David Kundla, Dennis Fitzpatrick and Bill McKee were done playing college basketball in the mid-’70s, but the urge to hoop remained strong. They started meeting at noontime at McCarthy Gym, the little gym on the south end of the University of St. Thomas campus.
“We came up with a three-man, one-and-one game,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “There would be 10 games and if I won two, it was a good day. Kundla and McKee were better players, although I wouldn’t admit it then.’’
The games evolved into “Noon Ball,’’ an activity of mini-legend among the basketball fanatics of St. Paul.
Rick Majerus, full-figured but competitive as a rattlesnake, was an occasional visitor to Noon Ball. Tom Otterdahl, Shelly Anderson, Eddie Cassidy, Mike Peterson — on goes the list of Noon Ball greats.
Occasionally, Noon Ball still reverts to a one-and-one tournament. “The idea in one-and-one is to be the champion,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “And the champion is the guy who won the last game.
“I played Kundla when he was wearing a halo for a broken neck and beat him 15-0. Last game. I was champion.’’
McKee was the player who was impossible to beat. “The greatest 62-year-old basketball player in America,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
McKee coached basketball for decades in the Twin Cities. His latest job was as the women’s coach at Augsburg. He was going to coach his daughter Allison this season.
He started feeling poorly this spring. It turned out to be terminal kidney cancer. He died Thursday at 62.
McKee didn’t spill the full details to his buddies, but by May they knew something was wrong. Fitzpatrick promptly scheduled a one-and-one game.
“Billy had been beating me for 40 years, but this was my chance,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “Then, he hit some shot that only McKee makes and won the last game.’’
A few weeks later, Dr. Tom Masterson, hoops fanatic, called Fitzpatrick and said: “Billy wants to tell you that his headstone is going to read, ‘I beat Fitz with Stage 4 kidney cancer.’ ”
Fitzpatrick heard noise in the background. It was Bill McKee, laughing.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
What Noon Ballers had a chance to hear from Bill McKee:
• ”I was open,’’ a teammate would say; “There’s a reason you were open,’’ McKee would respond.
• McKee, after making an outlandish 28-footer, would say wide-eyed: “Did that go in?’’
• McKee to his teammates: “It’s time to get back to the Formula.’’ The Formula? McKee shoots.