Howie Crittenden

Howie Crittenden knew early what it was like to win often.

Howard 'Howie' Crittenden still ranks No. 6 on Murray State's all-time scoring list.

His impact, however, was far greater.

Crittenden, who left the Racers in 1956 as the program's all-time leading scorer, died Friday night at the age of 80.

"The Racer family lost one of its all-time greats today," Murray State Director of Athletics Allen Ward said. "Yes, Howie was an incredible player, but he was an even greater person and friend. Everyone that knew him loved him, and he will be missed by all."

Crittenden starred under head coaches Harlan Hodges and Rex Alexander from 1952-56, earning All-Ohio Valley Conference honors three times.

His 2,019 career points stood as the program's most for 32 years, and he is one of six members in Murray State's 2,000-point club. Crittenden is the only member, however, who didn't have the luxury of a 3-point line.

Crittenden averaged 19.4 points per game over his career, and still holds the Racers career record for most made free throws (731), which also ranks 12th-best in college basketball history. His career spanned a time of change for the Racer basketball program, as Crittenden closed out Murray State's stint in the Carr Health building with 23 points in an 87-59 victory over Tennessee Tech, then opened Racer Arena a week later with 41 points -- tying the Murray State record held by Bennie Purcell -- against Middle Tennessee.

"I came to Murray in 1948 and saw Howie play in high school," Purcell said. "I left about the time he was coming to Murray, and I was still playing pro, but did get to see him play at Murray State. Howie was an outstanding player and did things on the court that nobody else could do. Howie was a great friend and I'll always treasure his friendship.

"We've lost perhaps our greatest player at Murray State. He will be missed so much."

Crittenden's No. 19 jersey was retired following his graduation in 1956, and he was inducted into the Murray State Hall of Fame in 1970.

"My number (21) was the first one to go up there, and Garrett Brashear was next," Purcell said. "Garrett was a great, great player in his own right. Well, I remember a game where MSU was playing Wichita in Howie's first season there, and Howie scored 15 points by halftime. The story is, Garrett pulled him to the side and said, 'Look freshman! If you want to win this game, you'd better start getting the ball to me inside!' I'm very happy to be up there with both Howie and Garrett."

And while his Murray State accolades are in rarefied air, what Crittenden accomplished as a prep star was unprecedented.

The face of the 1952 Cuba Cubs (later consolidated into Graves County High School), Crittenden led his team to the Kentucky Sweet 16, where they won the state title under head coach Jack Story. The 1952 Cuba Cubs are still one of the most famous prep basketball teams in the Commonwealth's storied history, and Crittenden was right in the thick of it. He was named Kentucky All-State after the Cubs' run to the championship in 1952, but also garnered All-State honors in 1951 after leading Cuba to a state runner-up finish.

Crittenden was inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 1972, the Kentucky High School Hall of Fame in 1989, and the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2001, he was named to the Fabulous-50 as part of the best players to ever appear in the Kentucky state tournament. In July, Crittenden was part of the inaugural class of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

Following graduation, Crittenden was drafted by the NBA's New York Knicks. He decided instead to play in the National Industrial Basketball League for the Peoria Caterpillars, where he starred until 1960. Crittenden also a member of the first USA Basketball team to play in Russia, this coming in 1958 during the height of the Cold War.

Crittenden was a head coach at Metropolis (Ill.) High School from 1958-59, then served as the head coach at Calloway County from 1960-65. He was an assistant at Missouri for one year, then went on to serve as principal of both Calloway and Henderson County.

Larry England, who would lead CCHS to 14 speech/debate state championships in a 30-year teaching career, was a freshman when Crittenden helped  launch the Laker program in 1960.

"We felt we had a great chance of having a pretty strong program that could go against the big boys. Then we heard that our coach was going to be Howie Crittenden and we really got excited because, knowing his history from Murray State, we knew that he knew a lot about the game. I'd say we were beyond excited," England said Monday. "I didn't know it then, but I was also learning a lot of important things that I would use later (in guiding CCHS to 14 state speech/debate championships in 22 years, starting in 1977). I remember being asked in those years, 'Why in the world do ya'll win so much?' I told them that I was kind of using a basketball mentality, and I was using the preparation techniques that I'd seen from Howard when I played for him. That was the mentality he had given me when it came to how I coached our practices.

"He was one of our biggest supporters (while Crittenden was CCHS principal) because he could see that what we were doing was just as important as any of the other things going on at that school. I'm so proud that he was able to see what I was trying to do with those kids. These kids were not athletes like the kids that play basketball or football or baseball, but what they were doing, to them, meant as much."

Donna Herndon just missed serving under Crittenden as she left her teaching position at CCHS just before he took the principal position. However, she would get the chance to work with the Racer legend during her long tenure as director of the MSU Alumni Association.

"Anytime I needed something, he was always there to  help," Herndon said. "He was blue and gold through and through and was so proud of where he came from.

"He was not just a legendary basketball player but he was that in the field of education as well. When he went to Henderson, that was the largest high school in the state of Kentucky so for him to do what he did there really said what kind of administrator he was. In fact (Saturday) when I was talking to my son-in-law (Jeff Graves), I could sense that he had a real sense of sadness because Howie was his principal at Henderson. He was a gentleman on the court and in the halls and made lots of friends because of it. There is no telling how many students Murray State received from Henderson because of Howie's influence and what they would hear from him about the school and what it could offer."

"All of the Racer basketball family and Murray State University is extremely saddened by the passing of the legendary Howie Crittenden," Murray State head coach Steve Prohm said. "Howie embodied what a true Racer is, on and off the basketball court. Howie was very close to our program, our staff and our players. This is a tough day for all of Racer Nation."

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