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Purdue Basketball Legend Carl McNulty Passes Away

The legendary rebounder was 89 and was Biggie before there was Biggie.

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NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In Purdue’s double overtime loss at Michigan a week ago Trevion Williams had a monster 36-20 game. Caleb Swanigan had some pretty memorable rebounding games with a 28-22 against Minnesota, a 32-20 against Norfolk State, a 23-20 against McNeese State, and a 21-21 against Western Illinois. Those were epic games on the glass, but they paled in comparison to one of the original glass cleaners.

Carl McNulty was Caleb Swanigan before Caleb was even born. This week the former Boiler and Kokomo head coach passed away at age 89 as reported by my colleague in K-town Dean Hockney:

This one hits home to me because I was my son’s age when he was in his final seasons as KHS coach, and that means he is basically one of the reasons I fell in love with he game of basketball. He coached at Kokomo during the entire time that the city had two high schools instead of one, as Kokomo Haworth was a short-lived high school between 1968-84 mostly created for the baby boomer generation. McNulty won 13 sectionals in that time and a pair of regionals in 1968 and 1985, but in town there was always the question of “How good would Kokomo have been if Haworth didn’t exist and there was only one school”, especially when Boiler Bruce Rose played for rival Haworth and took them to the Sweet 16 in 1970.

McNulty was a steady force for my Kats though, and he built a winner that excelled once Basil Mawbey took over for the 1986-87 season. I have a lot of fond memories of being one of those elementary school kids that was front and center to rebound during warmups at every game, home or away, thanks to his teams. I was only 6 when he stepped down as coach, but I was still there for every game.

At Purdue, McNulty was a legend. He never won a Big Ten championship as he played during an incredible and somewhat unthinkable drought from 1940 to 1969 where Purdue didn’t win a single Big Ten title (and people got pissed at Painter for a 7 year drought). In 1951 he was a third team All-American, so yes, he has his name hanging from the rafters. The next year he was a First Team all-Big Ten selection.

His name is still all over the Purdue record books. Against Minnesota in 1951 he pulled down an astounding 27 rebounds, still a single game record. He added 34 points in that game, which still stands as one of the best points-rebounds-assists games in school history. That was one of two 30-point games he had, as he dropped 30 a year later against No. 2 Illinois. It was also the first 20/20 game in school history for points and rebounds, a feat later accomplished by Caleb Swanigan 4 times, Terry Dischinger 6 times, William Franklin three times, Dave Schellhase & Wilson Elson twice, and Bob Ford & Trevion Williams once. It also stands as one of only eight 30/20 games in school history, with the most recent being Tre last Thursday.

He averaged 17.1 points as a junior and 18.1 points as a senior, leading Purdue each year. That earned him team MVP honors both years. He later played in a single NBA game for the Milwaukee Hawks in 1955, scoring two points.

One of the amazing things is that we have no idea how many double-doubles McNulty actually recorded. The Purdue record book does not list them. Stats from 70 years ago aren’t totally complete. We know of his incredible Minnesota game, but we only have legend to tell us he was Biggie before there was Biggie, as documented by Gregg Doyel a few yers ago:

If it weren’t for basketball, if it weren’t for that rim on the side of the barn, Carl McNulty never would have gone to college. Eighth grade was as far as his dad went, and he turned out just fine. Carl figured he’d work the farm, but Purdue basketball coach Mel Taube heard about the big kid from the small school in Cass County and offered a scholarship. The first time McNulty saw campus was the day his parents dropped him off at Lambert Fieldhouse, carrying two grocery bags full of clothes.

At Purdue he washed dishes to supplement his scholarship – semester tuition was $55, exactly how much McNulty received in scholarship – and became an All-Big Ten forward who had one of the most astounding games in school history in 1951 at Minnesota: 34 points (a school record at the time) and those 27 rebounds.

How do you suppose this 6-3 forward nabbed more rebounds in one game than Terry Dischinger, Dave Schellhase, Joe Barry Carroll or any of the Purdue greats who came after him?

“Tipping!” McNulty is roaring. “A lot of my rebounds that day were offensive rebounds. Not sure I ever brought the ball down.”

That is a fantastic read on him if you have the time. Even in his mid-80s he was a big Purdue fan and followed Caleb’s pursuit of his record from down in Florida.

Personally, I owe Mr. McNulty a big thank you. Like Dave Kitchell at the Kokomo Tribune giving me my start, Basil Mawbey being my coach growing up, and others, this place likely doesn’t exist if he doesn’t coach my Kats and I end up falling in love with basketball as a result. He was a good man that always loved both Kokomo basketball and Purdue, so it is no wonder I admired him.