Killian will be missed


The volleyball community lost one of the great ones and our area lost one of our legends Friday night. Donny Killian passed away from complications from pneumonia. He was surrounded by his four children as well as his entire family at his death. He was 57 and had survived two major cancer operations.

Donny was an outstanding athlete who was an All-County basketball player as a junior for Coach Tandy Gillis’ 1970 Corona del Mar Sea Kings. He could run, jump, shoot, and most importantly, play the hard-nosed defense that Tandy’s teams excelled at. The 1971 season looked even more promising with sophomore phenom Casey Jones joining the varsity until Killian’s season was ended with a torn ACL injury.

With the expectation of rehabbing, Killian committed to play basketball at UC Irvine. After spending a year rehabbing, the knee had not regained its previous strength. It appeared that Donny would not continue his athletic career at the NCAA level.


The Killian family had spent many days at the beach at T Street in San Clemente and there was always a volleyball court available so Donny played whenever possible. I was lucky enough to have played many games with him at those family outings. He loved to jump and hit which worked out well because I could set him.

With a rich USC family history, Killian opted to transfer to USC to enjoy college life as a student. Once there, he realized that there was a men’s volleyball team that he could play on. The strain on the knee was much less and they needed tall middle blockers.

Donny Killian realized his goal of playing NCAA athletics on the 1976 USC men’s volleyball team. The 1976 team featured a lefty off of the football team named Steve O’Bradovich and a freshman from San Clemente who had played on the Trojan basketball team, Bob Yoder.

While this season was not the most successful, the 1977 season was awesome.

With Brazilian Celso Kalache who had not played in 1976 due to the Olympics and freshman setter, Dusty Dvorak, joining the team, USC won its first NCAA national championship with Donny Killian in the middle. He had survived the disappointment of his basketball career and now was an NCAA champion at his school, USC.

This started a long line of Killians in USC volleyball. Donny’s brother, Doug, played on the 1982 and 1983 teams. Donny’s daughter, Lauren was the captain of back-to-back women’s national championship teams in 2002 and 2003. Lauren is married to NFL quarterback, Matt Cassel, who she met while at USC.

His oldest son, Don, also was a middle blocker in 2001. I actually recruited Don to come to UCI and narrowly lost the recruiting battle. His youngest son, Jimmy, was the setter for USC from 2005 through 2008. While his youngest daughter, Liza, played volleyball while young, she has opted in a different direction which is very understandable.

I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time with Donny before he moved to Hancock Park. With full court one-on-one basketball at the old Bay Club gym, abalone diving at Dana Cove (before Dana Harbor), surfing in Baja, Beach Boys concerts at UCI’s Crawford Hall (with Brian Wilson performing), or volleyball at T Street, he was such a special friend. I felt so honored to have been in his wedding.

Typically, after his first cancer surgery and a devastating divorce 15 years ago, Donny became an even better dad. He was at everything for his children and made sure that their lives were on track. His strength in adversity will always be special for those of us who knew him so well.

Talking to his life-long family friend, Scott Gaynor, Saturday, Scott called DK the “Best of the Best” and he was.

While superlatives are used abundantly, Don Killian was the Best of the Best. He was one of those people who when you saw him, you would always marvel at what he was wearing. When you finished a conversation, you would think back and wish that you had said what he said. As you walked away from one of his man-hugs, it was enamoring the charismatic feeling that lingered with you long after.

My best to Annabelle and Don, his parents, who were so instrumental in his charismatic yet storied life. My thoughts go to Doug, DK’s younger brother, who has a family of volleyball stars and his sister, Julie Kincheloe, who has two daughters who played collegiate volleyball.

I last saw Donny driving down a street in Corona del Mar in his 1964 Porsche roadster with the top down, impeccably dressed, and a smile on his face. That was Don Killian. We love you!

Don Killian’s funeral will be April 6 at Mariner’s Church in Irvine. A reception will follow at Big Canyon Country Club.