By Natalie Fiorilli | The Duquesne Duke
It can be presumed that height is a limiting factor in one’s chances at playing professional basketball, and actually only 24 players under the height of 5-foot-nine have made it to the NBA. Duquesne basketball hall of famer Willie Somerset, who stood at 5-foot-8, overcame those odds after being drafted into the NBA in 1965.
Originally drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1965, Somerset played in five games before moving to the American Basketball Association. As a member of the Houston Mavericks and later the New York Nets, he averaged 22.8 points per game in 135 games in the ABA from 1967 to 1969.
Somerset reflected upon his years at Duquesne recently at the “Celebration of a Century” event for the men’s basketball program Oct. 21. The event took place at the Lexus Club in CONSOL Energy Center, in honor of Duquesne basketball’s 100th year.
“[Duquesne] is where it all began,” Somerset said. “There was some great coaches and players that I met here. It was a great part of my life.”
Somerset was a part of Duquesne’s glory years, leading the Dukes to two NIT appearances while playing only three seasons, missing his final year with a leg injury.
Somerset tallied the most points in a span of three seasons for the Dukes, putting up 1,725 total. His career average of 22.7 points per game also still stands as a record for the Red & Blue. Another program best in his name was set when he tallied 30 points in a game for the 16th time in his career with the Dukes.
Somerset racked up 47 points in a game against Xavier at the Civic Arena, breaking the record for the most points scored in a single game at the venue. In 1968 he was honored as one of the “Outstanding Young Men of America.”
After his run with professional basketball, Somerset went on to pursue a career in pharmacy. He also stands as the highest drafted Duquesne baseball player in history, being drafted as an infielder by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round (50th overall) of the 1966 amateur draft.
His jersey, along with the jerseys of four other Duquesne basketball legends — Chuck Cooper, Sihugo Green, Norm Nixon and Dick Ricketts — hangs from the rafters of the Palumbo Center today.