Former University of Tennessee basketball All-American Tom Boerwinkle passed away Tuesday at his home near Chicago following a lengthy illness, the university said. He was 67-years-old.
A native of Independence, Ohio, Boerwinkle was the first 7-foot player in Tennessee history. He helped lead coach Ray Mears' Volunteers to the 1967 SEC Championship with a 21-7 overall record and 15-3 league mark. Boerwinkle was first-team All-SEC honoree in 1967 and 1968, and in 1968 he was named a Helms Foundation first-team All-American. He led UT in rebounding in 1967 (10.2) and 1968 (11.3) and averaged a double-double in both of those seasons.
"Tom was a once-in-a-lifetime guy," close friend and former UT teammate Bill Justus said. "When you meet a guy like him and have him as a teammate, he becomes a brother to you, and there's no replacing someone like that. Despite his sheer size and presence, he was as genuine and loyal as can be. That's not just me saying that; those are the sentiments of many, many of his former teammates. What a gentle giant we've lost… one of our best friends."
In Tennessee's SEC title-clinching triple-overtime triumph at Mississippi State on March 6, 1967, Boerwinkle played all 55 minutes and finished with a game-high 15 rebounds.
"I've very definitely gotten more satisfaction out of watching him develop than any boy I've coached," Mears once said of Boerwinkle. "It's always pleasing as a coach to see a boy who is limited surpass his potential."
Arguably one of the most skilled and dominant post players in Tennessee history, Boerwinkle was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the fourth overall pick in the 1968 NBA Draft and played 10 seasons for the Bulls (1968-78). His 37 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 8, 1970, has stood as a Bulls franchise record for more than 40 years.
Following his retirement from professional basketball, he spent time as the Bulls' radio color analyst before venturing into private business in Illinois.
Boerwinkle was honored as UT's SEC Basketball Legend at the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans, and he was voted onto Tennessee's All-Century Team in 2009.