The first time I met a Kentucky Wildcats varsity basketball player in person, I was 6 years old.
Jim Dinwiddie came to North Hardin High School to speak at the post-season basketball banquet.
Having been told Dinwiddie was a UK guard, my basketball world view — which thought that guards were short — was rocked by the fact he stood a gigantic 6-foot-4.
After he spoke, I got to meet Dinwiddie. It was the first time I ever talked to a UK basketball player.
I thought of that night again last week after the news that Dinwiddie, 63, an attorney in his hometown of Leitchfield and a divorced father of four, died Tuesday from a self-inflicted gun shot.
Though meeting Dinwiddie was one of the thrills of my early childhood, I realized last week I knew almost nothing about him.
What kind of player was he?
"We ran the two-guard front with Coach Rupp, so we didn't have a true point guard, but Jim had a lot of point-guard-type qualities," says former UK guard Stan Key, now the director of alumni affairs for UK. "He was a tremendous leader and, being a couple of years older than me, I looked up to him."
In three varsity seasons at UK (1968-69 through 1970-71), Dinwiddie scored 277 points. Partly, that modest total was explained because Dinwiddie was at Kentucky at a time when Rupp had a bounty of guards. Phil Argento, Mike Casey, Terry Mills, Kent Hollenbeck, Bob McCowan, Key and Dinwiddie all played guard on some of the same Kentucky teams.
The Leitchfield product was recruited to UK as part of the same freshman class that included the high-scoring trio of Casey, Dan Issel and Mike Pratt (Dinwiddie redshirted and wound up a year behind Issel and Pratt).
Dinwiddie had his shining moments. As a junior, he scored 11 points against Notre Dame in the 1970 NCAA Tournament round of 16. During his senior season (1970-71), the guard hit Mississippi for 16 points and Mississippi State for 13 in back-to-back contests. He also had a 17-point game against Vanderbilt.
"With Issel, Pratt and Casey, there wasn't an awful lot of need for the rest of us to score," Terry Mills said Friday. "But Jim had point-guard qualities even though he was so tall. He was a good player."
What kind of guy was he?
Key said the Dinwiddie he knew at UK "was very goal oriented. The thing he often talked about, one of his ambitions was to be the governor of Kentucky."
For their first three years at UK, Dinwiddie and Mills roomed together.
"I think Jim's father was a pig farmer," Mills recalled. "The first and only time I ever went frog gigging was at Jim's home in Leitchfield. I went home with him one weekend our freshman year. I remember we had frog legs (the next day) for breakfast."
After he got his law degree, Dinwiddie hung his shingle in his hometown of Leitchfield.
"Jim was a small-town lawyer, and a good one," says Darren L. Embry, a Grayson County native who is now an attorney whose firm has offices in both Lexington and Leitchfield. "He was very bright, and a good orator."
When Embry was in high school at Grayson County in the early 1990s, Dinwiddie would sometimes play basketball against the high school's players.
"He would have been in his 40s, but he could still play," Embry said. "I was 5-9. He was so tall, he put some bumps on the top of my head, I can tell you that."
As Dinwiddie got older, Embry said he became more religious. "Every Wednesday, Jim would go to the local nursing home and read scripture (to the residents)," Embry says.
In recent years, Embry says Dinwiddie had experienced some challenges. "I'd heard he had some bouts of depression," Embry said.
Tuesday morning, Embry says Dinwiddie called the court clerk in Leitchfield from his home — which was above his law office — to say he would be late.
Dinwiddie's secretary soon heard a gun shot from upstairs.
"My understanding is that Jim left notes for his staff, telling them how to handle some things that were pending," Embry said.
After college, Terry Mills said he and Dinwiddie lost touch for a time. A few years back, Mills' son Cameron, also a former Kentucky guard, found himself in Leitchfield on business and contacted his dad's old college roomie.
"They had a good visit, and after that Jim called me," Terry Mills said. "That last three, four years, we'd been in touch. But I had no idea. I do know it's sad, it's really sad."
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com