Earlier this year I wrote a column about a few local basketball players who had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game during their playing careers. That column prompted several responses from readers about other matchups between local players and athletes of note. Here are a couple more:
Dick Kortokrax (Ottoville H.S.-Anderson College) vs. Bevo Francis (Rio Grande College) 1954
I was absolutely floored when Coach Kortokrax told me this story.
Kortokrax’s remarkable coaching career spanned seven decades and by the time he stepped down, he was standing on top of the heap with the most wins in Ohio high school basketball history. But, to me, this story is nearly as impressive. For those of you who are not familiar with Bevo Francis, he was the biggest story in the basketball world in the 1950s.
He was scoring points at a clip that has never been witnessed before or since. Twice Bevo scored more than 100 points in a game and made tiny Rio Grande College the talk of the country. His 48 points a game scoring average has remained an NCAA record for nearly 70 years.
At one point, Rio Grande ran off 40 straight wins over two seasons. Their coach, Newt Oliver, took tiny Rio Grande College and the 6-foot-9 Bevo on an east coast road trip that included stops at Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden where they played the likes of Villanova, North Carolina State and Wake Forest before sold-out crowds. Their improbable story dominated the headlines of sports pages from coast to coast.
Rio Grande made another stop that year, at Anderson College in Indiana, where a young junior by the name of Dick Kortokrax took on the challenge of trying to slow the Bevo scoring machine down. He remembers the that night well.
“We had to move the game to Anderson High School because our gym only held 1,000 fans. It was standing room only,” Kortokrax recalled. Rio Grande’s fast start threatened to turn the game into a blowout. “We got down by 17 points after the first quarter, remembers Kortokrax, but we played them even the last three quarters.”
He was impressed with Bevo.
“He had a great shooting touch for a guy that size,” Kortokrax said.
He couldn’t recall how many points Bevo scored that night but does remember he had a lot of help.
“His point guard, Wayne Wiseman, knew how to get him the ball,” Kortokrax said. Fans may recognize Wiseman as the long time Hall of Fame basketball coach at Springfield South. Kortokrax’s lasting memory of the game is a positive one.
“I was proud of the way our team played that night, we didn’t back down from them,” Kortokrax said.
Bevo left Rio Grande College after his sophomore year and toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. When he became eligible for the NBA draft, he was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers. But Bevo was tired of the spotlight and chose to return to his small hometown in southern Ohio where he led a quiet life until his passing two years ago. Kortokrax embarked on his legendary coaching career and remains a walking encyclopedia of basketball history. He should be regarded as a living treasure by hoop fans everywhere.
Greg Stolly (LCC-UNOH) vs. James “Buster” Douglas (Columbus Linden McKinley-Sinclair C. C.) 1980
At first glance this match up may not appear very impressive but those of you who recognize the second name in this basketball pairing will understand why it made the list.
James “Buster” Douglas pulled off the biggest upset in the history of professional boxing in February 1990 when he knocked out the previously undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. But before Douglas embarked on his boxing odyssey, he was a pretty good basketball player.
“Buster” played on the 1977 Linden McKinley state championship team. He continued his basketball career at Sinclair Community College and in February of 1980 he brought his game to Lima to play UNOH at the Racer gymnasium. Nate Walton, a Lima Senior High graduate, was a teammate of Douglas. Lima Central Catholic grad, Greg Stolly, was a starter for UNOH and drew the defensive assignment of guarding Douglas. That may be the first time the word defense and Greg Stolly have been used in the same sentence.
“He was a big dude,” Stolly remembered. Early in the game Stolly and Douglas got into an altercation.
“I was throwing a few elbows underneath the basket and ‘Buster’ took exception,” Stolly claimed. Nate Walton pulled Stolly aside and gave him some friendly advice.
“Nate warned me not to mess with Douglas because he was also training to be a boxer,” Stolly said. He took the advice and gave “Buster” enough room to drop 29 points on the Racers. But Stolly scored 24 points of his own and UNOH won a shootout 105-99. Stolly still has the scorebook.
One year later, Douglas made his professional boxing debut and embarked on the long road in search of a shot at the title. He got his opportunity 10 years later in Toyko where he was expected to be on the receiving end of one of Mike Tyson’s early knockout punches. It was such a mismatch that only one casino even placed odds on the match (Mirage at 42 to 1) and Tyson’s corner didn’t even bother to bring ice or a cut kit to the ring. But “Buster” shocked the world by knocking out the undefeated Tyson in the 10yh round.
He held the heavyweight championship for exactly six months before losing it to Evander Holyfield but took home $25 million for his effort. Today, Douglas resides in Columbus. Greg Stolly is a local businessman and remains eternally grateful to Nate Walton for the tip.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at email@example.com.