Induction Year: 1988
If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
Bill Reigel didn’t make the high school basketball squad at Monaca, Pa., as a freshman. He didn’t make it as a sophomore. He didn’t make it as a junior.
To say the least, Reigel wasn’t easily discouraged. Aided by a growth spurt (six inches, to a height of 6-3) between his junior and senior years, he made the team in his final year – launching a career that would eventually produce a national championship at McNeese State College.
“It was a matter of doing a little bit of growing up, physically and emotionally,” Reigel recalled of his high school rejections. “I really don’t think I ever took any of those cuts as a setback. I just came back more determined each year. My last year, I was just grateful that I would finally get a chance to play.”
He averaged 22 points a game, earning All-State honors and a scholarship to Duquesne University. After one year at Duquesne, he transferred to Duke – where he was a roommate of Lefty Driesell. Reigel averaged 18 points a game to lead the Blue Devils to the No. 12 spot in the final Associated Press poll (the school’s highest finish before 1958) and was selected to a national all-sophomore team.
Then the United States Army made Reigel an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Back then, just being a college student didn’t defer you,” he recalled. “I was drafted.”
He continued to play basketball while he was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, winning a berth on the All-Army team. That is how he met Charles Kuehn, McNeese State’s first basketball All-American and a former assistant coach for the Cowboys.
After his discharge, Reigel headed to Lake Charles to spend the final 1 ˝ seasons of his college eligibility playing for Ralph Ward’s McNeese State Cowboys.
By that time, he was 6-5 – and he had developed a turnaround jump shot that was deadly within 12 feet of the basket. He scored more than 40 points in 13 of his 47 games with McNeese, setting the school record with 57 against Southeastern Louisiana and hitting 53 in a victory over Northeast Louisiana.
Ward built his offense around Reigel as the Cowboys posted a 33-3 record marred only by a one-point loss to Lamar Tech, a four-pointer to New Mexico A&M and a 12-pointer to Gulf States Conference rival Northwestern State in Natchitoches.
In a best-of-three series with Centenary College for a berth in the NAIA tournament, McNeese trailed by nine points at halftime of the opener at Shreveport, 43-34. Reigel had only three field goals in the first half, but he added 11 in the second half for a Haynes Memorial Gymnasium record total of 43 points as the Cowboys came from behind in the last 44 seconds to score a 76-72 victory. Centenary held Reigel to 18 points in the second game, played at Lake Charles, but the other Cowboys took up the scoring slack to score a 74-64 victory.
In the national tournament, McNeese rolled past Georgetown of Kentucky, Central State of Ohio, Texas A&I and Pittsburg State of Kansas before defeating a tall, talented Texas Southern team 60-55 in the championship. Reigel, who had 1,001 points in regular-season-play, added 219 (31.3) in the seven post-season games for a total of 1,220 – second highest in NCAA small college history at that time.
The come-from-behind victory in the title game gave the Cowboys – described by one rival coach as “the smallest, the scrawniest and the most under-nourished looking team in the tournament” – the national championship as they finished the season with an 18-game winning streak.
The Minneapolis Lakers offered Reigel an $8,500 contract. But he was able to make just as much money staying in Lake Charles to play with an AAU team called the McDonald Scots, and that’s what he chose to do.
He played AAU basketball six years: three apiece with the McDonald Scots and the Goodyear Wing Foots. After suffering a broken wrist, he developed a hook shot to replace the turnaround jumper. But he was still a prolific scorer, tossing in 103 points in one AAU game.
When Ward retired in 1971, Reigel returned to Lake Charles as head coach at McNeese State. In three seasons, his teams posted a 55-20 record. Then he went into high school teaching, as an English teacher and athletic director at South Beauregard High.
“It’s an honor that I am proud of,” Reigel said when he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, “and it is one that I share with the teammates I had at McNeese. Without a doubt, that national championship team had more desire to be champions than any other I have ever been associated with.”
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