July 21, 2011
There once was a man who fought a giant with merely a broomstick. That man was Stu Aberdeen, assistant Tennessee basketball coach.
The giant was 7-footer Tom Boerwinkle.
And there really was a broom involved in this tale.
Boerwinkle arrived on The Hill from Independence, Ohio, as a very raw talent. Despite his towering stature--not only was he 7-feet-tall, he also weighed in at 250 pounds--basketball did not come naturally to him at first. He was clumsy and slow and at least one college scout labeled him as "The worst big man I've ever seen." No one could see the same potential Vols head man Ray Mears did.
Mears often referred to Boerwinkle as the best gamble he'd ever taken. But it took a lot of hard work to turn UT's first 7-footer into the legend he is now remembered as. His first year at UT was not impressive. Averaging 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 15 games in 1966, Mears had to do something to develop his gamble.
Enter 5-foot 2-inch Stu Aberdeen--and his broom.
"The first time I saw coach Aberdeen bring out that broom I thought, `Is he going to be the janitor, too?'" Boerwinkle said.
By Mears' charge, Aberdeen coached up Tennessee's big men. As he was not tall enough to contend with Boerwinkle's shots, he used a broom like a jouster to poke, prod, block and bully the center until he wanted to walk off the court. As Boerwinkle worked on his offensive game, Aberdeen was always right there to "sweep" the ball away.
"As we shot, he would take the broom and swat away the ball or hit us on top of the head," Boerwinkle recalled. "At times I felt like taking that broom and breaking it in half, but I never did. It became very frustrating and aggravating, but in hindsight I see that it helped me develop some important skills."
Some say that Aberdeen and his broom helped Boerwinkle perfect that hook shot that made him so famous at Tennessee. Obviously, something worked. In Boerwinkle's final two seasons, including the 1967 SEC championship year, he averaged 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds.
The slow, clumsy kid from Independence, Ohio, who no one but Mears recruited, was drafted as the fourth overall pick in the 1968 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.