Unseld starred for the Seneca High School team that won Kentucky state championships in 1963 and 1964. He was recruited by over 100 colleges, including the University of Kentucky. Unseld became the first African-American athlete to be offered an athletic scholarship to the school when Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball coach Adolph Rupp attempted to recruit him to the team. Integration leaders in Louisville tried to persuade Unseld to attend the University of Kentucky and stated that "it would be good for Kentucky and the Southeastern Conference. " However, he chose to enroll at the University of Louisville in 1965 where he played center for the school's freshman team and averaged 35. 8 points and 23. 6 rebounds over 14 games. Unseld lettered for Louisville as a sophomore (1965–66), junior (1966–67), and senior (1967–68), scored 1,686 points (20. 6 average) and grabbed 1,551 rebounds (18. 9 average) over 82 games. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding all three years.