Utley has a lot of great memories of KWC moments

·4 min read

Aug. 5—Joel Utley officially ended his 61 years of being the Voice of the Panthers, the Kentucky Wesleyan College men's basketball play-by-play radio personality, with an announcement on Wednesday.

Utley has seen every big game, every big moment, all the NCAA Division II championships, and described them to countless listeners in this region for decades. Utley saw all the players who made up the fabric of KWC's eight DII national championships.

He was gracious enough to share some of those moments, Thursday afternoon.

He remembered some of the most memorable games he called. He also talked about players who made a impact for KWC.

"I never have made any lists, the reason I have not is I didn't want to leave somebody out," Utley said.

One his most memorable teams was the first national championship in 1966. "We realistically weren't expected to be there," Utley said of the 24-6 squad. KWC got to the championship game against Southern Illinois-Carbondale, which beat KWC by 20 at the Sportscenter during the regular season. KWC won the rematch 54-51. "To be able to come back and take their measure was a distinct thrill," Utley said.

There was a regional final in 1984 at the Sportscenter when Ray Harper and Henk Pieterse were playing against Lewis. Neither team missed much in the second half. "Ray saw Pieterse under the goal, passed him the ball and Henk made the winning shot," Utley said. KWC won that game 72-70. KWC beat Virginia Union a few nights later in the Sportscenter 72-71 and lost in the DII final four.

In the early 1980s, when Rod Drake and Dwight Higgs played together for KWC after winning the 1980 KHSAA state championship at Owensboro High School. They helped lead KWC to a tough, 88-85 victory over Sacred Heart on a March 1982 Sunday afternoon that was hot inside the Sportscenter. "It was hotter than blue blazes in there," Utley said. KWC would lose to Florida Southern in overtime in the final four.

The 1999 national championship team coached by Harper which had Antonio Garcia, Dana Williams and Patrick Critchelow among other talented players on the squad. That national crown was won in Louisville.

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The 2003 team was the last for KWC to play for a national championship. What Utley remembered most from that was KWC's road to the DII final four. The Great Lakes Region was played at Houghton, Michigan, which is on the upper peninsula of Michigan. After KWC won three games there, it reached the DII national championship game in Lakeland, Florida.

"It was a long way up there, it was on the tip of Michigan," Utley said. "Their basketball arena was first class, but look at it on the map. That was quite the odessey, going from there to Florida."

Mike Williams scoring 51 points against Austin Peay in 1972 stood out to Utley. That was the second-best individual scoring game in KWC history. "Mike Williams was a shooting machine, and an all-around good guy," Utley said.

A conversation about great KWC players can't be had without putting Corey Crowder high on any list for versatility. Crowder finished his career as the Panthers' all-team leading scorer with 2,282 points.

"He played very unselfish," Utley said. "He could get it done." Crowder played on the 1990 national championship team, was a national player of the year, and averaged 19.8 points a game over 118 games.

On that same level would be George Tinsley and Dallas Thornton, who are fifth and sixth on the KWC all-time scoring list. Tinsley was a standout on the '66, '68, '69 national championship teams. Thornton was on the' 66 and '68 national champions.

Favorites locally were Drake and Higgs, who played from 1980-84. Higgs is the second all-time leading scorer for KWC (2,228). Drake is the all-time steals leader (252), second all-time assist leader (458). "What a coup that was to get them to stay here, they were outstanding," Utley said.

Williams' and Garcia's games spoke for themselves, Utley said.

"I never saw King Kelly Coleman play at KWC," Utley said. "He left after his junior year and I came here the year after. The best one-year player I saw at KWC was Mike Redd, who was Mr. Basketball at Seneca and played with Wes Unseld."