My basketball memories date back to the 1950’s.
I have witnessed all the great players the Lima area has produced over the last seven decades and have always held a special fascination for those basketball players who had the ability to elevate to a higher altitude than their peers. The high flyers. The athletes who could take the elevator, let their opponents off on the second floor, and then ride up two more floors. Here is my attempt at selecting a Hall of Fame for the great leapers in our rich basketball history. Let me know if you think I missed anyone.
Bob Gunn, Lima Senior High ’62: Any list of great jumpers must begin with Gunn. He was only 6’1” tall but he played in the pivot and absolutely destroyed opponents who were often five and six inches taller. He hit the jumping sticks in the LSH gym at 11 feet 2 inches. I saw him play twice in the post-season tournament and was mesmerized by how high in the air he played. His hands were always above the rim and he was a quick jumper, springing off the floor before others were still gathering for their jump. In 1962 he led the Spartans to their first appearance at State where they lost 57-55 to a Cleveland East Tech powerhouse team, despite Gunn’s 32-points and 14 rebounds. A Columbus reporter wrote that “Gunn was the best player to compete at state since Jerry Lucas.” A couple years later I watched Gunn play in a charity game at LSH between a local All-Star team and Rookie Brown’s Harlem Satellites, a popular traveling outfit that played to packed gymnasiums. It was Gunn’s high wire act that stole the spotlight that night. When the game was over, Rookie Brown approached Gunn and offered him a spot on his team. I was just a kid but I was standing next to them and heard the conversation. “Go home and pack a bag son, you’re coming with us,” Brown told him. Gunn declined the offer.
Dan Sadlier, Lima Central Catholic ’65: I was a teammate of Sadlier and got to see his leaping ability in practice and in games. He was 6’6” but played as if he was 6’ 11”. He worked hard at increasing his leg strength and wore weighted ankle sleeves when he played in the off-season. He still holds LCC’s rebounding record (29) that he set in a game at Dayton Dunbar. In that game he had a jump ball with Dunbar’s center at the free throw line at our end of the floor. (In that era there was no possession arrow, every held ball was settled with a jump ball) Sadlier jumped so much higher than his opponent that instead of tipping a ball to a teammate, he got two hands on the ball and actually attempted a jump shot. Even the Dunbar home crowd was moved to gasps. Sadlier was recruited to the University of Dayton where he helped lead them to the NCAA championship game in 1967 and drew the assignment of guarding UCLA’s 7’1” Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar).
Bruce Andrews, Lima Senior High ’82: The 6’2” Andrews was blessed with an extraordinary ability to get off the ground. Exactly forty years ago he led the Spartans to a berth at State where they lost on a last second shot to Cincinnati Roger Bacon. Andrews was named the Lima News Player of the Year following that season. I have a memory of Bruce’s ability to leap that I never forgot. LCC beat LSH that season in the Holiday Tournament on a late shot in over-time. There were still a couple seconds on the clock but the Spartans had to go full court. Coach Niekamp put Andrews on the free throw line at the other end of the court and had the inbound passer just throw it up to him and hope for a miracle. I countered with a defense that basically surrounded Andrews. When the ball was thrown down the court, I could see the pass was way too high and was probably going to go out of bounds. But Andrews rocketed into the sky and caught the ball. His feet looked like they were at shoulder level of those trying to jump with him. I think it is the highest I’ve ever seen a player jump on a basketball court. He missed a desperate throw at the basket. When the game ended, our players and fans rejoiced but I never moved from the bench. I think I was in shock at Andrews’ athletic play. Oh, by the way, Andrews cleared the high jump bar at 6’ 11 ¾” in track. The man had serious hops.
Greg Simpson, Lima Senior High ’92: Simpson would make the Hall of Fame for any basketball related skill or accomplishment I could dream up. He was a world class athlete, a two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball and the only local player to be named to the McDonald’s High School All American Team. And he could sky. Greg even had his own signature dunk that he used to send the sold-out crowds, at the old Lima Senior gymnasium on Pierce St., into convulsions. Just before springing off the floor, Simpson would toss the ball under his left elbow and throw an alley-oop pass to himself. Then, exploding into rare air, he would grab the ball and slam it down through the basket while his opponents froze in shock. It was a sight to see. Simpson was recruited to Ohio State where he was named Freshman Player of the Year in the Big Ten. He later transferred to the University of West Virginia.
Colin White, Ottawa-Glandorf ’24: White’s reputation is still growing. The 6’4” Titan junior led his team to the state championship game last season and is already gaining serious recognition from division-one college programs. OG’s state final opponent, Cincinnati Taft, was loaded with size and dominant athleticism. A lot of fans in UD Arena that day thought the game would be a mismatch, but White put that theory to rest early in the game. White had the ball on the left wing and drove the baseline to the basket. He was met there by Taft’s sensational 6’7” Rayvon Griffith, rated one of the top fifty high school players in the nation. Griffith and his teammate, Brandon Comer, both rose in the air to challenge White’s attack to the rim. However, Colin rose to a higher level and slam dunked the ball over both defenders. It was a jaw-dropping dunk that sent the crowd into shock and then admiration. White is around for two more seasons. Do not miss an opportunity to see him play.
Honorable Mention: Ken Vennekotter-Miller City, Elza Ward-LSH, Johnny Gerdeman-Delphos St. Johns, Joe Maag-OG, Joe Stubblefield-LCC, Frankie Williams AKA “Dunkenstein”-Whittier Playground legend, Bob Hoying-St.Henry, Josh Sirch-Elida, Frank Kill -Lincolnview, Cory Bankston-Shawnee, Dantez Walton-LCC, Jadakis Mack-LSH
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