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Former Basketball: All-American Church was quiet, humble man

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 29, 2014


Dean Church applauds during the Berly Shipley Tribute Gala in 2011. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser )

He was a quiet, humble, genuinely nice man.

So when Dean Church didn’t tell his own children for the longest time just how good of a basketball player he once was, Jimmy Dykes wasn’t surprised.

When Church was quiet as a mouse for the longest time about his old college jersey not being retired, Dykes wasn’t surprised.

And when Church led more by action than with words, Dykes – loyal teammate for the longest time, right up until the very end – was not surprised in the least.

"He was a little, country boy from Ashland, Ky. Shy as can be," Dykes said. "Very shy, very reserved.

"I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone, now that I think about it. … He truly was a gentleman."

Surrounded by family, Church – UL’s first basketball All-American, and now one of just five players in school history with his jersey retired – passed away Tuesday night after a lengthy illness.

The Luling resident was 71.

Playing for late, legendary coach Beryl Shipley, Church was named an NAIA All-American following the 1963-64 season.

He became the program’s first player honored as an All-American twice when, following the 1964-65 season, he was named an NAIA All-American again and to the Associated Press Little (Small College) All-America first team.

"Dean … was a prolific shooter and one of the original ‘Shipley Boys,’ " current UL basketball coach Bob Marlin said. "Dean was a true friend and positive influence for many who will be sorely missed."

"He may have been an All-American basketball player, but since we became friends in 1960, he was always an All-American person," added Ed Dugas, a UL Professor Emeritus who coordinates the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Network with which Church was actively involved.

Church started under Shipley in 1960.

Homesick while at then-University of Southwestern Louisiana in the fall of 1962, he headed back to Kentucky with a teammate – ushered out of Lafayette by Shipley, who had caught wind of the pair’s plan before they’d actually left.

A few months later, he talked his way back into school and eventually back onto the team for the start of the 1963-64 season.

"I was standing outside (Shipley’s) door for maybe an hour getting up enough nerve — because last time he saw me he was going to kill me," Church told the Daily Advertiser in 2012.

Church averaged 20.1 points per game in that ’63-64 season to lead then-USL to its first Gulf States Conference championship.

The next season he averaged 23.4 points and helped take USL to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. – its first-ever national tourney appearance.

"I won’t go in to all the conditions that I agreed to (for returning)," Church once wrote, "but in the years 1964 and 1965, did anyone ever see (Shipley) in a dirty car or shoes that were not shined?"

Once done, Church stood third in school history with 1,546 points — trailing only Ed McCauley and Tim Thompson.

Today, the 6-foot-2 man who wore No. 12 still is the school’s 12th all-time leading scorer.

"His play did the talking for him," Dykes said. "But he was not a rah-rah guy at all. He was very quiet. Very reserved. He was a shy, quiet guy who could really play basketball.

"I never saw him in my life lose his temper. Ever," added Dykes, a self-described 12th man on a 12-man team. "But when it came time to get the job done, everybody looked to Dean Church to throw the ball to. And he would get it done."

When his career finished, Church held school single-season records for points (701), points per game (23.4), field goals scored (237), field-goal percentage (.570), free-throw percentage (.832), most games in double figures (30) and 30-plus point games (eight).

A stellar free-throw shooter, he owned records for most foul shots attempts in a game (20) and a single season (273) before NBA prospect Elfrid Payton broke both this past season.

He still holds single-season records for free throws made (227), free throws made in a game (18) and free throws attempted in a game (20).

Church was selected in the 1965 NBA Draft’s 10th round by the Philadelphia 76ers, and was among 12 players selected by the U.S. State Department for a three-month goodwill tour of Central and South America.

He was inducted into the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981, and is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Church went on to a successful business career, rising to executive vice president and CEO of Avondale Shipyards.

But Dykes will never forget what he did for now-UL.

"Dean kick-started the basketball program for Coach Shipley," he said. "From then on, basketball was never the same. He put USL in the limelight."

Dykes, who later coached for 11 years, said Church "was the best 1-on-1 player I had ever seen up until Pete Maravich came along."

"Skinny as a rail," said Dykes, who frequented Church’s hospital bedside as he battled various health matters. "He would jump about two inches off the ground, and was slow as can be – until he got the ball in the middle of a fastbreak, and then you couldn’t catch him."

As much as Church meant to UL, UL reciprocated.

He met his wife, the former Sally Evans, there, and according to Dykes she "helped make him the man he was."

"Dean loved USL," Dykes said.

Yet he never got stuck on the court at Blackham Coliseum, where he played under Shipley.

"He never really talked about his success as a basketball player, his accomplishments," Dykes said. "His kids … didn’t even know (for many years) he was an All-American. He never bragged about it, never talked about it. That’s how humble of a man he was. Very, very humble."

Because of that humility, many close to Church didn’t even realize his college jersey had never been retired.

Count Dykes among them.

"When Bob Marlin said to me, ‘Why hasn’t Dean Church’s jersey been retired?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. I thought it was retired,’ " Dykes said. "Somehow I thought it was years ago, in my mind."

The ceremony finally took place in February 2012.

"It meant everything to him," Dykes said.

"He told me deep, down inside he thought it would never happen. (But) he never said anything. I mean, never.

"That was the most moving event I’ve ever been to in my life, just to see how excited he was," Dykes added. "He told me afterward it was the best thing that ever happened to him in his life."

Church is survived by his wife, Sally; sons Dean, Jr. and David, and daughter Anne; and five grandchildren.

Visitation is 8:30-11 a.m. Monday at Holy Family Catholic Church, 155 Holy Family Lane in Luling, with a funeral mass scheduled for 11.

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Athletic Network Footnote:

Click here for Dean’s Athletic Network profile.

Click here for video of "Dean Church: An Extraordinary Life"

Click here for the Dean Church photo gallery.

His obituary will be posted on the AN as soon as it is finalized.

Peace, Ed Dugas