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KANGZ, A-Z: Darrall Imhoff, the late-blooming center

Imhoff earned honors at every level he played at.

Basketball Players Jump for Ball

Editor’s Note: While we wait for the return of NBA basketball, we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.

Darrall Imhoff had one of the most fascinating, yet relatively anonymous, basketball careers in NBA history. Imhoff was a fine player, but he happened to be a part of the stories of some of the biggest names in the game during his college and professional playing days.

Born and raised in San Gabriel, Calif., Imhoff had no four-year scholarship offers coming out of high school. He was 6’8 but only 205 lbs, leading even his high school coach to believe that he wasn’t suited for college basketball. Imhoff decided to go to Cal to study forestry, and future Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell only found out about him because Imhoff’s aunt called the basketball department asking for help locating a bed in her nephew’s size.

Imhoff made the Golden Bears as a walk-on in the 1956-57 season and debuted the following year, playing sporadically. He was the team’s most improved player the next season when Cal won the NCAA title, and he hit the game-winning basket in the championship against a West Virginia team starring Jerry West. Imhoff led the Bears in scoring and rebounding his final season, taking the team to the national title game once more, this time falling to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State.

Going from unrecruited to two-time All-American was quite the come-up, and Imhoff capped off his collegiate career by making the 1960 Olympic team alongside West, Lucas, Oscar Robertson, and Walt Bellamy, among others. That team has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame as the greatest amateur team of all time.

2010 Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend
Darrall Imhoff and the 1960 USA Men’s Basketball Olympic Team at the Hall of Fame.
Photo by Nathaniel S. ButlerNBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks drafted Imhoff with the third pick in 1960. His career in New York was unremarkable, other than suiting up at starting center against the 76ers in the game that Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. After being called for a foul early in the first quarter, Imhoff reportedly groused to the referee, “Why don’t you just give the guy his hundred now?”

Imhoff bounced around to Detroit, Los Angeles (where he was an All-Star), and then Philadelphia before landing in Cincinnati in 1970. He had developed a reputation as a strong rebounder and defender, and he was coming off a four-year stretch when he averaged 10.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game while only missing four games total.

Unfortunately, Imhoff’s time with the Royals was short-lived. He played 34 games in his first season in Cincinnati as a productive reserve before tearing his ACL. He was waived shortly after the start of the next year, and retired at the end of the 1972 season. His Royals career lasted 43 games in which he averaged 6.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

It’s a shame Imhoff’s career predated the Sacramento era of the franchise. He would have been a beloved King after growing up in California and attending Cal.

Instead, his Royals tenure is mostly a footnote on an otherwise impressive career that saw him reach the pinnacle of collegiate and international basketball while also sticking for a decade in the NBA. Not too shabby for a player who couldn’t get a scholarship coming out of high school.