Darrall Imhoff, a Cal basketball great who helped the Bears capture a national championship in 1959, passed away June 30 in Bend, Oregon. He was 78.
Imhoff worked his way onto the Bears as a walk-on and received minimal playing time during his first season with Cal, averaging a mere 0.9 points and 1.4 rebounds per game, but would blossom into a star as a junior under head coach Pete Newell.
As a junior, Imhoff transformed into one of the country’s great young talents as he totaled 11.5 points and 11.0 rebounds, earning a second-team All-American selection and leading the Bears to a 25-4 record.
Imhoff headlined Cal’s 1959 championship run. In the national semifinal against an Oscar Robertson-led Cincinnati team, Imhoff posted 22 points and 16 boards in a 64-58 victory. Against Jerry West and West Virginia University, Imhoff scored the go-ahead bucket with 17 seconds remaining to topple the Mountaineers 71-70.
The 6’10” power forward built on his memorable junior season with a senior season which saw him post 13.7 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, the latter being a school-record at the time, en route to first-team All-American honors. Imhoff was selected as Cal’s Most Valuable Player as well.
Imhoff led the Bears to another victory over Cincinnati in the national semifinal to crack a second-straight championship appearance, dropping 25 points and snagging 11 rebounds, but the Bears fell to the mighty Ohio State 75-55.
Following his basketball career at Cal, Imhoff played for Newell and 1960 Olympic team in Rome, which would breeze through the competition and capture gold. Featuring 10 future NBA players, including Robertson and West, that Olympic team would be enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Fresh off a gold medal victory, Imhoff took his talents to the NBA, where the New York Knickerbockers would select him with the third overall pick. Over a 12-year career, Imhoff would play with the Knickerbockers, the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Cincinnati Royals and Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 7.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Imhoff’s best year in the NBA came during the 1966-67 as a member of the Lakers. With Hall of Famers West and Elgin Baylor as teammates, Imhoff averaged 10.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists on .474 shooting from the field, all of which were career-highs at the time, to earn his sole All-Star appearance.
One of the more noteable moments of Imhoff’s career was when he was tasked with guarding legendary center Wilt Chamberlain on March 2nd, 1962. Imhoff had a solid game offensively, totaling seven points and six rebounds in 20 minutes, but Chamberlain stole the show when he dropped 100 points on Imhoff and the Knicks.
Well after Imhoff’s playing days, he was honored by various collegiate athletic institutions, being inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Pac-10 Hall of Honor in 2005. In 2009, Imhoff had his jersey retired during a celebration which commemorated Cal’s 1959 title. Imhoff is one of four players who played for the Cal men’s basketball team to have his jersey retired.