Some with Lima area ties got the chance to guard some of basketball’s greats

Late in 2015, I wrote a column on competing against Purdue’s legendary Rick Mount in my first collegiate basketball game many moons ago. That column got me thinking about other local players and who they had the opportunity to play against in their careers. My research uncovered a captivating story that connected several of Lima’s elite players with some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game of basketball. Here are just a few of the stories I discovered.

Dan Sadlier (LCC – University of Dayton) vs. Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul Jabbar (UCLA)

Dan Sadlier was a starter on the most successful team in the history of University of Dayton basketball. The former Thunderbird was the defensive stopper and a leading rebounder on the 1967 Flyer team that advanced to the national championship game played in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the first and only final-four appearance in UD history. Their opponent in the title game was a fabled UCLA team coached by the incomparable John Wooden, known as the “Wizard of Westwood.” The Bruins were led by their young superstar, Lew Alcindor, the greatest post player to ever play the game. (Sorry, that claim is not up for debate)

Dayton defeated North Carolina in the semifinal and the Bruins, undefeated and ranked number one in the country, buried Houston and superstar Elvin Hayes in the other match-up. Sadlier remembers watching that game and being in awe of UCLA’s athleticism. “They were so good, we had not seen that kind of talent before,” he remembers. “I think we were a little intimidated.”

Dayton began the title game in a zone defense and Sadlier was matched up with Alcindor early and often. The 6-foot-6 Sadlier, only a sophomore at the time, was accustomed to giving up inches to his opponents but had not encountered anyone with the size and ability that Alcindor brought to the court. “He was 7-2 and much stronger than I anticipated,” Sadlier said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that he was also extremely athletic. Even at his size, he could run like a guard and could really get off his feet. Even if I could jump 10 feet higher I don’t think it would have made a difference to him.”

Dayton fell to UCLA 79-64. Alcindor scored 20 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and was named MOP of the tournament. It was the first of seven consecutive NCAA championships for UCLA. Sadlier scored 5 points with 8 rebounds before fouling out. Sadlier enjoyed a brilliant career at Dayton and became one of four members from that Flyer squad inducted into the UD Hall of Fame. Included in that illustrious group was point guard Gene Klaus, who was a graduate of Delphos St. John’s. Two other local players were members of that celebrated Dayton team: Jim Wannemacher (Ottoville) and Tom Heckman (Ottawa-Glandorf).

Greg Simpson (Lima Senior-West Virginia) vs. Allen Iverson (Georgetown)

Simpson was a McDonald’s All American while competing for Lima Senior High and is the all-time leading scorer in Spartan history. His college career began at Ohio State but he transferred to West Virginia University after his sophomore year. The Big East Conference was loaded with talent in that era and the most exciting player was Georgetown’s Allen Iverson. Iverson was in his second year with the Hoyas and was already gaining a cult-like following because of his spectacular play.

Georgetown was ranked in the top 10 in the country when the Mountaineers met the Hoyas in January of 1996. In their first meeting, in early December, the Hoyas edged West Virginia 83-80 in overtime but Simpson was not able to play in that game. He circled this game on his calendar and was anxious to test his skills against the Georgetown All-American. “I really looked forward to that game,” Simpson said. “I accepted the challenge of going against him (Iverson). It was fun.”

Looking back on that game 20 years later, Simpson remembered getting a pre-game look at Iverson that impressed him. “I remember coming out real early before the game to shoot around,” Simpson said. “Iverson was already out there and he was playing a one on one game against their 6-9 center, Jahidi White. Iverson backed him into the post and stuck the ball between his knees and threw his hand up for a shot fake. When White went for the fake, Iverson just jumped over him and dunked. I was like, ‘wow,’ did I just see that? I went in the locker room and told the guys to be careful because he could jump right over you.”

Once the game began, it was clear to Simpson that Iverson had the green light whenever he wanted. “Their entire offense was centered around him,” Simpson remembered. “They cleared the floor and let him create. He was always listed at 6-foot but he was really only about 5-10, but that didn’t stop him. He was the most athletic guy I ever played against.”

Iverson scored 18 points in a Georgetown victory that evening but that was well under his average. Getting past the athletic Simpson proved to be more challenging than most of the opponents Iverson faced. Simpson scored 16 points and delivered five assists in a losing cause but gained a great memory.

Five months later, Iverson was the first player selected in the NBA draft and embarked on a memorable professional career.

Clay Tucker (Lima Perry-UW Milwaukee-NBA D-League) vs. LaBron James and Kevin Durant

Tucker, a 1998 Perry High School graduate, played on some of the Commodores’ most successful teams. His basketball journey has given him the opportunity to play against several players who rank among the best to ever play the game. While a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tucker often played against Marquette University’s Dewayne Wade in open gyms and scrimmages. “He was always the best guy in the gym,” Tucker said.

In the 14 years following his college career, Tucker, who now plays professionally in Lebanon, has embarked on an amazing basketball odyssey that has literally taken him all over the world. For several summers, Tucker played on NBA summer league teams, hoping to make the parent club.

In the summer of 2007, Tucker was a member of the Dallas Maverick D-league team. One of their first games was against the Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The SuperSonics were led by their number one draft choice, Kevin Durant. Tucker was matched up with Durant for much of that game. “He was as good then as he is now,” Tucker said. “He was 6-9, and he played like a guard. He could shoot it, drive it, everything.” Tucker remembers his team won the game and he scored 13 points. Durant went for 30. It was a good summer for Tucker. His team won the D-league championship. Durant, now with the Golden State Warriors, has ascended as one of the premier players in the NBA.

In 2008, Tucker was a member of the Cleveland Cavalier D-league summer team. It was not uncommon for LaBron James to practice with the team and Tucker remembers matching up with James several times. “I often guarded him,” Tucker said. “The thing about James is his size and strength. It was like trying to play against an action figure.” Despite being billed as the greatest player on the planet, Tucker remembers James as being approachable and down to earth. “Everyone was drawn to him. He was just very nice to everyone, a great teammate. He treated everyone the same.” Of course, that was before and after James dominated them on the court.

There are other local players who have guarded basketball greats, and I plan to share their stories with you in a future column.

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By Bob Seggerson

Guest Columnist

Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at [email protected].