DAYTON — Don Donoher summed him up best.
“Jim Wannemacher was as nice of a kid as we’ve ever had in the program,” said the Dayton Flyers coaching legend. “And he was also one of the toughest. He had an inner toughness. He played through all that pain and pushed himself like no other.”
The memories flowed Monday night as people remembered Wannemacher, who was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton following a funeral mass at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Tipp City.
A 6-foot-6 forward on the Dayton Flyers teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game in 1967 and won the NIT in 1968, died last Wednesday at age 70.
Donoher said he’s the third player - along with Rudy Waterman and Dan Obrovac - who has died from that Final Four team.
Born and raised on a farm just outside Cloverdale in northwest Ohio, “Big Jim,” as he was known back then, became a prep star on the Ottoville Big Green teams coached by fabled prep coach Dick Kortokrax, who, at age 81 and now at Kalida High, will begin his 56th season this fall. He’s the winningest coach in Ohio high school history.
Wannemacher was his first star.
In his 1962-63 senior season, Big Jim averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds a game for the Big Green and was named the Putnam County League Player of the Year.
“He was one heck of a basketball player and a fine young man,” Kortokrax said Monday night.
Wannemacher was part of Tom Blackburn’s last recruiting class, and was a starter on the Flyers freshman team coached by Donoher and Paul Westhead, who went on to become an NBA head coach and win the league title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Paul and I loved him. He was really a solid player for us,” Donoher said.
As a freshman in 1963-64, Wannemacher won UD’s first Thomas M. Luppe Award, given annually to a first-year player who demonstrates courage, desire and moral integrity, traits possessed by Luppe, who died during a UD freshman game in 1963.
Donoher said Wannemacher “filled an important role for us” his sophomore year.
Starter Henry Burlong was an academic casualty 10 games into the season and after three losses, Donoher started giving Wannemacher added minutes.
He responded, scoring 15 against Chattanooga, 11 against Loyola Marymount, 12 against Xavier and 13 against Memphis.
And the next game he severely injured his back at Loyola in New Orleans, missed four games and eventually had surgery.
“It was a miserable time for him,” Kortokrax said. “He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything.”
His final two seasons, Wannemacher came off the bench for the Flyers when they made their two monumental postseason runs.
After graduating from UD, he worked for Bonbright Distributors for over 38 years.
Wannemacher, who lived in West Milton, is survived by his wife Judy, his daughters Susan and Jennifer, his mother, Jeanette, four sisters, two brothers, and two grandchildren.
“I just loved that guy,” Donoher said. “Everybody did.”