Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jerry Lucas: The Stuff of Legends

Jerry LucasWhen most people think of legends in the field of athletics, Middletown Ohio probably does not come to mind very quickly. However, the name Jerry Lucas is probably one of the first things people would think of.

Born in Middletown, Ohio, on March 30, 1940, Jerry Lucas played an amazing basketball career spannig 20 years and breking numerous high school, college, and professional records. Middletown Ohio, a community of around 50,000 people, had one of the best high school basketball teams in the country in the 1940's and 1950's that spawned one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. Early in his years as a basketball player, Jerry Lucas was already known on the playground by his impressive skills with the ball. At age 15, Lucas was almost at his full grown height of 6'9". By this time he was already developing an impressive shooting accuracy from 30 feet and was training his jumping ability and timing to become a very impressive rebounder.

In 1956 and 1957, Lucas led his hometown Middletown Middies to back-to-back undefeated seasons and Ohio High School State Chamionship titles. WIth his impressive array array of talents, it was no surprise that Lucas broke nearly every existing Ohio high school record during these two seasons. It is because of these talents and records that Lucas arguably the first high school basketball player to be known coast-to-coast, which may not seem all that special today, but this was in a time when there was no internet, t.v. was just a baby, and people's primary electronic enterainment was the radio. More impressivley is that Lucas drew out crowds as large as 10,000 people which shadowed local colleges and even the state's professional basketball team the Cincinnati Royals.

High school was not the end of Lucas' career however. Lucas was offered over 150 athletic scholarships and had his pick of any school he wanted. Most people thought that Lucas would choose to play for Adolph Rupp at the Universuty of Kentucky, but when the recruiting staff for U.K. approached Lucas before the regulated recruitment time, he opted for Ohio State which, at the time, was not well known for basketball greatness. Lucas insisted on an academic scholarship which came easily for him since he was already well known for his intelligence and memory being nearly a straight-A student. An old urban myth goes that Lucas persuaded fellow star high school recruits Bobby Knight and John Havlicek to go with him to Ohio State. Surprising to most, Lucas did not play on the varsity squad his freshman year due to strict NCAA rules that a freshman must wait one year for varsity play.

Jerry Lucas Sports IllustratedDuring his years on Varsity, Lucas led the Buckeyes to three straigh NCAA Finals and an amazing record of 78 wins and 6 losses over three seasons. During his career at Ohio State, Lucas led the nation in shooting accuracy all three years, rebounding for two years, and won a National Championship in 1960. At Ohio State, Lucas was All-American all 3 years, Big Ten Player of the Year all 3 years, and, named above all college and Pro athletes, Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" in 1961.

In 1960, Lucas was added to the roster of the U.S Olympic Men's Basketball team set to play in the Rome Olympics. The team, whose roster included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Walt Bellamy, and Terry Dischinger, went on to win all 9 games and the Olympic Gold Medal. Lucas was co-leading scorer and leading rebounder and made an incredible 84% of his shots in the Olympics. U.S. coach Pete Newell named Lucas "the greatest player I have ever coached."

In 1963, Lucas joined the NBA playing for the Cincinnati Royals. Lucas, along with teammate Oscar Robertson, were named First Team All-NBA in 1965, 1966, and 1968 and Lucas won Rookie of the Year and both men had been consecutive All-Star Game MVP's. While also at Cincinnati, Lucas became a 5-time All-Pro and 6-time All-Star player and also averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in a single season and was also the only player in NBA history to pull down 40 rebounds in a single game! His career in the NBA included multiple Finals apperances and Championships as well as numerous All-Star apperances and victories.

Jerry Lucas is widley considered to be the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. In his impressive career he has played at every level of the game. In each level he has broken uncountable records, won numerous championships and is the only basketball player in the history of the game to win a championship in each level of play, i.e. High School, College, Professional, and Olympic basketball. He has had his high school jersey number 13 retired at Middletown High School, his number 11 jersey number retired at Ohio State University(the second in school history), and has been inducted into the National Basketball Association's Hall of Fame. No one can ever match up to the accomplishments on and off the court of Jerry Lucas. He will forever be a legend in the ciy of Middletown, the state of Ohio, the NBA, the Olympics, and the game of basketball as a whole

1 comment:

Gerry said...

Nice article, which recounts a lot of great things Luke did. A couple of things, though.
First, Luke was not the only player to pull down 40 rebounds in a game. He is, however, the only NBA forward to do it.
Second, Luke being widely considered the best player ever is laying it on a little thick. Great, great player, no question. A legend. But I've never heard anyone call him the best player ever. Thanks.