Tom Boerwinkle, the biggest Vol, dies at 67

Even though he was 7 feet tall, Tom Boerwinkle never thought he’d play college basketball. The NBA? A pipe dream.

Yet Mr. Boerwinkle did both and did them well.

Likely the biggest man ever to wear a Tennessee basketball uniform, Mr. Boerwinkle died Tuesday in Illinois at 67 after a lengthy bout with MDS, a form of leukemia.

The Ohio native was a lightly regarded high school player at tiny Millersburg Military Institute in Kentucky, but coach Ray Mears thought his height was worth a gamble. Mr. Boerwinkle arrived at Tennessee in 1964, became a two-time All-SEC first-teamer, a Helms Foundation All-American in 1968 and a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bulls.

He played 10 years with the Bulls, then became a member of the club’s radio broadcast team.

“Tom was a once-in-a-lifetime guy,’’ UT teammate Billy Justus said in a university release.

“Despite his sheer size and presence, he was as genuine and loyal as can be. ... What a gentle giant we’ve lost.’’

At 7 feet, 260 pounds, Mr. Boerwinkle developed from an awkward project into a player who averaged double figures in both points and rebounds his final two years at UT.

Mears once said ofMr. Boerwinkle, “I’ve very definitely gotten more satisfaction out of watching him develop than any boy I’ve coached.’’

By the time Mears was through developing Mr. Boerwinkle, the Bulls took him with the No. 4 pick of the 1968 draft.

He was a popular Bull and a productive one, averaging 7.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and accumulating 2,007 career assists. His 37 rebounds from 1970 still is a single-game Bulls record.

“He made guys like myself look good because he’d be the one making the passes for us to score,” Jerry Sloan, who was Mr. Boerwinkle’s closest friend as a teammate, told Bulls.com, the team’s website. “He’s the only guy I ever knew other than (John) Stockton who would ask you where you wanted the ball (on a pass); on the outside, the inside. He had a great knack for passing the ball and making just the right pass, the simple play.

“Everyone wanted him to be Russell, Thurmond, Chamberlain. That was an unfair comparison. He was instrumental in helping us win. He was who he was. His strengths complemented his teammates very well.”

Mr. Boerwinkle was a successful businessman following his career and remained in the Chicago area.

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Comments » 23

atnvol#283282 writes:

I can remember as a young high school kid during the Sixties watching Tom play for the Vols and being amazed that anyone could be that big and play basketball. God rest your Soul Tom.

volaholic45 writes:

A great Vol - I remember well his unstoppable 2-foot hook.

johnlg00 writes:

I played pickup ball with and against Tom in the old Alumni Gym MANY times. He was absolutely hopeless as a player when he first got to UT; weak, clumsy, no skills, the whole sorry bit. Just ordinary undergrad gym rats messed over him every day. But always a great guy, always back the next day, and BOY did he get good before he was finished! Whenever I look at Yemi Makanjuola, I think about Tom. If Yemi works as hard as Tom did, he could be a similar player by the time he finishes. The world is a poorer place today. RIP, Tom, and thanks for the memories!

sambad writes:

I ALWAYS LOVED TOM. HE PICKED ME UP AND LET ME HAVE MY ONLY DUNK IN A GAME ONCE. HE WAS A GREAT GUY. HE WILL BE MISSED BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM.

tovolny writes:

I am saddened to hear of his death. I would love to have some old John Ward tapes of the games of his era. RIP Mr. Boerwinkle, you did us well and created a lot of fond memories.

voloffaith writes:

when I was around ten I my dad introduced me to Mr. Boerwinkle with Coach Stu Aberdeen in tow. Enjoyed his effort and attitude. Saw him play for duh Bulls and successful. They don't send them to us like that anymore...........Prayers to the family.........

frblalack writes:

I had the great pleasure of knowing Tom back in '66 or '67 when I roomed with a guy who had played football & who knew Tom from Gibbs Hall. Tom would sometimes bring his very cute girlfriend by our apartment in Clinch Towers; she was all of 5'2"...very cute couple. Tom was one of the nicest, most humble, down-to-earth, genuine guys I ever met. Proud to have known him! He was a great representative of our Vols! May he R.I.P.

All Vols Forever

johnlg00 writes:

in response to frblalack:

I had the great pleasure of knowing Tom back in '66 or '67 when I roomed with a guy who had played football & who knew Tom from Gibbs Hall. Tom would sometimes bring his very cute girlfriend by our apartment in Clinch Towers; she was all of 5'2"...very cute couple. Tom was one of the nicest, most humble, down-to-earth, genuine guys I ever met. Proud to have known him! He was a great representative of our Vols! May he R.I.P.

All Vols Forever

I remember Tom's cute little girl friend! She looked like an 8-year-old next to him, but they really seemed to enjoy each other's company. Glad somebody else on here knew personally what a fine, fun-loving guy Tom was off the court. Quite the beast ON it, though, by the time he was a junior.

BxVol writes:

So sorry to hear of the passing of Tom Boerwinkle.I met him once in the Alumni Gym as he held my feet down while I did situps for phys ed. class.Even in that short time he came across as a real good guy.

