Thursday night’s recognition of the 1960 Ohio State men’s basketball team at the Schottenstein Center could be considered a reunion, but it's probably more accurate to call it a get-together among longtime friends.
Even though it’s been 60 years since they became what is still the only basketball team in Ohio State history to win an NCAA championship, they still remain close friends and keep in touch regularly.
“We had relationships that were more unique perhaps than in winning a national championship, and it’s continued to this day,” said Jerry Lucas, the star of the 1960 Buckeyes. “I text every one of these guys every week, and I talk to some of them every week. It’s important to me to stay in touch with them, because we had such a unique and distinct relationship that most teams don’t have. And I think that’s one of the big reasons we were successful.”
Two weeks from the day 60 years ago on which Ohio State defeated California in the 1960 NCAA Tournament final to win the national title, 10 members of that team – along with two deceased players’ wives – were back in Columbus at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday to be honored during halftime of the current Buckeyes’ final home game of the 2020 season against Illinois.
Among those in attendance were five of Ohio State’s top seven scorers from the 1959-60 season: Jerry Lucas, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors in that year’s NCAA Tournament to cap off an All-American season; Mel Nowell, Joe Roberts and Dick Furry, who joined Lucas for a press conference with local media before Thursday night’s game; and Bob Knight, who was in attendance less than a month after his well-publicized return to Assembly Hall for a halftime recognition at Indiana, where he became one of the most legendary coaches in college basketball history. Gary Gearhart, Howard Nourse, David Barker, Gary Milliken and team manager Mike Sorochak were also on the floor for the recognition.
The Buckeye greats who attended Thursday night’s ceremony also spent time together on Wednesday, and much of their time together was spent reminiscing on their national championship run and retelling stories of the memorable moments that happened in their journey along the way.
“I think one of the things that our team had – that any team, including the people playing for Chris (Holtmann, on the current team) will – was to be good friends and get along well,” Furry said. “We’ve had a ball this yesterday and today, the stories that we’ve retold are kind of unbelievable. But I think that’s one of the most important things that we had as a team, and any team coming along needs to have that.”
The 1960 Buckeyes, who previously reconvened at Ohio State for their 50th anniversary in 2010, were without two of their biggest stars for this year’s reunion: Larry Siegfried, who died in 2010, and John Havlicek, who died last year. They certainly weren’t forgotten during this week’s festivities, though, as their wives Beth Havlicek and Tina Siegfried were in attendance on their behalf.
“This group of guys is probably the closest group of friends that I have from that day, and it was because of what we did together as a team and almost as a family,” Furry said. “We still, for this week, we have two of the spouses of our deceased teammates here with us, and they’ve always been invited and I think it will always be that way as long as we’re able to continue walking.”
“I text every one of these guys every week, and I talk to some of them every week. It’s important to me to stay in touch with them, because we had such a unique and distinct relationship that most teams don’t have. And I think that’s one of the big reasons we were successful.”– Jerry Lucas on his 1960 Ohio State teammates
When the 1960 Buckeyes think back on their national championship run, it’s those close relationships they had with each other that they think about first, and to which they attribute what they were able to accomplish.
“One of the great things about this team is there was no selfishness among the players on the team,” Lucas said. “We realized our purpose, we worked hard to attain it and we accomplished something unique and that very few people have the opportunity to. And we can always say, which I doubt that any of you sitting out there can say: We won a national collegiate basketball championship. And it’s a wonderful feeling, it continues throughout the rest of your life.”
Lucas was the star of the team, scoring 26.3 points per game and averaging 16.4 rebounds per game, but he was always focused on winning rather than trying to pad his individual statistics.
“He had all the publicity LeBron had coming out of high school, and he could back it up,” Roberts said. “Had he been a selfish player … you’re not going to be successful. So everything hinged on Luke and his personality as a team player. He didn’t care whether he got 30 or 10. He never cried. He was just a consummate team player. So everybody had to fall in line.”
Several of the 1960 Buckeyes went on to have success as professional basketball players, too. Lucas, Havlicek and Siegfried all had lengthy NBA careers – all three won NBA championships, and Lucas and Havlicek are both in the Basketball Hall of Fame – and Nowell and Roberts both spent time in the league, as well. Yet for many of them, their Ohio State careers – and especially their championship season – still remains one of the greatest highlights of their lives.
“When we won that national championship … I wasn’t even able to feel it until that clock made its last tick. I felt for the first time in my life, and the only time athletically, what elation felt like,” Nowell said. “I saw myself run around and do things that looked like a little kid. Like a little 3-year-old running around, jumping and having a great time.
“What I experienced is something that I’d never experienced prior to or again athletically, and I had a lot of success athletically even after that,” Nowell said. “That has lasted in terms of what I feel about what we accomplished. It was simply the best that you can feel.”