Crowning the King

By Jon Roe

Canadian university basketball royalty has been named the greatest Dino of all time. Karl Tilleman, who started his Dinos career in 1978 and retired in 1984, earned the most votes in a six-month long poll on the Dinos website. Tilleman received 26 per cent of the votes cast in a pool of 40 of the greatest athletes to don a Dinos jersey.

“When they told me that, you can’t really say that you expect something like that, or it’s even deserved,” said Tilleman. “There’s too many great athletes at the university. The only way I can express that is that I can share it with all the other former athletes as well as all my teammates.”

Tilleman’s remarkable career included four first team all-Canadian recognitions, and two Canadian Interuniversity Sport player-of-the-year awards, in 1982 and 1983. In both of those years he led the nation in scoring. Tilleman was also acknowledged as the City of Calgary athlete of the year with the Scott-Mamini award in 1982 and as the University of Calgary’s male athlete of the year in 1981 and 1983.

Tilleman believes his Dinos experience greatly bolstered his confidence.

“I honestly believe the feeling that we got when we played here that we could compete with anybody in the world, literally, and that we could accomplish anything in life,” Tilleman said. “I still believe that. The quality of the programs at the university, as I said tonight, is second-to-none.”

The U of C’s men’s basketball team record book is filled with Tilleman’s name. He averaged 26.4 points per game in an era before the three-point line, and finished with 2,090 points in 79 games–81 points behind Richard Bohne on the school’s all time scoring list. Bohne played from 1993-96.

During his time, Tilleman was a fan favourite and a hated rival. The night Tilleman’s jersey was to be retired, Tilleman’s final game as a Dino, the opposing team refused to play after a dispute about officiating. The Red Gym was packed with 2,000 disappointed fans.

“My final game when [the University of] Saskatchewan [Huskies] refused to play was something I never heard of,” said Tilleman. “There was a packed house with everyone waiting for the final game. But I think we enjoyed ourselves even though there was no game.”

Tilleman’s dominance drew the ire of opposing schools’ fans. Tilleman remembers a sign a University of Lethbridge Pronghorn fan made depicting him getting nailed in the backside by a ram.

“We were very competitive,” said Tilleman. “There was no question that when we went into somebody else’s gym, they were very vocal about expressing their displeasure with our being there. As the years have gone on, those competitions turn into great respect.”

After retiring from the university, Tilleman went on to be first and only Dino to ever be drafted by an NBA team. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the fourth round of the 1984 NBA draft, 79th overall. Tilleman was cut right before the season started, but did dress for the Nuggets in the preseason. Luckily, that was not the end of his basketball career. While on a mission for his church, Tilleman got a call from Canadian men’s team coach Jack Donahue.

“Jack Donahue from the Olympic team literally phoned me when I was on my mission,” said Tilleman. “He said, ‘If they put in the three-point shot, would you come back and play?’ So I came back out of retirement and played in ’86, ’87 and the ’88 Olympics [in Seoul, Korea]. It was a real surprise for me because I thought I was done after college.”

Tilleman played in both the ’84 and the ’88 Olympics and still appreciates his experience.

“We went from playing at the Red Gym at the U of C to thinking we could beat anybody in the world,” said Tilleman. “In ’84 we lost in the bronze medal by three points to Yugoslavia. We were as good as any team in the world. I look back on both the ’84 and ’88 Olympics with great fondness. Those were very, very special times.”

Being recognized as the top athlete at a university with 40 years of great athletes a quarter century almost after since the day he last played as a Dino is an honour not lost on Tilleman. He still appreciates and is grateful for his time spent at the U of C.

“I think the U of C gave us a great experience [as athletes],” said Tilleman. “I’m just very honoured to be associated with the university, it’s a privilege.”

The top 10 Dinos of all time were named at the Night of Dino, Thur., April 5. Rounding out the list after Tilleman were men’s hockey player Paul Geddes (1984-87), women’s soccer player and recent hall of fame inductee Kathy Ranheim (1986-93), women’s basketball player Janis McDonald (1977-82), recently retired women’s volleyball player Joanna Niemczewska (2001-07), wrestler and football player Lutz Keller (1970-74), women’s basketball player Leighann (Doan) Reimer (1996-2001), men’s volleyball player Andy Cameron (1988-93), women’s soccer player Stephanie O’Neill (1994-98) and women’s field hockey player Michelle Conn (1981-85).

Leave a comment