Q&A w/ Billy Shepherd: Butler's All-Time Leading Scorer

February 26th, 2010

Billy Shepherd is Butler University's all-time leading scorer, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, and former professional who got to play with Dr J & George Gervin. CHN's Jon Teitel was lucky enough to spend some time with this Indiana basketball legend:

Jon Teitel: You played at Carmel High School for your father: what was it like to play for your dad, and what did you learn from him?

Billy Shepherd: If you play for your dad in high school and, it usually works out well. At the time it was a small high school that had not experienced much winning, so it was a neat time to play there and have the community rally around us.

Teitel: In 1968 you scored 70 points in a game vs. Brownsburg, and you were selected as Indiana's Mr. Basketball: what are your memories of the 70-point game, and what did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?

Shepherd: The 70-PT game really put me on the map. Back then we did not really make a college choice until our senior year, so it put my name among the most elite names. It was big news around the state, and probably helped me get the Mr. Basketball award, which is the greatest honor ever bestowed on me. In this state they remember how you played in high school: I never played the game to win that award, but it was tremendous.

Teitel: You turned down a chance to go to UCLA and play for John Wooden in the middle of his streak of winning 7 straight NCAA titles: how close did you come to heading west, and how big a factor was the fact that your Dad is a Butler alum?

Shepherd: UCLA was 1 of my final 4 college choices. I never visited their campus, but I got to meet Coach Wooden and his players during a game they played at Purdue. I chose Butler because I wanted to play for Coach Hinkle (as my dad had also played for him). Coach Hinkle was getting old, so I thought that my dad might eventually take over for him.

Teitel: Your original coach at Butler was Tony Hinkle, who introduced the orange-colored basketball (it had been dark brown for the 1st half of the 1900s): what was it like to play for Coach Hinkle, and what did you learn from him?

Shepherd: I attended many Butler games growing up, and Coach Hinkle was legend: he was the Bob Knight of his time. I had thought about eventually becoming a coach, and Coach Hinkle was well-known for having players who became coaches. We ran the Butler system in high school, so it was an easy adjustment for me. He was a great man, and I learned more life lessons from him than basketball lessons.

Teitel: In your 1st year on the varsity you averaged 27.8 PPG, which is still a school record: how were you able to come in and contribute from the start, and how high were expectations for you the following season?

Shepherd: I knew that I would have an opportunity to play as a sophomore, as we beat the varsity during our freshman year. I knew they had great supporting cast, but I could visualize the chance to become their leader, so I could not wait for my freshman season to be over. It was a great group of team players, and I ended up scoring at least 21 PPG in every single game that season.

Teitel: In 1970 you scored a career-high 49 points in a loss to Arizona: was it just 1 of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?

Shepherd: It was a fast-paced up-and-down game, so I got to take about 30 shots. If we had played with a 3-PT line back then, I probably would have had finished with about 63 PTS.

Teitel: In 1970 you scored 38 points in a seven-point loss to Notre Dame (Austin Carr had 50 points): was Carr the best opponent you ever played against in college, and could you tell at the time that he was going to become a star?

Shepherd: He was a tremendous player, and a big guard. We played 9 of the Big-10 schools that season, so we had a tremendous schedule. Carr was great, but we also played against guys like Jim McDaniels, Rick Mount, etc.

Teitel: You career scoring average of 24.1 PPG is still the highest in school history: did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?

Shepherd: Not really: it was the same with my high school career. When you are playing, you are not going for records: I did not read the sports section to see how I was doing. I was just blessed to play in an era where you were expected to shoot when you were open. I was hurt almost my entire senior year, otherwise I would have scored even more.

Teitel: In 1972 you played for Virginia in the ABA with Dr. J and George Gervin: how did you even get on the court with those legends, and which 1 were you more impressed by?

