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Documentary on Hot Rod Hundley debuts March 30 at the Met

MORGANTOWN — Local production company Pikewood Creative will premier its documentary,

“Hot Rod,” at 7 p.m. today, in the Metropolitan Theatre on High Street.

The subject of the film is obvious to even the most casual Mountaineers basketball fans.

Rodney Clark “Hot Rod” Hundley and his prolific scoring totals and unbelievable antics on the court earned him well-deserved legendary status in the Mountain State.

And while his tenure at WVU — from his spectacular play on the freshman team, in 1953, through his senior year, in 1957 — boldly stands out in statistical form in the record books, mere numbers could never capture the excitement and wonder that Hundley brought to the WVU Field House.

Back in 1998, while a graduate student at WVU, producer Dan Lohmann worked on a short film on Hundley and was able to access vintage game footage, and what he saw simply amazed him.

“I’ll never forget watching the film of him clowning for the first time and thinking, ‘There’s no way he just did that,’ ” the Morgantown native and Emmy-winning Pikewood producer wrote in the film’s press release.

Hundley would ramp up his clowning only at the end of blowouts, yet the Harlem Globetrotter-esque performances drew fans in droves and brought national attention to WVU.

Hundley became only the fourth player in NCAA history to score over

2,000 points (in only three years), led the Mountaineers to their first three NCAA tournament berths in school history, and later was chosen as the first pick of the 1957 NBA draft, by the Cincinnati Royals, the only Mountaineer to ever get picked No. 1 overall.

A solid but unspectacular seven-year NBA career followed, but Hundley quickly reinvented himself as a broadcaster, and became equally legendary in the Salt Lake City region as the play-by-play voice of the Utah Jazz for three decades. He retired in 2009 and died in 2015.

That’s the story we all know, but “Hot Rod” reveals a much deeper, and often darker, story of a man who made everyone smile at the basketball arena, the banquet dais or the hotel bar, but struggled with his inner demons throughout his life.

“When I first saw the ’50s game film, and then coupled that with his icon status as a broadcaster, I knew we had a longer documentary,” Lohmann said. “But there’s always a story behind the story. What made him start to clown, something that absolutely no one had ever done before? Later, he was always the last guy to leave the party, never wanting to miss out. When we started to dig into that part of his life after he passed away, that’s what elevated this into a special story to tell.”

The product of a broken home, and raised by various families in Charleston,  Hundley was essentially living on his own by the time he matriculated to WVU. A stable family life would elude him through adulthood as well, as powerfully candid interviews with his three daughters conducted by longtime WVU sports announcer Tony Caridi reveal.

“Originally there was some question about whether they would consent to the interviews at all, and how much of their relationship with their father they’d be willing to share,” Caridi explained. “We had to sell ourselves a little, give them an idea of what our objectives were. We showed them some of the interviews — of the over

30 completed for the film — we already had, including one with Jim Nance (the famed CBS broadcaster), a close friend of the Hundley family, and that’s what did it.

“We also caught a break,” he continued, “since they were all together in Morgantown for Rod’s statue unveiling in 2016, and the day after, we brought them into our offices at Pikewood. They were in a good place, in a reflective mood, and I think it was just the right time for them to share their story. We didn’t want to make this a fluff piece, but we didn’t want to sensationalize it either. We wanted to tell the truth, and I think we did that.”

A three-year labor of love for Lohmann and Caridi — the announcer quipped that Lohmann was responsible for exactly 97.8 percent of the work, while he just talked to a bunch of people — the emotion-packed,

92-minute documentary will debut on television at 7 p.m. Tuesday,  on AT&T Sportsnet-Pittsburgh, and at 8 p.m.  April 16, on WVU Public Broadcasting stations.  AT&T Sportsnet-Rocky Mountain picked up the film for Jazz fans.

“It’s the complex story of an incredibly talented and charismatic West Virginian,” Lohmann concluded, “and truly, in my mind, one of the greatest sports personalities of our time. We’re honored and so proud to be able to tell his whole story.”