Ken Mink plays college basketball ... at age 73
The community college player from Knoxville, Tenn., defies stereotypes to become what may be the oldest college shooting guard in the world.
(Page 2 of 2)
Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, Mink couldn’t imagine far beyond the confines of Vicco, where most men earned a living as his father did, deep within the bowels of the earth, clawing through rock to find coal. The area was too mountainous for most sports, but basketball was popular, and before long, Mink was a starter, earning a name for himself as well as the occasional free milkshake from the corner soda jerk.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He graduated from high school – the first person in his family to do so – and accepted a scholarship to Lees College in nearby Jackson, Ky. By the end of his freshman year, he had a 1949 Ford, a steady girlfriend, and a good shot at a scholarship at a four-year school.
Then the bomb dropped. Someone had covered the coach’s office in shaving cream, and school authorities accused Mink. Before he could plead innocence, he was kicked off the team and expelled.
“I went to the dorm, packed my bags, got in my little car, and drove home,” Mink says. “It was too late to get into college or get on a team, and I didn’t want to hang around.”
The next morning, he enlisted in the Air Force, and for the next 38 years worked as a journalist, garnering bylines in papers where his name had once been headline news as a ball player. In 1998, Mink retired, but he didn’t want to sit home and “vegetate.” He had mountains to climb, links to conquer. Age wasn’t about to stop him. Plus, in the back of his mind, the humiliating end of his college basketball career continued to churn. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t let it go.
“I’d still like to know to this day who, and why, I was blamed,” he says. “I would dearly love to find the answer to that 52-year-old mystery. I hold no animosity, but it would be a great relief to me to find out what really happened.”
Returning to college basketball at his age is physically humbling. His vertical leap barely clears 20 inches, less than half that of teammate Larriques Cunningham. His 6.6-second 40-yard dash is a relative crawl. At 6-feet tall, he’s half an inch shorter than the last time he donned a jersey.
The game, too, has changed. Along with his required 12-hour college course load – Spanish, computer science, US history, and criminal justice – Mink must learn new defensive and offensive schemes. Vintage moves perfected by players like Bob Cousy and Cliff Hagen – the Michael Jordans of their day – are outdated.
Still, Mink brings his own magic to the court, not so much in his athletic prowess as his strength of character. He knows he’s the 11th man on the team, and he only leaves the bench when the Raiders have a comfortable lead. So far, he’s only played once, making two free throws, in Roane State’s 93-42 victory over King College.
“I’ve been competitive all my life,” he says. “I like to be a winner. If I don’t win, I don’t get bitter, but next time, I think, next time I’m going to get that sucker.”
His determination and love for the sport have earned respect from his teammates. Sophomore Chase Bell says he thought Nesbit was joking when he told them Mink was joining the team, but on the first day of practice, they realized it was real.
“It was odd,” Bell says. “We didn’t want to be too rough on him, but as the days went on, we realized we could play hard against him. He’s just like a regular player. He gives you motivation, and you know, players like me, we need that kind of stuff. Every player’s going to have his bad days.”
In a few months, Mink will step off the court one more time, and the lights will dim permanently on his college basketball career. When that day comes, don’t look for him on the bench or in the bleachers – that’s not where dreamers live.
Instead, seek the shadowy corners, the obstacle-strewn paths, the harrowing chasms where limits meet determination and hopelessness meets conviction. That’s where dreams flourish, and that’s where you’ll find Mink, lacing up his shoes, living out his passions.