Dean Tolson was one of the top prep basketball players in the state of Missouri his junior and senior years at Central High School in Kansas City. So, when the colleges came running, he accepted a full ride to the University of Arkansas. Despite being unable to read or write, he went on to be one of the most prolific players to grace the Razorbacks’ campus. In 1974, Tolson was the first basketball player to be drafted by both the NBA and the ABA, having been selected by the Seattle Supersonics and the New York Nets, respectively, ultimately playing for the legendary Bill Russell in Seattle. Following his basketball career, Tolson made the courageous decision to re-enroll at the University of Arkansas, and repeated all four years, this time legitimately. At the age of fifty-two, he returned to the university for three more years, earning a master’s degree and graduated magna cum laude. Tolson’s gripping story from his childhood in an orphanage to his academic achievements is not only an indictment of a system that would just “pass you along” from grade to grade as a hot basketball prospect without any educational accountability, but also an inspiring story of overcoming great odds to find success.
Byron "Dean" Tolson was born in Kansas City, Kansas on November 25, 1951. He overcame a childhood of poverty, illiteracy, and five years in an orphanage to become an NBA basketball player. He was drafted from the University of Arkansas by former superstar player Bill Russell, by then the general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics, in 1974, where he played for three seasons. At the age of fifty-two he returned for three more years and graduated with a master’s degree in Education and magna cum laude honors. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Scholars Honor Society in Chicago, Illinois. For the past thirty years he's been a professional motivational speaker on the subject of "Better Your Best and Bring Out the Best of Others," delivering more than three hundred speeches everywhere from top universities to private membership clubs and corporate organizations.