Luling’s Dean Church became only the fourth basketball player in the history of University of Louisiana at Lafayette to have his jersey retired by the school.
Church, who starred at Blackham Coliseum from 1960 through ‘65, was the school’s first basketball All-American and became the first player in program history to receive an All-American honor twice.
Church was heading to lunch with a friend in early February when he got a call informing him that his jersey was going to be retired.
"We had a long lunch that day," Church said with a smile. "It was very emotional for me because this is a once in a lifetime experience."
Church grew up in Kentucky and was recruited to then-USL by legendary coach Beryl Shipley.
"He came to Kentucky in ‘57 and signed four players from the area, including my older brother. Three of the four were from the same town," Church said. "When I was a senior, Coach Shipley invited me down to campus and offered me a scholarship."
Church accepted and said living in Lafayette was a huge change, mainly because of the food.
"Every meal, we had rice," he said. "I loved the weather, but it took me a long time to get used to the food."
Church got used to the grinds of college basketball much easier. By the time his career was over, he held single-season records for most 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 (8).
He was named the Gulf States Conference Player of the Year in 1964 and 1965. Today, Church ranks 12th on the schools all-time scoring list.
Church also helped lead his squad to the NAIA District 27 Tournament title in 1964, which he said is one of the most memorable moments from his playing days. After winning the title, the team was invited to the national tournament where they became the first team in school history to play against black players.
After his college career ended, Church was a 10th round pick by Philadelphia in the 1965 draft. In 1981, he was inducted into the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
When Church stepped onto the court to have his jersey retired on Feb. 25, he said the memories came flooding back.
"It was special," he said. "There were about 6,000 or 7,000 people there and they gave me a three or four minute standing ovation. As far as my basketball achievements go, it can’t get any better than that.
"It was the ultimate honor."
But it was the lessons learned during his college career that stuck with him throughout his life.
"(Basketball) teaches discipline," he said. "Coach Shipley was a second father to me and even after college he stayed in touch with me to make sure I was doing things the right way. He taught us to never give up and to stick with something and make it work."
That proved important in Church’s professional career. He worked for 32 years with Avondale Shipyards and retired in 2000 as vice president and chief administrative officer of the company.
Church and his wife, Sally, have lived in Luling for 41 years. They have two sons, a daughter and five grandchildren.
|Dean Church, of Luling, shares the University of Louisiana at Lafayette basketball court with family members during a ceremony retiring his jersey. Church was the first basketball All-American for the school.|