One of eastern Kentucky’s basketball legends, Donnie “Donnis” Butcher, died Monday at the age of 76.
Butcher was a 6-foot-3 guard who played for Meade Memorial, then went on to Pikeville College to play for his brother Paul, where Donnis was a two-time All-American. He was eventually taken in the seventh round of the 1961 NBA Draft by the New York Knickerbockers.
Butcher was traded to the Detroit Pistons, where he carved out his best days as a player and a coach, posting a 52-60 record across three seasons that was the best the Pistons had been at that time in the franchise history. He led the Pistons to a playoff berth in 1968, an achievement he considered one of his greatest moments as a professional. Dave Debusschere and Dave Bing, both future NBA Hall of Famers, were on that team.
As a player, he was with the Pistons for five seasons and played in Wilt Chamberlain’s famous 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Butcher had a tenth of Wilt’s total with 10 points. Butcher was known for his scrappiness and hustle. He averaged 6.2 points and probably as many floor burns.
Growing up in the 15th Region, Butcher was known for his all-around ability to score, defend and handle the basketball. Meade Memorial was in a tough district that included Inez, Oil Springs, Flat Gap and Paintsville. Meade Memorial never made it to the State Tournament.
Meade Memorial and Paintsville played five times during the 1955 season, Butcher’s senior year, with Meade winning every decision. The last one came in the 15th Regional semifinals against the Tigers, who finished that season 19-12. During Butcher’s junior and senior years, Meade Memorial was 10-1 against good Paintsville teams.
Meade Memorial finished 30-1 in Butcher’s senior season with the lone loss coming to Pikeville in the regional finals.
Butcher was selected to the 1955 Kentucky All-Star team for its two-game series with Indiana. The Hoosiers had won 15 of 16 games, and had a 12-game winning streak. He played with Male star Kenny Kuhn, the first Mr. Basketball selected by a statewide vote. Also on the team was John “Pie” Liveious of Louisville Central. Liveious was a 17-year-old African American who, as a 6-4 center, had led Louisville Central to a national title while earning All-Nation and All-State honors.
Johnny Cox of Hazard was another All-Star for Kentucky.
Indiana won the first game 94-86 but Kentucky rallied for an 86-82 overtime victory in the second game to break a 13-game Hoosier winning streak, with Butcher scoring 13 points. Liveious had 27 points and 17 rebounds and was named Kentucky’s Player of the Game.
E.A. Diddle, the Western Kentucky coach, was the All-Star coach, as he had done in previous seasons, much to the chagrin of some who thought he favored those who he could recruit. Diddle coached the team one more year before giving way to high school coaches.
Donnis Butcher’s son, Donnie, is the head coach at the University of the Cumberlands. Funeral services and burial will be in Williamsport, Ky. An online guestbook is at www.phillipsfuneral.com.