Ken Mink: Comeback Player of the Century

Ishtiaque HossainCorrespondent IApril 4, 2009

When I was asked to write about a comeback player, I had a few in mind. Actually, here's my final four: Shaquille O'Neal with the Suns, Hakeem Olajuwon with the Raptors, Magic Johnson playing in the All-Star Game after his retirement, and Michael Jordan coming back to win more titles.

My final choice, however, is one that very few people know about. His name is Ken Mink.

His accomplishments won't be heralded on any plaques in the Basketball Hall of Fame, nor will his pose be used as the NBA logo, but what Ken Mink has done is a reminder to all of us that it really is never too late to chase your dreams.

Ken Mink had a very short basketball career. He played at Lees College in Jackson, KY. His talent was incredible. Simply put, he was a baller. People would come to watch Lees College games just to watch Ken play.

The sky was the limit, and his opportunities would be endless. And then his basketball world came crashing down.

One night some teammates decided it would be funny to pull a prank on the school's principal. They did so, and while the facts are still blurry, the general consensus is that Mink was framed into the culprit's role.

The principal wouldn't listen to anyone. He wouldn't budge. Mink had to be expelled, and, by God, the principal would see to it that he did.

By the way, all of this happened in 1956. That's 53 years ago. Most of you weren't born then. Your dads were probably not born yet. If they were born then, they were playing with Tonka trucks at the time. That's how long ago it was.

Anyways, 50 years passed. In that time, a wronged Mink still chased his passion through recreational games in the military and YMCA's. Then one day he thought, "Why don't I do it again?" Do what again? Play basketball? Sure, let me call up Oscar Robertson, I think he was looking for someone to play 21 with.

By golly, Ken Mink actually considered playing college basketball again. He called up colleges near his home in Knoxville, TN. Imagine Bruce Pearl picking up the phone, "What? Are you crazy, Mr. Mink? Wait, hold up, is this coach Fulmer? You really don't have much to do these days, do you?"

As crazy as it sounds, one coach responded to Mink. Randy Nesbit, head coach of Roane State Community College decided to give the guy a chance. But that chance wasn't given based on talent; Nesbit was just a nice guy.

He naturally had a hard time saying no to people. He would probably give me a chance to play if I asked. Actually, I take that back, I'm pretty bad.

Ken made the team, passed his physicals, practiced hard, and was relentless on the court. Nesbit finally put him on the floor.

It's a feel good story to this point, but put yourself in the shoes of the opposing coach and players.

There's a guy on the floor who is older than your entire starting lineup combined. If you're the guy guarding Mink, it's a lose-lose situation. Let him score, and your confidence and youth is probably thrown out the window.

Stop him, and you probably fouled and/or broke a couple of joints in the old man's body.

Well, two coaches faced the dilemma. In a game against King College, Mink went to the basket, got fouled, and sure enough, made both free throws. In another game, he actually went up for a shot and scored against Hiwassee College.

His Roane State career ended short as well due to some junior college administration problems. He had to maintain a passing grade in all of his classes. He had a "B" or better in all of his classes, but failed Spanish. And so his days at Roane State ended early.

He did it. He scored. Not in his driveway. Not at the YMCA. In a college game. Sure, it is only a junior college, but it's still a higher level than any person beyond the age of 40 even dream of aiming for. He did what men in his age regret not doing while sitting on their rocking chairs or laying in the nursing home.

Nearly 50 years after he was stripped of his passion, Mink's vision and perseverance paid off. If he isn't considered a comeback athlete, I don't know who is.