One of three pro ath­letes from Batavia neigh­bor­hood was Hall of Fame-cal­iber DAN IS­SEL FILE

Chicago Sun-Times - - 9 Sports - BY NEIL HAYES

As se­lected by a Sun-Times sports panel. Ath­letes must have spent a good por­tion of their for­ma­tive years in the Sun-Times’ cir­cu­la­tion area.

It could be any neigh­bor­hood in any small town on the out­skirts of Chicago. But it’s what this neigh­bor­hood on the north­west side of Batavia pro­duced that makes its tree -lined streets and hum­ble homes unique.

What three boys who grew up in this neigh­bor­hood in the 1960s ac­com­plished would far sur­pass their child­hood fan­tasies.

By­ron Von Hoff would be a sec­ond-round pick in the Ma­jor L eague Base­ball draft. Ken An­der­son would take an un­likely path to be­come a Su­per Bowl quar­ter­back and an NFL Most Valu­able Player. Dan Is­sel would de­velop into the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky’s all­time lead­ing scorer be­fore a dis­tin­guished pro ca­reer landed him in the Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame.

Hav­ing Von Hoff, An­der­son and Is­sel grow up to­gether and be team­mates on Batavia High ath­letic teams was an em­bar­rass­ment of riches for a com­mu­nity with small-town charm that once was fea­tured on the cover of the Satur­day Evening Post.

Forty years later, it still bog­gles the mind.

‘‘I would ven­ture to say we had the only high school bas­ket­ball team in Amer­ica that had a player who signed a pro­fes­sional con­tract in three pro­fes­sional sports — foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball,’’ Batavia Mayor Jeff S chielke said. ‘‘It’s a shame they didn’t win the state cham­pi­onship. S ome­body might have made a movie about it.’’

An­der­son and Von Hoff would make their mark in pro sports, al­though Von Hoff ’s quick as­cent through the New York Mets’ mi­nor­league sys­tem was cut short by a ca­reer- end­ing in­jury. But none stood taller than Is­sel, who was voted the ninth Great­est Ath­lete in Chicago His­tory by a Sun-Times panel.

The work ethic deeply rooted in his home­town helped Is­sel be­come one of the most pro­lific scor­ers in col­lege and pro bas­ket­ball. At tra­di­tion-rich Ken­tucky, he was a two -time All-Amer­i­can who set 23 school records, in­clud­ing most points (2,138) and re­bounds (1,078).

Once he turned pro, the small­ish 6-9 cen­ter be­came a six-time ABA All- Star and one -time NBA All- Star whose blue - col­lar men­tal­ity and fe­ro­cious com­pet­i­tive­ness was per­son­i­fied by a tooth­less smile that made him look more like a hockey player. When he re­tired in 1985, the only play­ers in pro bas­ket­ball his­tory who had scored more points were Ka­reem Ab­dulJab­bar, Wilt Cham­ber­lain and Julius Erv­ing.

‘‘My hero grow­ing up wa s Ernie Banks,’’ Is­sel said. ‘‘He loved play­ing the game, and he played hard ev­ery game. His team didn’t have much suc­cess, but he loved to play and com­pete. That’s what I find most ad­mirable.’’

Batavia is con­sid­ered a Chicago sub­urb now, but it wasn’t then. The town is about 40 miles west of Chicago, but it felt like 400 to Is­sel and his neigh­bor­hood pals. To them, sports were played pri­mar­ily in the back­yards and drive­ways of their close -knit neigh­bor­hood, where they didn’t re­al­ize they were push­ing each other to un­fore­seen heights.

‘‘It’s amaz­ing that we lived so close to each other and all signed pro­fes­sional con­tracts,’’ Von Hoff said. ‘‘Com­pet­ing against each other had a lot to do with it.’’

Batavia was and is a bas­ket­ball town. It has been that way since 1912, when the Bull­dogs beat Gales­burg for the state cham­pi­onship. The era when Is­sel, Van Hoff and An­der­son played to­gether still is con­sid­ered Batavia’s ‘‘glory years.’’

‘‘My dad was the jan­i­tor at the high school,’’ An­der­son said. ‘‘He would get to school at 5 in the morn­ing, and there would be peo­ple lined up in the snow in lawn chairs, wait­ing for tick­ets.’’

Is­sel was the fifth-tallest player on his eighth-grade team but had grown to 6-8 as a high school se­nior, when his buzzer-beater de­feated Naperville Cen­tral and gave Batavia its first- ever sec­tional ti­tle. He was men­ac­ing even then, in large part the re­sult of an ac­ci­dent in ju­nior high.

‘‘S ome­body had waxed the g ym floor,’’ Is­sel said. ‘‘I was run­ning laps, and when I went into the cor­ner, my feet came out from un­der me. The first thing that hit the floor were my front teeth. I got up. Blood was gush­ing ev­ery­where. My three front teeth were stuck in the floor.’’

Is­sel thought he would go to North­west­ern or Wis­con­sin be­fore Ken­tucky coach Adolph Rupp of­fered a late schol­ar­ship. He landed on a ros­ter that fea­tured four Mr. Bas­ket­balls from their re­spec­tive states. Is­sel rose above them all, earn­ing the nick­name ‘‘Horse’’ be­cause he worked like one.

In the pros, he was a hu­man floor burn with a rugged in­side game and a soft shoot­ing touch. He wa s a throw­back player who fought for ev­ery re­bound and rarely dunked.

‘‘The way I looked at it, when Julius Erv­ing rose above Ar­tis Gilmore and dunked, that was great en­ter­tain­ment,’’ he said. ‘‘But if I put it in off the back­board, it still counted two points. I was never flashy, but I got the job done. I never felt like I short­changed any­body.’’ Full name: Is­sel.


Daniel Paul


High school:



Ken­tucky. Ca­reer high­lights: Was 6-8 cen­ter on Batavia’s 26-3 team in 1965-66. Was All-State se­lec­tion in 1966. Was two-time All-Amer­i­can at Ken­tucky, where he av­er­aged 25.8 points and set 23 school records, in­clud­ing most ca­reer points (2,138) and re­bounds (1,078). In first pro sea­son, av­er­aged 29.9 points and 13.2 re­bounds for Ken­tucky Colonels of Amer­i­can Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion. Named ABA Co-Rookie of the Year in 1971. Helped Colonels win ABA ti­tle in 1975. Was six-time ABA All-Star. Played 10 sea­sons with Den­ver Nuggets, av­er­ag­ing more than 20 points seven times. Named NBA All­Star in 1977. Upon re­tire­ment in 1985, only Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar, Wilt Cham­ber­lain and Julius Erv­ing had scored more points. In­ducted into Hall of Fame in 1993.


When Dan Is­sel re­tired in 1985, only three play­ers in pro bas­ket­ball his­tory — Ka­reem Ab­dulJab­bar, Wilt Cham­ber­lain and Julius Erv­ing — had scored more points than he had.

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