Couchdummy writes:

in response to frblalack:

I had the great pleasure of knowing Tom back in '66 or '67 when I roomed with a guy who had played football & who knew Tom from Gibbs Hall. Tom would sometimes bring his very cute girlfriend by our apartment in Clinch Towers; she was all of 5'2"...very cute couple. Tom was one of the nicest, most humble, down-to-earth, genuine guys I ever met. Proud to have known him! He was a great representative of our Vols! May he R.I.P.

All Vols Forever

I was dating a student nurse at Ft Sanders School of Nursing at the same time Tom was dating a student nurse there also. She was about 5'2 also. Tom was driving a big convertible(maybe a 60 Ford Galaxie) and peered over the top of the windshield as a drove, or it seemed. Nice guy with very pleasant personality. RIP Tom.

flatrock writes:

Tom's cute, little girlfriend was Diane King, a UT student from Two Rivers High in Donelson, who died after contracting a bacterial infection while on a summer mission to inner city Atlanta. They were quite a sight on campus- very happy souls with huge smiles. RIP, Diane and Tom.

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

I remember as a young man sneaking into Memorial Coliseum to watch Tennessee and Kentucky play on a Saturday night. Me and three other guys got there around 4:30 in the afternoon and absolutely no tickets were available. At that time of the day there wasn't more than 15-20 people in the whole place so we climbed up a ladder onto a grating that had a big piece of cardboard on it to keep people from seeing us. When the lights were turned down for the playing of the National Anthem, two of them climbed down the ladder hopefully to get lost in the crowd. It didn't work and they were kicked out. The only place higher than where we were would be standing on the roof of the cloiseum. We were so high that Tom looked like a midget, and unfortunately from my perspective, the Vols lost.

ColdBlackWind writes:

I remember Stu Aberdeen using a broom to guard Tom in practice. Only way he could get his point across was to get in front of the big man and wave the broom in his face. What a line up, Bill Justus, Ron Widby, Tom Boerwinkle, Bill Hahn and Tom Hendrix. Bill-Bill-Ron-Tom-Tom.

Nighthawk writes:

Seem to remember some Tom / Clyde lee clashes. Clyde seldom lost the big men battles, but he did when he bounced off Big Tom.

oldster writes:

Len Kosmalski and Bob Brykalski were as big or bigger. I took a charge from Brykalski in a pickup game a few years after his playing days were over. Let me tell you he was BIG. (Yes, I am nuts to take a charge from a guy that size in a pickup game - but, hey, when you can't shoot, but love the game, you do what you can).

Smokey91 writes:

He was my first Vol autograph. We sat close to him at a Harlem Globetrotter game in the Knoxville Colosseum and he could not have been kinder. Always had a soft place in my heart for the big guy after that. He was a rebounding machine with the Bulls.

mmaz writes:

I worked in the Library Reserve Book Room in '64-66 and would see Tom B there. He used to have to bend down to go under the archways between sections of the room. I couldn't believe he was a BB player for his first couple years as it seemed he couldn't chew gum and walk at the same time, but he sure "matured" in his last 2 years. RIP Tom!!

ponkey writes:

one of those great Vol icons........

cheetah-vol writes:

I so wanted The Vols to advance in the NCAA Tourney in 1967, the year they won the SEC, so Tom could've gone up against Lew Alcindor. That would've been fun to watch.

I think it's both bitter-sweet and ironic that his Bull's snapped the Heat's win streak the day he died. Wish he could've seen that. He still holds the Bulls franchise record for 37 rebounds in a game. Can you imagine that? That's some boxing-out!! He learned a lot from Mears and Aberdeen.

I hope he'll have a banner hung in his honor someday in TBA alongside King and Grunfeld. He is a great Vol basketball legend.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to oldster:

Len Kosmalski and Bob Brykalski were as big or bigger. I took a charge from Brykalski in a pickup game a few years after his playing days were over. Let me tell you he was BIG. (Yes, I am nuts to take a charge from a guy that size in a pickup game - but, hey, when you can't shoot, but love the game, you do what you can).

I got an elbow in the side of the head from Len Kosmalski in a loose-ball scramble in a pickup game in the HPER Building just after it was built. I saw stars and I had tunnel vision--as if I was looking out of my eyes from way down in the back of my head. I kept playing and just a few minutes later, my teammates threw me the ball for a 15' jumper which I made to win the game. I quit then and somehow drove myself home, but I don't remember any of the trip. I had a headache that night but felt fine the next morning. These days they probably would have taken me to the hospital for overnight observation.

johnlg00 writes:

Great to see all us "old" Vols come together with our memories of Tom. I hope he knew how many people he positively touched in his life. He was truly an unforgettable character.

8ball writes:

Remember standing in student center lunch line my Sr year next to me was this tall guy. I told him he should be playing basketball he told me he did " my name is Tom B". I never talked to Tom again but follow his career with great joy

arkyvol writes:

the name brings back memories of the sixties. 'bullwinkle' was one of our favorites. r.i.p., bro.

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