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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Kenny Durrett / Basketball star who went on to coach in Wilkinsburg

Monday, January 08, 2001

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kenny Durrett, the man whom sports enthusiasts describe as the greatest basketball player ever to come out of Pittsburgh, died yesterday at his home in the Blackridge section of Wilkinsburg, apparently of a heart attack.

Kenny Durrett (1997 photo)

Mr. Durrett, 52, who most recently was a community volunteer and girls' basketball coach in the Wilkinsburg School District, had an easy-going and pleasant manner that masked a fierce competitiveness that took him from the basketball court at Schenley High School to the NBA.

"He was good, no question. I'll say that," said Fred Ortman, 87, of Stanton Heights, who was Durrett's basketball coach at Herron Hill Junior High in the early 1960s.

In seventh grade, the young Mr. Durrett, for whatever reason, rebuffed Ortman's efforts to join the basketball team.

By the following year, though, the coach won out and Mr. Durrett took to the court for the junior high team. Within a year, his skills were obvious to everyone.

"Once he got into ninth grade, I could see he would be something good," Ortman recalled.

Good would be an understatement.

Just two years later, the junior named Kenny Durrett led Schenley High School to the 1966 PIAA championship. By the time he graduated from high school, Mr. Durrett's prowess on the basketball court was such that colleges around the country tried to recruit him.

He chose La Salle, a Catholic university outside of Philadelphia where he would be an All-American and one of the school's all-time leading scorers, earning 1,679 points in his four-year career there, an average of 23.7 points per game.

By the 1970-71 season, he was second in the country in scoring, averaging 14 rebounds a game and one of the main reasons La Salle was ranked sixth in the nation.

A knee injury ended his college career, but even so, he was the fourth player chosen in the 1971 NBA draft.

Mr. Durrett received a lucrative contract with the NBA's then-Cincinnati Royals, reported at the time to be more than a million dollars and structured to pay him until 1991.

The knee injury, though, would plague Mr. Durrett, and his career in the pros came to end in 1975, when he failed in a tryout with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He returned to La Salle to earn his bachelor's degree and work as an assistant basketball coach.

By the early 1980s, Mr. Durrett had returned to Pittsburgh and opened up Kenny Durrett's Locker Room in East Liberty, an athletic shoe store.

In addition, he became active in community activities in the East End, spending weekends and summers working with children in various basketball camps.

In 1989, he also began the Kenny Durrett City League All-Star Basketball Games.

Mr. Durrett was the assistant boys' basketball coach in the Jeannette City School District in the early 1990s. A few years later, he would find himself coaching girls in Wilkinsburg.

Art Griffiths, Wilkinsburg's athletic director and boys' basketball coach, said that in the mid- 1990s, Mr. Durrett met several young ladies through his volunteer work with the East End Outreach Program.

Soon the girls persuaded Mr. Durrett to be their coach.

"He started working with the girls on his own. I don't think he really wanted to do it, but by then he had gotten close to the girls. Once you get in, you can't get out. It grabs you. Obviously he brought a lot of credibility to the program," Griffiths said.

Mr. Durrett is survived by his wife, Stephanie; two daughters, Beverly and Anita; two sons, Kenneth Jr. and Frank Williams Jr.; his mother, Eulacile King; his grandmother, Evelyn Moore; a brother, Andrew King; and two stepchildren, Jamarow and Christopher Trowery. All are of Wilkinsburg except Williams, of Laurel, Md.

Arrangements were not complete last night.

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