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By GOOSE LINDSAY
Fifty-three years ago, Ken Mink was gearing up for his sophomore basketball season at a Kentucky junior college when he was expelled from school.
Mink professed innocence in the vandalism of his coach’s office, but it would not matter.
His dream of playing college basketball skidded to a halt.
Now Mink is getting a second chance to finish what he started.
The 73-year-old from Knoxville is playing basketball for Roane State Community College.
He is less than three weeks away from possibly taking the floor.
The Raiders open the regular season at home on Monday, Nov. 3, against King College.
“I was a good high school player,” Mink said. “I had scholarship offers from different schools, but Lees College (in Jackson, Ky.) was close to home and they offered me a full ride. I scored 21 points my first game as a freshman and I averaged between 11 and 12 points that year.
“Then I was getting ready for my sophomore year when I was told that the president wanted to see me. He told me without any discussion that I was being expelled for shaving creaming the coach’s office. I told him that I didn’t do it, but there was no due process in that era and my basketball career was over. I was angry and upset for getting kicked off the team for no reason.”
Mink never got over missing that second season, but after a stint in the Air Force and a 38-year newspaper career, it seemed his playing days were over.
That was until a year ago. He was playing basketball in his neighbor’s yard when a wild idea crossed his mind.
“I was shooting and doing pretty well,” Mink said. “I told my wife that I was going to write some colleges and see if anyone was interested in letting me play. She told me I was crazy, but I did it anyway. A week or more passed without any responses, and I thought who wants a 73-year-old man playing basketball, but that’s when (Roane State) coach (Randy) Nesbit said to come down and we’ll talk.”
“It took me a few minutes to ascertain how serious he was when we met,” Nesbit said. “But you could tell he‘d a hard time letting it go, and he wanted a second chance. We’re giving him some closure.”
“Coach Nesbit told me if I wanted to play that I would have to take a full course load of classes just like everybody else and there would be no scholarship. Plus I would have to drive down from Knoxville every day,” Mink said. “He said if I was willing to do that then they’d give me a shot.”
Nesbit, however, wasn’t about to let Mink step on the court if he wasn’t sure he could handle it.
“My first question was how would he look physically?” Nesbit said. “But he’s physically conditioned enough both on the court and in the weight room to take care of himself.”
“He (Nesbit) could see right away that I wasn’t just some old guy that stumbled up and down the court,” Mink added. “I always tried to stay active. I can’t remember a week in my life where I haven’t been involved in a sport. I was a gym rat even as a kid.
“But it hasn’t been easy, I’ll tell you that. We’ve been practicing two hours a day for about six weeks, and it’s a grind to drive back and forth from Knoxville with gas prices the way they are.
“But I’m willing to do it to get this dream completed,” Mink said.
Now he is preparing himself for a chance to compete.
“I know I’m not going to play a big role,” he said. “These guys are better than me, and I know that. I know if I play, it will be in mop-up duty.
“But I do have a goal to score this year; hopefully I can get 20 points this season.”
The physicality of the game is only one barrier.
“I don’t have any preconceived idea as to how much he can play,” Nesbit said. “The time and score will enter into his chances of getting on the court. Right now his difficulty is more mental. I know he has physical limitations from his age, but he’s been out of the game for so long that he has trouble processing our system. We’ve got another guy that’s been out of the game for four years and he’s having trouble catching up, too.”
Mink, however, is getting a lot of help.
“There’s a lot of complicated offensive and defensive schemes that I have to learn, but the other players have been helping me every step of the way,” Mink said.
“I also think the other guys have learned to respect me. They don’t take it easy on me. If they can block my shot, they block it; if they can steal it from me, they steal it. That’s how it should be.”
“I’m sure the other players had the same curiosity as I did at the beginning, but they all get along really well,” Nesbit added.
Mink is doing more than learning from his teammates. He is also doing a bit of teaching.
In a recent practice, he pulled out a 1950s-style hook shot from the days of Kentucky great Cliff Hagen and scored in practice.
He has also showed the younger guys how the legendary Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics used to shoot.
And Mink isn’t afraid to take on any of his teammates in a free-throw shooting contest.
“I won a gold medal in the Tennessee Senior Olympic Games this summer ... by making 19 out of 20 free throws,” he said. “I’m reasonably sure I can make 90 out of 100. Maybe I can score a few points if coach Nesbit puts me in to shoot technicals.”
Word is spreading about Mink, and already he is becoming a role model for some of his fans.
“I’ve had some people tell me that they can’t believe I’m doing this, and that I’ve inspired them,” Mink said. “I would just like to set an example for other older people that they can still do things that they thought they were too old for.”
Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records is expected to be in attendance for Roane State’s game on Nov. 3.
Mink may break the record for being the oldest person to play in a college basketball game.
Mink said Roane State will have some special cheerleaders on hand.
“My wife, Emilia, and some women from Sunday School are going to be wearing ’50s style uniforms that night,” he said.