73-Year-Old Makes College Basketball Team

Septuagenarian will play for Roane State in Tennessee

Climbing out of the car after the first few days of practice was torture.

During speed and agility drills, his teammates were timed running the 40-yard dash in 5 seconds or less. He ran 6.6. Their vertical leaps ranged from 41 inches to the low 30s. He jumped 20.

"I'm not exactly a dunker," said Roane State guard Ken Mink, who at 73 is nearly four times as old as many of his teammates and twice as old as the Tennessee community college he'll suit up and play basketball for.

"But I've scored in scrimmages, blocked a shot and made a nice behind-the-back pass to the corner not too long ago that pretty much stopped practice in its tracks."

Mink, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, passed a physical before being cleared to play; he can't run the court at game tempo for more than five minutes; and he doesn't expect to get on the floor until the waning moments of mop-up time.

In short, this story is more about the journey than the destination.

A half-century ago, Mink was coming off a solid freshman season at tiny Lees College in Kentucky and eyeing a Division I scholarship. One day, he got a note to report to the president's office. The coach's office had been "soaped" — shaving cream filled his shoes and just about every other receptacle in the room, as well as the walls — and someone fingered Mink as the culprit. He pleaded innocent but was summarily expelled.

"To this day, I don't know who did it. But I'd love to know. I promise I won't try to beat you up," he said, then added a moment later: "Of course, that person might not be around anymore."

Mink got slower, tighter and the bumps and bruises lingered longer. But one thing didn't change: He could shoot the eyes out of a basket. That's what Mink was doing in a neighbor's driveway near his Knoxville-area home when he canned one shot after another. Remembering he still had a year of eligibility left, he walked back to his house and announced: "I've still got it!"

He wrote to eight schools within an hour's drive and received zero responses. He was about to give up when coach Randy Nesbit called to arrange a meeting. Mink went to the gym at his church three times a week to practice, run and lift weights, then stopped by the chapel afterward to say a few extra prayers.

Nesbit took one look at him and the deal was sealed.

"I'm not very good at saying no," he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "It's a gesture of goodwill to help a fine man find closure. Why not?"

Mink's teammates had a few more questions.

When they saw his reaction to the Raiders' long, baggy shorts — "Still make me feel like a 5-year-old" — they wanted to know what shorts were like back in his day. "When I showed them how high, they kept laughing and going, 'That high?'"

Stuck beneath the basket on one play, he pivoted away from a defender and uncorked the little-man hook shot Cliff Hagan popularized from the mid-1950s. The Raiders had never heard of a hook shot, let alone Hagan.

"So I reminded them about Kareem and the sky hook," Mink said. "I hoped most of them knew who he was."

He's learned a few things from them, too.

"If a guy made great play back then, we slapped him on the rump. Today, you've elbow bumps and knuckle salutes and then you're supposed to bounce off each other. I just remind them," he said, "to be careful bumping a 73-year-old."

Pitcher Satchel Paige famously said, "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter." It's not quite that simple, of course.

Roane State's season begins Nov. 3 against King College. In the meantime, Mink said he's balancing homework from a full 12-hour workload and trying to master Nesbit's intricate motion offense.

The Raiders might just be good enough to get Mink some garbage time right off the bat. Either way, you'll know he's made it into the game when you look up in the stands and see family and friends in 50s-style cheerleading garb, holding up a sign that reads, "Ken! Ken! He's our (Medicare) man!"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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