Knoxville Journal selected its all time Tennessee team for the 1953-83 modern era, there was Tom Boerwinkle on the second team, among the Top 10 players of that 30-year period.
Boerwinkle was mentioned in the same breath with likes of Bernie and Ernie, Dale Ellis, A. W. Davis, Reggie Johnson, classmate Ron Widby, Danny Schultz, Jimmy England and Gary Carter.
Boerwinkle remembers the good times as a hoopster. "I remember my first game in Madison Square Garden. I remember that triple overtime game with Mississippi State."
Sometimes you overlook a diamond in the rough, simply because it's rough. That doesn't make it any less of a diamond. Ray Mears and Bill Gibbs, working hard to build a program at Tennessee, took a chance on Boerwinkle and were amply rewarded. The big guy, known to his teammates as "Bull," made his mark on the Vols.
It remained for Tom to put things into perspective, recalling his days in Millersburg. Like most Vols fans, he has one specific memory of his time as a Vol.
"I remember the wins over Kentucky."