They put a giant man to rest last week.
Much, much taller than the 6-foot-10 frame that – in the heyday of his athletic heyday – he was pushing around a basketball court like a titanic dynamic force.
He has already scored 48 points for Tennessee Tech – a record that has lasted 54 years.
He challenged Ohio State wonder – and future NBA superstar – Oscar Robertson for the 1958-59 college national scorer title. He finished third in the country with 28.8 points per game – and also averaged 18.2 rebounds per game and shot 83% from the free throw line.
He remains the only TTU Tech Golden Eagle roundball player to be named All-American in two different seasons.
The Minneapolis Lakers picked him in the 1960 draft – their second selection after Hall-of-Famer in embryonic Jerry West. But, this man rejected professional basketball.
He was looking for career stability and family life, chose to come work for Phillips Petroleum and play for the Phillips 66ers in the elite amateur men’s game – and capped his career by being named the All-American of the AAU, back when that honor was like being. an NBA All-Star.
But, this man – that colossal 82-inch talent – won’t remember what he did on hardwood any better. But, rather for his Brobdingnagien love of his family and of life.
He last closed his eyes on May 4, at the age of 83. But the sparkle of his vision continues to live on in the hearts of his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
James Stephen Hagan St. entered the world on February 18, 1938, in rural Hardin County, Kentucky – away from Washington County, Oklahoma – primarily Copan – where he would live most of his life.
While growing to almost seven feet tall, his character and outlook on life has been sculpted into a less than idyllic situation for a sporty boy.
“His father was injured,” his son James Hagan Jr. said last week in conversation with EE. “A beam fell on his arm and it ended up making him where he couldn’t go and play ball with his son.… It hit him pretty hard.… Once, when he was talking about it, he had even a tear in my eyes. “
But, Hagan Sr. and his parents forged a loving unity despite a difficult life. Or, maybe because of it.
His father died in the 1970s, when Hagan Sr. was only 38 years old. His mother would live until 2017 and would be 103 years old.
“They were very poor,” Hagan Jr. said of his father and grandparents. “He would wake up early in the morning and take his milk bucket with him and go milk. They had several crops, corn, tobacco, everything. They made their own meat, with chicks, cows and pigs. His life was busy, working there on the farm, going to school and playing ball.… If he hadn’t worked so hard on the field playing basketball, he wouldn’t. probably wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship and probably ended up not going to college. “
Sixty-five years after Hagan first entered the TTU court, he still owns four.
One-season team records and three career scores, including highest scoring average (21.1 points per game) and rebounding average (15.2 rpg).
Hagan Sr. would be inducted into the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1979. He is one of only four Golden Eagle players to have their numbers withdrawn.
Upon graduation from college, he was honored by participating in the prestigious Shrine East-West All-Star game at Madison Square Garden – arguably the highest award for a senior player graduating at the time other than that of be selected for the Olympics. In the Shrine game, Hagan played for the Eastern team, which also included West and Lenny Wilkens.
East won by one point.
Even though off the pitch Hagan Sr. exuded a gentle, friendly aura, he turned into a fierce contender once the whistle sounded.
“He was what we might consider a gentle giant,” the younger Hagan said. “He was very kind and caring to others.… But, when he was on the pitch, it was just for business.
Hagan Jr. remembers seeing his dad play in the Phillips Gym in a city tag team tournament.
“He must have been in his thirties,” he said. “He was playing against a young boy from Kansas State, who was 6ft 8in or 6ft 9in. I will never forget watching him play against this young man who was getting frustrated. Dad had this tremendous blow. hook, that he could pull right or left.… He was doing his moves inside and really used that hook shot. I was only 12 or 14, and watching your dad do that when you were a teenager is something special. that touch. He worked so hard on his shot. “
The younger Hagan also attributed some of his father’s mobility to being a very good college tennis player.
“He had a very good wingspan,” he added. “He could move well.”
(Note: Part 2 of this feature is scheduled for Tuesday.)