MEN’S BASKETBALL: ‘It’s an honor and I’m speechless’

Danny Schoenbaechler

As Carlisle Towery walked slowly onto the Diddle Arena floor, more than 6,000 fans rose to their feet in adulation.

Towery, 82, gleefully waved to the crowed, showing he hadn’t lost his flare for the spotlight he last shared some 60 years ago during his three seasons as a Hilltopper.

As he stood at mid-court during halftime of Western’s game against Ball State, Towery addressed the Hilltopper faithful in the ceremony to retire his jersey.

“This is really an honor,” the clearly overwhelmed Towery repeated several times.

Towery is the sixth Hilltopper basketball great to have his jersey honored.

The others are coach E.A. Diddle and All-Americans John Oldham, John Marshall, Jim McDaniels, Clem Haskins and Lady Topper All-American Lilly Mason.

Towery is a frail man now. But his 6-foot-5 inch frame tells why he was called “Big Boy” during his glory days in Bowling Green.

“It was something special,” Towery said. “There are no words to explain it. I was just thinking about how I wanted to thank everybody that helped me, like my teammates and coaches and the fans and the university.”

Towery had Chris Marcus-like talent before Marcus was even born.

From 1938 to 1941, “Big Boy” Towery lead the Toppers to three Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships and two Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles.

All of this put him on his way to becoming Western’s first two-time All-American.

“It’s an honor, and I’m speechless,” Towery said. “And I would just like to say, ‘Thank you so much.'”

A visibly flustered Towery stood quietly as the crowd once again rose to its feet and showered the basketball legend with admiration.

Towery is clearly one of the greatest players to ever don a Western uniform. Proof of that will permanently hang on a large red banner in the Diddle Arena rafters.

Carlisle Towery and his number, 42, will forever live above the Hilltopper floor.

“Until just two years ago, Western had never honored anybody in this way,” Western Athletics Director Wood Selig said. “It’s a very important way to preserve our history.”

Selig said he thinks the honor can help the current players as well as the individual being memorialized.

“I think it’s important for your current players to see who has come before them and see them honored,” Selig said.

Diddle coached Towery, who paved the way for many of the stars that followed. Towery said that Diddle was one of the most influential people in his life.

“With Mr. Diddle, you had to be a gentleman and then a ball player,” Towery said. “After I got out of college, I realized what an honor it was to play for him.”

“Big Boy” was the first Topper to score 1,000 points, and he led the first Western team to ever crash the NCAA tournament. He also averaged 17 points a game as a senior, which was a Topper record at the time.

Towery recalled his time on the Hill as pivotal in his life.

“It was always special, and it was always just such a thrill,” he said. “There is no way I could have gotten a college education if I hadn’t had a scholarship. And basketball gave me that opportunity.”

After leaving Western, Towery played professional basketball for eight seasons. His professional career was interrupted after three years when he was called to military duty in 1944.

Towery said that he served in the infantry and saw about six months of combat in Europe. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his involvement.

He then returned to play professional basketball for the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1946.

He said that returning to basketball after World War II wasn’t very difficult.

“The game hadn’t really changed, so I just started playing again,” he said.

After Saturday’s game, Towery returned to his home in Marion with his family.

“It was a special day,” he said. “It really just meant so much to me.”

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]