Issel, other UK greats amazed by Meeks

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 14, 2009 

With a phone message Tuesday night and a follow-up call on Wednesday, Dan Issel welcomed Jodie Meeks to Kentucky's scoring record book.

"I thought it was a tremendous performance," Issel said of Meeks' 54 points at Tennessee on Tuesday night.

That eclipsed Issel's UK record of 53 set in 1970.

"There was such efficiency in his game," Issel said on Wednesday. "If you score 54 points and take only 22 shots, that's a heck of a performance. I'm really happy for him. He seems like such a good kid, and he's an outstanding player. So that was nice for him."

To Issel's eye, needing only 22 shots says something about Meeks' game.

"He's more than a scorer," the former UK All-American said. "He's a basketball player. He works hard at both ends of the floor."

Besides the scoring bonanza, Meeks made a winning impression on Issel in their conversation. The UK guard noted how the Cats won at Tennessee for the first time in his career.

"That says a lot about the kid," Issel said. "The record is important. Records are nice to have. But that's not your legacy. Your legacy is going to be how many wins you had at Kentucky and how many conference championships. That's what it's about.

"And it looks like this team is really playing well right now."

Issel voiced no displeasure in being replaced as Kentucky's top scorer in a single game.

"I can't believe it took 39 years," he said. "That's a long, long time to have that record. I enjoyed it. It was nice, and I'm sure Jodie will enjoy it just as much.

"I'm glad, if somebody broke it, it was a nice kid like him."

Issel and Meeks share at least two factors in their record-breaking games. Each came on the road with their fathers in attendance.

"I told Jodie, years from now, that will be what he remembers most," Issel said.

When asked whether his father's presence inspired his 53-point night at Mississippi, Issel said, no.

"I think it was coincidental," he said. "But I sure was glad he was there because that game I not only scored 53 points, but earlier in the game I broke Cotton Nash's record to become (UK's) all-time scorer.

"It was really important my dad was there."

Issel's father, Robert, is still living. He's 82. Issel called his father Wednesday morning.

"Because he's still a huge basketball fan," Issel said. "I asked him, 'Did you watch the whole game last night or did you go to bed?' He said, 'I watched the whole game, but, you know what? You didn't have the three-point line.' "

Issel laughed uproariously. "He was still trying to justify it for me," Issel said.

Three other prolific UK scorers also applauded Meeks' performance.

"It was a fantastic exhibition," said Cliff Hagan, whose 51-point game against Louisiana State in 1953 stood as UK's single-game record until Issel came along. "Just his all-around game. His shooting, hell, it was just fantastic."

Meeks made 10 of 15 three-point shots (15 of 22 overall) at Tennessee.

"Just to see that was a great treat," Hagan said.

Meeks also made 14 of 14 free throws to tie a school record set by Ramel Bradley (against Gardner-Webb last season) and Louie Dampier (against Oregon State in December 1966) for the most free throws made in a game without a miss.

"It was truly remarkable," Hagan said from his retirement home in Florida. "And against good competition. ... Any time you go into Tennessee, you're lucky to come out of there with a win."

Meeks' shooting and scoring kept Nash glued to the television.

"As he kept scoring and scoring, then my interest piqued even more," Nash said.

The former All-American, circa 1963-64, noted Meeks' stamina in a frenetic game with the opponent alternating fresh defenders.

"Even at the end, I noticed he had a lot of bounce in his jump shot," Nash said. "He wasn't tired at all."

Like many observers, Kenny Walker (All-American in the 1980s) came away with the feeling of having witnessed history.

"Best college performance I've ever seen," he said. "And I saw Melvin Turpin put on some pretty good shows. I have the ultimate respect for Big Dan (Issel). I never really thought I'd see the day somebody would do what Jodie did."

Meeks' game by game

2008-09 season

Opponent FG-A 3FG-A FT-A Pts.

VMI 13-27 3-11 10-12 39

North Carolina 5-20 3-9 6-6 19

Delaware St. 8-15 5-8 1-2 22

Longwood 6-14 1-8 4-5 17

Kansas St. 11-17 4-6 11-13 37

West Virginia 3-11 1-3 12-12 19

Lamar 6-13 2-6 5-6 19

Miami, Fla. 4-17 2-12 0-0 10

Miss. Valley St. 8-12 4-6 4-4 24

Indiana 5-12 2-6 1-2 13

Appalachian St.14-21 9-14 9-10 46

Tennessee St. 10-19 8-15 4-4 32

Florida Atlantic 7-12 2-6 2-2 18

Central Mich. 6-13 5-8 6-7 23

Louisville 8-19 3-9 9-9 28

Vanderbilt 5-16 3-9 8-8 21

Tennessee 15-22 10-15 14-14 54

Totals134-280 106-116 67-151 441

Meeks' career statistics

Year G FG-FGA Pct 3FG-FGA Pct FT-FTA Pct Rpg Apg TO Blk Stl Ppg

2006-0734 95-227 .419 44-121 .364 61-68 .897 2.8 1.5 40 2 32 8.7

2007-0811 27-88 .307 16-50 .320 27-34 .794 2.6 1.5 12 1 6 8.8

2008-0917 134-280 .479 67-151 .444 106-116 .914 3.6 1.9 48 2 26 25.9

Totals 62 256-595 .430 127-322 .394 194-218 .890 3.0 1.6 100 5 64 13.4

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