Somewhere in deepest West Virginia, Hot Rod Hundley got up from a speakeasy bar. "It's been a little slice of heaven," Hot Rod said. He says that quite a bit. He picked it up from a bartender named Pat McGrath when he was a substitute beachboy one summer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"Wait a minute," this West Virginia bartender said. "Aren't you Hot Rod Hundley?" Hot Rod still hears that quite a bit in West Virginia.
"No. 33 in your program, No. 1 in your heart," Hot Rod said, even throatier than usual. He has a very throaty voice that sounds something like Billy Eckstine's until he imitates Billy Eckstine.
" Rod Hundley!" the bartender exclaimed, marveling at the thought of it. "I saw you play at WVU. Have one on me."
"Cutty and water," Hot Rod said, settling back down naturally enough. "Take me, don't tease me." He picked that up from Pat McGrath, too. He says that Pat McGrath is "the greatest bartender in the world."
"It's Rod Hundley back," the man dealing blackjack told his constituents at the table.
"How sweet it is," murmured Hot Rod. What he speaks most of the time is sort of a vocal pop art.
He leaned back at the bar, and all these people in the place came over and reminisced about seeing him play. Hot Rod led the reminiscing. It had been a decade since he was clowning and, incidentally, playing All-America basketball at West Virginia University. Now he was back, a representative for a basketball-shoe firm, and going back can sometimes be a disillusioning confrontation for an old star. With Hundley, however, there was no such problem. The people back home consider him as much a personality as an All-America.
Still, they all said proudly that they had seen him play. This is possible, for Hot Rod Hundley has played West Virginia. Besides playing at the university in Morgantown, he played in high school in Charleston and in the summer leagues in Wheeling, where he performed for Spear's Oilers and Stobbs Parking. Spear's did not have a very good team. Whitey, the coach, used to mix gin and tonic on the bench. Whitey mixed the gin and tonic for the players. "We called a lot of time-outs," Hot Rod reminisced.
After he used up his college eligibility, Hundley turned down an offer from Abe Saperstein who, like Marques Haynes later, fancied Rod as sort of a white Globetrotter. Instead, Hot Rod toured all over the state—all over—with the Hundley All-Stars. They played 30 games in 30 nights: Mason, Ravens-wood, Logan, Moundsville, Iaeger, New Martinsville, Hundred, Sistersville and other, smaller towns in between. So it is possible that literally everybody in West Virginia saw Hot Rod Hundley play.