BOULDER —University of Colorado basketball great Cliff Meely passed away here late Tuesday at Boulder Community Hospital due to complications from a blood infection. He was 65.
One of the pure prolific scorers and rebounders in the history of CU basketball during his four-year career (1968-1971), Meely remains either at or near the top in over a dozen statistical categories some four-plus decades later.
A fixture at men’s and women’s basketball games at the Coors Events Center regardless of the team’s performance, Meely, generally in good health, developed septic shock from the infection and died unexpectedly.
“Our entire university community mourns the death of Buff basketball legend Cliff Meely,” said CU Chancellor Dr. Phil DiStefano. “He was a valued member of our CU family and the Boulder community, and a life-long supporter of CU athletics who was a fixture at our men's and women's basketball games. He will be greatly missed.”
He began his career at Colorado during the 1968-69 season after transferring from Northeastern (Colo.) Junior College in Sterling. He had helped lead Northeastern to the National JC Championships and was named to the JUCO All-America team.
Known for his quickness and agility, Meely could play any position on the floor. Under late coach Russell “Sox” Walseth, Meely led Colorado to the Big Eight title in 1968-69, as the Buffaloes were 21-7 with a 10-4 mark in league play. A three-time All-Big Eight team member, Meely earned first-team All-America honors as a senior and set 16 school and eight conference records during his career.
Additionally, Meely’s 24.3 points per game career scoring average is still a school record and his 427 points scored in league play set a Big Eight Conference record in 1971.
Meely was a leader on the Buffs’ last Big Eight title team. Overall, the Buffs won 49 games during his time with Walseth, the fourth most over any three-year span in CU history.
“He is the most complete player I have ever coached,” said Walseth. “He was just outstanding for three straight years. He wasn’t just a great scorer, but he was a great defensive player and rebounder, too.”
Legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told CU play-by-play announcer Mark Johnson that Meely likely was among the top five most underrated college basketball players of all time.
In 1995-96, Meely was named to the Associated Press’ all-time Big Eight first team. He joined the-late Wayman Tisdale (Oklahoma), Danny Manning (Kansas), Jo Jo White (Kansas State) and Rolando Blackman (Kansas State) on the team.
In addition the conference honor, Meely also earned the NCAA’s Silver Anniversary Award presented to six former collegiate athletes who have gained recognition or done great work in their postgraduate careers.
In March, Meely was inducted in the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I thought he was a true gentleman, and you look at the numbers and he was arguably the best player ever to play here . . . what I love is that he came to Boulder from Chicago and stayed there, made this his home,” CU men’s basketball head coach Tad Boyle said. “He loved the university; he was a special guy. This is a sad day. He went too early.”
Meely still holds the CU scoring mark for most points a single game (47) and owns five of the top eight scoring games in school history. His jersey number (20) is just one of two retired numbers in the CU annals.
As the Buffs enter the 2013-2014 season, Meely ranks second for most points scored in a season (729), third in career rebounding (971), and is fourth in career points (1,940). He still owns the two top single season scoring averages in CU history: 28.0 as a senior in 1970-71, and 23.8 as a sophomore in 1968-69. His 12.1 career rebound average remains one of the top numbers ever posted collegiately.
In May of 2011, Meely was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Along with Tim Hardaway (Carver High School, 1984), Meely was one of 11 former high school greats to be honored.
Meely, who would have turned 66 on July 10, was born in Rosedale, Miss. He led Chicago’s Harlan High School to a pair of divisional championships before graduating in 1967. He received more than 200 scholarship offers during his prep career.
“It was a great honor with all the prominent players coming out of Chicago ... for me to be inducted, it adds to some of the notable honors I have received,” Meely said at the time. “Chicago is one of the greatest basketball areas in the country – if not the greatest. I am overwhelmed by it all.”
Meely went on to play six seasons (over 300 games) in the National Basketball Association with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
Meely is survived by three children, sons Tordell and Jamil and daughter Nemika, a sister, Patricia, and longtime girlfriend Jeanine Zumerchik. Services are pending (a memorial service has been scheduled for Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. in the Byron White Club room at Folsom Field.).