Shepherd: I suffered a knee injury and missed the 1st eight weeks of the season. The ABA was a great life lesson and an eye-opening experience, as it gave me an appreciation for my former teammates who had to sit on the bench and just be a practice player. I cannot separate the 2 legends because they played different positions, but I tell people that I had the best seat in the house. Gervin came to our team late in the season, but I remain friends with them both. Dr. J was the Michael Jordan of his era, and Gervin had a great career with the Spurs.

Teitel: In 1973 you played for San Diego and Coach Wilt Chamberlain: what was it like to play for Wilt, and what did you learn from him?

Shepherd: It was great for me to go to a situation where I was starting and playing 35-40 minutes per night. I think Wilt was misunderstood, as many people thought he was just coaching because it was something to do. He signed with San Diego to be a player-coach, but the NBA filed an injunction that kept him playing. Wilt had a great appreciation for guys who could get the ball inside, and that was the main reason I was able to play pro ball: my best skills were ball-handling and passing.

Teitel: In 1974 you played with Memphis and led the ABA in three-point shooting (42%), ahead of such stars as Louie Dampier and George McGinnis: could you have succeeded in the NBA despite its lack of a three-point line, and what is your secret for three-point shooting?

Shepherd: I think so, but the three-point shot was instrumental to my career. Another reason I went to Butler is because I wanted to play in a town that also had an ABA team (the Pacers). Long-range shooting was 1 of my strengths, but there were not a lot of jobs in pro basketball due to there being so many great players. It was definitely a thrill for me, as it is nice to set a league record.

Teitel: You averaged 5.7 PPG and 3.9 APG in your professional career: how satisfied are you with your career, and how do you want people to remember you?

Shepherd: I am real satisfied: it was always a goal of mine to play pro ball, and accomplishing that was very satisfying. My career turned out about as I expected. I was a scorer in high school and college, but I had pro teammates who were great athletes/scorers, so I was happy to just feed my teammates.

Teitel: After retiring you worked as a scout for Marty Blake: what was it like working for Marty, and who was the best player you ever scouted?

Shepherd: Larry Bird at Indiana State was the best player I ever scouted, but I was lucky to see a lot of great players. It was fun to work for Marty, and I was in charge of college scouting for the state of Indiana. It was a fun organization to work for, and it kept me around the game I loved, but it did not pay all the bills, so I also spent some time working for Converse.

Teitel: You operate a website (www.askbillyshep.com) that helps parents deal with raising a son or daughter who is an athlete. What is the key to dealing with young athletes, and what is the biggest difference between young athletes from your era and young athletes today?

Shepherd: The key is that the passion has to come from that child rather than from the parents. Kids have many more choices today than they did 30-40 years ago, as there is a lot of competition outside the athletic arena. Parents must also be supportive.

Teitel: Speaking of family, yours has a very impressive athletic lineage: your dad coached for 40 years, your brother David was Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 1970, your son Scott made it to the Elite 8 with FSU in 1993, your son Jeff was a 3-time All-American basketball player at Huntington University, and your daughter Karli was a 2-time high school state finalist in golf. Is it a coincidence that you have such an athletic family, or do you credit at least some of their success to genetics?

Shepherd: I think genetics has something to do with it, but it is more about being around sports than being born into a sport. My parents were very supportive of me growing up: they were fans of athletics in general rather than just basketball. I was hoping that my kids would turn out to be basketball players, but I just wanted them to have the chance to become an athlete: be part of team, make sacrifices, put forth a lot of hard work, and just compete.

Teitel's List: Horizon League's Best ABA/NBA Products (by school)

Butler: Billy Shepherd (1973)
Cleveland State: Franklin Edwards (1982)
Detroit: Dave DeBusschere (1963)
Wisconsin Green Bay: Tony Bennett (1993)
Illinois Chicago: Sherell Ford (1996)
Loyola Chicago: Les Hunter (1965)
Valparaiso: John Janisch (1947)
Wisconsin Milwaukee: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Wright State: Vitaly Potapenko (1997)
Youngstown State: Leo Mogus (1947)