In 1966, in what was only his second high school basketball game, sophomore Dan Witt scored 42 points before being hoisted on the shoulders of his Kaneland teammates as he led the Knights to an unbelievable 79-73 quadruple-overtime victory over Belvidere during the DeKalb King Korn Tournament.
Almost instantly, Witt had an effect on Illinois high school basketball, and his magnificent contributions haven’t been forgotten. Finally, 56 years after only one of his many fantastic performances for the Knights, Witt will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during a ceremony May 2 at Illinois State University in Normal.
“This takes me back to high school and college and that string of people who have already been inducted, and there were a lot of great players back near the time I played,” Witt said. “Some of those people are older guys I looked up to, and some are my age, so it’s quite an honor.”
Founded a few years after Witt graduated from Kaneland, the IBCA Hall of Fame has honored the best and most influential players, teams, coaches, media, officials and friends of basketball in Illinois history since 1973.
It’s perfectly fitting that the ceremony will be at Illinois State because that’s where Witt played in college, alongside Doug Collins, for whom the basketball court at ISU is named. Collins also is an IBCA Hall of Famer.
“My claim to fame is I was the other guard who played with Doug Collins for four years, and my job was to get the ball to him and guard the other team’s best player,” Witt said. “His claim to fame was being the No. 1 pick of the NBA draft [in 1973] and giving Phil Jackson an opportunity to coach in the NBA.”
Collins was fired after the 1989 season, and Jackson, one of his assistant coaches, replaced him, leading the Bulls to six championships in nine seasons.
“My family has heard a lot of stories, including my daughters, who are in their 30s now,” Witt said. “I’ve heard from a lot of guys who I hadn’t heard from in a while with the Kaneland [Hall of Fame induction in 2019] and now this, and they say it’s well deserved, but it should’ve happened a long time ago. But things take time, and good things come to those who wait. I was never too concerned. I did wonder if I was really that good, so it’s a nice feeling to be recognized after all those years so long ago.”
His peers knew he was special right away.
“Kaneland had some good teams in the ’60s but had never seen a sophomore that good,” said Ralph Drendel, a Kaneland Hall of Famer who played with Witt for the Knights. “I’ll never forget his second game where he scored [42 points] and made 22 of 24 free throws as a 5-foot-4, 100-pound sophomore. He was pretty tiny but a fierce competitor.”
Craig Spiers, one of his teammates at Illinois State, concurred.
“What I remember most about Dan Witt is the confidence with which he played on the basketball court,” Spiers said. “He was a competitor. Dan possessed and demonstrated the skills needed to compete at the college level.”
Jim Blaisdell remembers Witt as a team leader on the floor who wanted to win.
“He was a very good leader, and since I was in the post, he would try to get the ball to me as much as possible,” Blaisdell said. “If he saw something that could help, like to cut a certain way, he’d talk to you about it.”
During his senior season, Witt led the Knights to a 20-win campaign while setting records for most points in a season (656), scoring average (23.4) and field goals in a game (19). He scored 30-plus points in a game eight times, including three 40-plus efforts and a career-best 47 points against West Chicago. He was a unanimous choice for the All-Little Seven Conference team and was recognized on the All-Chicago Prep team and the All-State team.
He finished with 1,444 points at Kaneland, which at the time made him the school’s all-time leading scorer. Joe Fisher, who graduated in 1982, now is the all-time leader with 1,650 points.
Witt was also the first Kaneland player to surpass 1,000 points as he shattered Jamie Shouba’s 941 points. He also signed the first full NCAA scholarship at Illinois State, playing for Will Robinson, the first black head coach in NCAA Division I history.
While basketball is offensive-statistic heavy it sadly doesn’t give as much respect to those who were stellar defensively, and Witt was one of those guys, too.
“Years ago, [legendary UCLA coach] John Wooden said that with the great teams he had in the ’60s, that he had a player named Curtis Rowe who never played a bad game as a defensive specialist and rebounder,” he said. “Your shot can be off, but if your game is based on defense and rebounding, you can have a good game all the time. I’d guard the other team’s best player. In college I’d give the ball to Doug [Collins] and if their best player was under 6-foot-8, I got to guard him. I think the biggest thing that stood out for me is they recognized me as an all-around player.”
These days, Witt remains competitive off the hardwood. After a long and successful sales and management career in the medical and dental industries with Fortune 500 companies, Witt now is involved in a start-up company. He acknowledged that tennis has been his sport of choice, but that he hasn’t played much lately because of the health of his knees.
And if you’re wondering if a lights-out, long-range bomber ever thinks about what it would’ve been like to play in high school with a 3-point line, well, you know the answer.
“I venture to say I would’ve easily averaged over 40 points a game with 3-pointers, but that’s neither here nor there,” he said. “And we also didn’t have all the classes that they have now either. But I think Illinois basketball is really something. People talk about Indiana and New York, and I think Illinois is the best basketball in the country, so to be associated with some of those guys and get inducted is truly an honor, and I thank them forever.”