By Phil Chardis
UConn Athletic Communications
May 3, 2017
Before there was Shabazz Napier’s UConn, or Kemba Walker’s UConn, or Emeka Okafor’s UConn, or Richard Hamilton’s UConn, or even Corny Thompson’s UConn, there was Toby Kimball’s UConn.
Before others led UConn to National Championships, Big East Championships, NIT Championships, and American Championships, Kimball was leading UConn to Yankee Conference Championships.
Before the lottery picks, first-round selections, and more than 40 UConn players drafted overall by the NBA, Toby Kimball’s name was called.
UConn basketball did not begin with Kimball, but no player carried the Husky banner more proudly to the sport’s highest level. He wasn’t the first UConn player to reach the NBA, but he was the first one to make a name for himself among the best who play the game. Kimball, who died of lung disease Tuesday night at age 74, not only earned respect for himself on the court, but earned respect for his university as well. All those who followed should be grateful.
Hall of Fame UConn Coach Jim Calhoun will tell you that before he actually met the 6-8, 230-pound power forward, Calhoun was playing for American International College and was introduced to one of Kimball’s famed elbows.
“I think I needed six stitches in my forehead,” Calhoun said, with a slight wince in his voice. “He was just an incredible force on the court, incredibly strong, but quick and athletic, and arguably the best rebounder in the history of New England basketball, particularly in that era. He was just a beacon for UConn. He was an ideal student-athlete. I know it was a different era, but when you get 29 rebounds in a game, that’s pretty good stuff.”
When they met off the court and especially after Calhoun took over the UConn program, Calhoun says he got to know Kimball and was even more impressed by the person than he was by the player.
“We had some good conversations and Toby was just a great guy, a high-quality individual,” Calhoun said. “I got to visit him at his home in San Diego when we were out there one year. He was a guy everybody respected. And he loved UConn – the only reason we didn’t see him around here more was because he lived so far away.”
Coming out of Sudbury, Mass., and Belmont Hill School, Kimball was recruited to UConn by legendary coach Hugh Greer. College freshman were not allowed to play varsity basketball at the time, so Kimball only got to play 10 games for Greer as a sophomore in 1962-63 before Greer died suddenly and George Wigton took over as coach for the rest of the season. In his final two seasons at UConn, Kimball played under coach Fred Shabel and compiled some of the most impressive statistics in the history of the UConn program.
Kimball’s 1,361 points still rank among the top 25 on UConn’s all-time scoring list and his 1,324 career rebounds and 17.9 rebounds per game rank second behind only Art Quimby. Kimball is still one of just five UConn players in history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds and he and Quimby are the only two to have as many as 1,300 of each. He had 63 double-doubles during his UConn career, including a school record 38 in a row. Kimball led the nation in rebounds (483) and rebound average (21.0) in 1964-65.
He was a three-time All-New England pick, a three-time First Team All-Yankee Conference pick, and he was named to the 1964 NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team. His UConn teams compiled a combined record of 57-21 (.731), won three Yankee Conference Championships and made three NCAA Tournament appearances. He was selected to the UConn All-Century Team in 200-01 and was inducted to the Huskies of Honor with the initial class in 2006.
“With Toby, and guys like Wes Bialosuknia and Tommy Penders, it was a great era for UConn basketball,” Calhoun said.
When the Celtics drafted Kimball with the 25th pick of the 1965 NBA Draft, it was the most recognition the UConn program had received from the NBA. Still, it took 25 more years before a UConn player was drafted higher than Kimball.
Kimball played a season in Italy before joining the Celtics and beginning a 9-year NBA career that included playing for six franchises. He and wife Helen, also a UConn product, settled in the San Diego area when Kimball played for the then-San Diego Rockets and made it their permanent home.
Those who knew Kimball best, however, say he wasn’t one to brag about his athletic accomplishments.
“Toby was a humble giant, unassuming as could be,” said UConn Special Adviser for Athletics Dee Rowe, who knew Kimball since the Belmont Hill School days and remained in touch with him throughout his life after UConn. “As a player, he was everything you would want – big, strong, tough, aggressive, determined and hard-working. He didn’t take any time off, worked hard all the time. But as a person, the way he handled himself, he never changed from the guy who played at Belmont Hill School. He cared about other people. He was an absolute treasure and I am so sad that he’s passed.”