Chuck Darling was the most decorated center in University of Iowa basketball history for more than six decades. That changed when Luka Garza came to town.
On April 6, the same day Garza locked up consensus National Player of the Year honors when he was presented with the Wooden Award, Darling passed away at 91 year of age in Littleton, Colo.
The program’s first two-time consensus two-time all-American and Big Ten Player of the Year, Garza had a career that will never be forgotten. But now seems like the proper time to touch on Darling’s magnificent career as well.
Garza is one of three consensus all-Americans in Iowa history. Darling was another. Four players have been named Big Ten Player of the Year. Darling was one of them. He was also an Olympic Gold Medalist in 1956 and established numerous Big Ten and Iowa records as a senior in 1951-52.
His 30 rebounds against Wisconsin in the final game of his Hawkeye career remains a school record, and is tied for the second-most in Big Ten history. His 25-rebound game against Purdue as a junior is still tied for second on Iowa’s all-time list.
Darling scored 1,094 career points over three seasons. Freshmen were not eligible when he played. He spent his time on his classwork. He also spent hours at Iowa Fieldhouse, jumping rope to improve his agility and conditioning.
Darling was born in Denison on March 30, 1930. His family moved to Helena, Montana, where he was an all-state basketball player as a sophomore after growing six inches (to 6-8). Then they moved again, this time to Denver, Colo., where his South Denver High School team lost the first game of his junior season and then not again until the final game of his senior season. According to Buck Turnbull’s book, “Iowa Hawkeyes Men’s Basketball Great Moments in Team History,” Darling’s father, Elmer, earned a graduate degree from Iowa. Chuck, an only child, spent some time living in Iowa City when his father was in school.
Chuck also wanted to study geology in college, and Iowa had a good program. Iowa Coach Pops Harrison heard this and started to recruit Darling in earnest. He got his man. Chuck selected Iowa over Yale.
“I never regretted my decision, because I felt Iowa would be better for me,” Darling told Turnbull. “My mother (Viola) never forgave me for not going to Yale.”
Darling was a three-year starter at Iowa. On the eve of the 1949-50 season, the Cedar Rapids Gazette said of the new center, “Darling, a three-time all-stater from Denver, Colo., has a hook shot that is hard to stop and his reach makes him a rebounder and tip-in artist that will stand Iowa in good stead among the rangy Big Ten competitors.”
Darling averaged 9.2 points a game his sophomore season, then increased it to 16.3 as a junior. He also averaged 17.6 rebounds that season. Rebounding statistics at Iowa are incomplete from his sophomore and senior seasons.
Darling played for three different coaches at Iowa. Harrison started out the 1949-50 season but had a health issue. Bucky O’Connor, the freshman coach, took over on an interim basis a month into the campaign. Rollie Williams coached Darling as a junior and then O’Connor was named head coach before 1951-52.
Four years later, O’Connor would play an unusual but significant role in Darling’s spot on the U.S. Olympic team in Melbourne, Australia.
Darling turned in one of the greatest seasons ever turned in by an Iowa player in 1951-52. He averaged 25.5 points a game, a figure that ranked fourth nationally behind Clyde Lovellette of Kansas, Dick Groat of Duke and Bob Pettit of LSU.
In Big Ten games only, Darling averaged 26 points a game. No Iowa player averaged more in league play until Garza (26.2) in 2019-20. The previous high average in Big Ten history had been 22.7 by Iowa’s other Consensus all-American, Murray Wier, in 1948. Darling set Big Ten records for points in a season, field goals in a season, career points and most free throws in one game.
All those records are long gone. But his 30-rebound performance against Wisconsin in 1952 has stood the test of time. Only one player, Walt Bellamy of Indiana, has had more rebounds (32) in Big Ten history.
Darling’s 30 rebounds came in a stunning season-ending 78-75 loss to last-place Wisconsin at home. That cost the Hawkeyes a share of the Big Ten title with Illinois.
Darling was named Big Ten Player of the Year and a Consensus all-American. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate as a senior.
Enshrined in the University of Iowa’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990, he also lettered twice in track for the Hawkeyes.
Selected with the eighth pick of the 1952 NBA Draft by the Rochester Royals, Darling passed on that opportunity. Darling put his geology degree to good use by going to work for Phillips 66. He played basketball for that company’s powerhouse basketball team, the Phillips Oilers of the National Industrial Basketball League.
The Oilers won the right to represent the United States in the 1956 Olympics by winning a qualifying tournament in Kansas City, Mo. Darling’s team beat the College All-Stars, coached by O’Connor, in the final. And Darling got the better of Bill Russell as well as his old coach. Russell had scored 26 points and grabbed 27 rebounds to lead San Francisco to an 83-71 victory over O’Connor’s Hawkeyes in the NCAA title game earlier in 1956. Now, O’Connor was his Russell’s coach. Darling’s team beat the collegians, 79-75. Darling scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half, and added 10 rebounds. Russell finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
“That Darling turned in one of the greatest games he’s ever played,” O’Connor said. “And I ought to know about Darling.”
O’Connor was selected as an alternate Olympic coach, and Iowa’s Carl Cain was one of several players picked to join the 12-man U.S. team at the Olympics. The Americans dominated in all eight victories, including an 89-55 victory over Russia in the final.
After basketball, Darling’s career with Phillips took him to England, Egypt and the western United States before he settled in Colorado.
According to his obituary, Darling, a lifelong Presbyterian, “enjoyed singing in the choir, helping his church, and volunteering in his community, especially with the Sertoma organization. He enjoyed music, singing, reading (especially scientific articles), traveling, good food with friends and family celebrations.”
Darling and his wife, Kay, were married for 68 years and had three children and 13 grandchildren/step grandchildren. A memorial Celebration of Life Service is pending.