MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Saturday afternoon was an emotional day at West Virginia University as a legend got a statue dedicated in his honor.
“Hot Rod” Hundley’s statue was unveiled at the blue gate across from the statue of another former great, Jerry West.
Hundley averaged 24.5 points per game with the Mountaineers from 1955-57.
The ceremony began with the voice of the Mountaineers Tony Caridi, who presided over the ceremony.
“I think we can call this the completion of West Virginia’s twin towers of basketball,” Caridi said. “Obviously if you are a basketball fan you remember Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon. They were the twin towers. This afternoon we put the second tower together, Jerry there and Hot Rod here.”
Athletic director Shane Lyons then spoke of Hundley’s career as a Mountaineer and his journey to the NBA as both a player and a broadcaster before he mentioned one of Hundley’s final trips to the Coliseum in 2010, the day his jersey was retired.
“Although I was not here for January 23, 2010, I’ve been told many times about one of Hot Rod’s last visits to the Coliseum,” Lyons said. “On that day he was bestowed the great honor of having his number 33 jersey retired. The fired up student section begged the clown prince to take one more shot.
“Ever the showmen Rod took the ball and made his famous hook shot one last time in front of the 14,000 fans that erupted with screams and applauses. Rod brought the house down once again. It was a day that will always be remembered in Coliseum history.”
Then Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner and former WVU graduate Ken Kendrick unveiled the life-size statue. After all, it was Kendrick’s generous donation that helped make this day come true.
Kendrick, along with basketball coach Bob Huggins and West shared stories of the clown prince.
“West Virginia was playing against VMI and kicking them all over the court and Rod was ready to have a good time and he did that better than any college player I ever saw,” Kendrick said. “The Mountaineers are on defense and all of a sudden you see Rod run down to the other end of the court and jump up and sit on the basket.
“When they get the ball he jumps down and goes to the corner, they throw him the ball, the shoots the ball from behind his back and it hits the rim, bounces back to him and he shoots again from behind his back … and swishes it.”
While some remember Hundley for his skill on the court or his fun loving personality, West thinks the greatest achievement of Hundley was his career as an announcer.
“He was beloved by all and he had the chance to work with the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, some people may have heard him, by the name the late Chick Hearn,” West said. “Rod stole every one of his favorite lines and I told him too bad they didn’t have a copyright on them, he would never been able to say anything on the air. But he has enormous success in his stay in Los Angeles and Phoenix as an analyst. And when he got to Utah, that’s when he really established himself as one of the premiere announcers in basketball.”
But it was Kendrick’s daughter, Kimberly Hundley, who made many men and women in the crowd get a little misty eyed.
She told stories of his dad’s return to Morgantown, his love for the state, his fun personality but it was the story of Hundley wanting to return home that touched many in attendance.
“Dad died last year at 80,” Kimberly Hundley said. “In his last couple of years, he spoke increasingly about his long to move back to West Virginia, maybe Morgantown, maybe Charleston. Here he is pushing 80. He’s lived in Salt Lake and Phoenix for decades. We all live in Phoenix and Los Angeles, but dad was trying to hatch this plan that he was going to move back to West Virginia and he was taking us all with him. All of us. And he just kept saying ‘I want to go home.'”
Saturday was all made possible thanks to Morgantown artist Jamie Lester. The Oceana native had a vision and he made it happen. Lester also made the Jerry West statue.
Saturday was a day of laughter and story telling. It was a day of respect and love to one of the greatest Mountaineer athletes in history. It was a day that Hundley would have treasured.
As the saying goes “Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer.”