UK legend Dampier looks forward to Hall of Fame induction but not the hoopla

Kentucky's Louie Dampier brought the ball up the floor against Iowa State in Memorial Coliseum December 9, 1964. Dampier scored 37 points and UK won 100-74. Herald-Leader Archive Photo
Kentucky's Louie Dampier brought the ball up the floor against Iowa State in Memorial Coliseum December 9, 1964. Dampier scored 37 points and UK won 100-74. Herald-Leader Archive Photo Herald-Leader

Rupp Runt Louie Dampier surely set a record this week: longest distance driven to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He and his wife, Judy, left their La Grange home Tuesday for the almost 900-mile trip to Springfield, Mass. After driving for 14 hours and arriving at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dampier took a long nap.

"I've gotten very anxious about flying," he said Wednesday afternoon. "And I'm kind of claustrophobic. I don't like being confined in the airplane."

Earlier this year, Dampier drove to Los Angeles and back. When he was an assistant coach with the Nuggets, he drove to Denver before each season and back home the following spring.

Dampier did ride the team plane as a player and then as a coach. "I had the anxieties back then," he said. "But that was something I had to do."

To learn that Dampier saw a downside to being in the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 is to assume he dreaded all that driving.

But that's not it. The problem is taking bows and accepting congratulations for four days, the unblinking spotlight brightest when he addresses an audience of basketball's best at Friday night's induction ceremony

"I've always liked the accolades, but I don't like being in the limelight," Dampier said. "Just like the Hall of Fame. I'm proud that I made it. But I would love to have them send me my ring and say, 'You're in the Hall of Fame' rather than have all this going on here this weekend."

Dampier, who turns 71 Nov. 20, chuckled when told that former University of Kentucky teammates Larry Conley and Pat Riley noted his aversion to stardom, no matter how warranted.

"I don't want to say he's withdrawn," Conley said. "He's not comfortable being out there or being the star or making references to himself."

Another of this year's inductees, the loquacious John Calipari, joked about taking down "a few trees" in the process of rewriting his speech. The UK coach lamented having to squeeze all the thank-yous into the allotted time to speak.

Of Dampier's speech, Conley joked, "I hope they get one sentence out of him."

Riley was Dampier's roommate all four years at UK. This was a case of opposites attracting: Riley the outgoing New Yorker (Schenectady). Dampier the low-key Midwesterner (Indianapolis).

"He was a very, very quiet, reserved, down-home personality," Riley said. "He was not a guy who really went out and was raucous."

Riley noted how he hustled pool at the UK student union "till Adolph (Rupp) took my cue stick." Dampier? "Stayed pretty much glued to his girlfriend," Riley said.

A story in The Indianapolis Star explained why Dampier went about college quietly when he could have been one of the biggest men on UK's campus. When he was 16, his mother died.

"That's where a lot of the shyness came, when my mom died," Dampier said. "I just kind of went into a little bit of a shell."

Then in the summer before he arrived at UK as a freshman, Dampier lost his father to stomach cancer.

Fortunately, three older sisters and an older brother gave Dampier the reassurance of family as he entered college.

Riley said he knew then that Dampier's parents had died. "But we never talked about it," he said. "He was very quiet, very close-mouthed about that. He never shared that kind of information."

Of course, Dampier's basketball skills spoke loudly and eloquently. He scored 1,575 points, which ranks 12th on Kentucky's scoring list. In three varsity seasons, he made 50.8 percent of his shots. And keep in mind, he took many shots from what now would be beyond the three-point arc.

"If he was wide open, it was nets," Riley said. "It was money. That's how good a shooter he was."

Riley and Dampier were more than roommates. With Tommy Kron, Thad Jaracz and Conley, they led what might be the most beloved UK team of all: Rupp's Runts of 1965-66.

Riley credited Dampier with providing the outside shooting that preoccupied opposing defenses and afforded the other Runts room to operate.

"I'm going to throw out a name that a lot of people are going to scoff at," Riley said. "He is the same kind of shooter as Steph Curry."

In Riley's estimation, Dampier had similar range. plus mid-range accuracy, and the ability to finish around the basket despite being only 6 feet tall. "The whole thing," Riley said of Dampier's offensive skill.

Dampier's career in the American Basketball Association was the reason he made the Hall of Fame. He was elected by a subcommittee formed to recognize players from the long-defunct ABA.

That Dampier did not play in the more prestigious National Basketball Association until the final three seasons of a 12-year pro career is irrelevant, Riley said.

"He has to go down in history as one of the greatest shooters ever," Riley said. "Just because he played in the ABA should not discount anything."

All these basketball exploits will be revisited in Springfield again and again through Saturday. Dampier will endure.

"Once the weekend is over, it's going to be great," he said of being a Hall of Famer. "After this weekend, and this hectic time, I'm going to sit back, and that's when I'm really going to enjoy it."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader