Skull Session: Jerry West and John Havlicek Were Great Rivals, Ohio State Secures a Top 10 Finish in the Directors’ Cup and Will Howard Impresses the Senior Bowl’s Executive Director

By Chase Brown on June 13, 2024 at 5:00 am
John Havlicek and Jerry West
X / @NBA

Welcome to the Skull Session.

First Catfish Biff's, then Tommy's Pizza.

Another Ohio State campus pizzeria has fallen.


Have a good Thursday.

 MR. CLUTCH. Just weeks after Bill Walton died at 72, the basketball world lost another legend on Wednesday as Jerry West passed at 86.

West was born in East Bank, West Virginia, on May 28, 1938. Following an exceptional basketball career at East Bank High School, he attended WVU and led the Mountaineers to three NCAA Tournaments while earning three All-American honors. West then became the No. 2 overall pick in the 1960 NBA draft, landing with the Minneapolis Lakers. 

From then on, West established himself as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. 

Across 14 seasons in the NBA, West averaged 27 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists per contest and became an NBA champion (1972), a 14-time All-Star, a 12-time All-NBA team honoree and an NBA Finals MVP (1969).

West won his Finals MVP despite the Lakers losing to the Boston Celtics, 4-3, in the championship – and he remains the only player ever to win the award from the losing team. West averaged 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the seven-game series.

As I reflect on his performances, I am reminded of Ohio State basketball legend John Havlicek and the bond he shared with West.

After the Lakers’ Game 7 loss to the Celtics, in which West recorded 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, he was seen as a tragic hero. Ohio State basketball legend John Havlicek, then a crucial member of Boston’s championship team, sat next to West on the bench after the game. He held West’s hand and said, “I love you, Jerry.”

Neither of them knew it, but those four words marked the end of one of the game’s greatest rivalries. In the 60s, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the NBA Finals six times. And each time, West and Havlicek guarded each other. Game after game, series after series, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound West and 6-foot-5, 200-pound Havlicek would go at it… pause. As a result – game after game, series after series – the players were at their best, with West averaging 33 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest and Havlicek averaging 21.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and four assists per contest across the six Finals matchups. The Celtics won all six titles.

After 1969, Havlicek and West never met in the Finals again. The former won his lone title against the New York Knicks in 1972, and the latter won two more championships against the Milwaukee Bucks in 1974 and the Phoenix Suns in 1976. 

West retired in 1976. Havlicek retired in 1978. But for the next four decades, until Havlicek died in 2019, the former rivals remained close friends.

“He competed against you at the highest level, and he wanted to win badly,” West told ESPN after Havlicek’s passing. “But he was always a really nice person. I don’t think I ever heard someone say a bad word about John. … Playing in Boston, with so many great teams and so much success winning titles, the legend of John grew. He improved a lot throughout his career. It was a sign of how hard he worked at his game.”

Rest in peace to Hondo.

And rest in peace to The Logo.

Two legends lost – but never forgotten. 

 IT’S JUST AN EMPTY CUP. After a top-three finish behind Stanford and Texas in 2022-23, Ohio State will finish in the top 10 of the 2023-24 Directors’ Cup. With one sport left (baseball) to determine the final standings, the Buckeyes rank seventh behind Texas, Stanford, Tennessee, Florida, UCLA and Notre Dame. Ohio State is the lone Big Ten school in the top 10.

1 TEXAS BIG 12 1,339.50
2 STANFORD PAC 12 1,312.75
3 TENNESSEE SEC 1,117.00
4 FLORIDA SEC 1,106.00
5 UCLA PAC 12 1,017.50
6 NOTRE DAME IND 1,008.50
8 ALABAMA SEC 1,003.88
9 USC PAC 12 994.00
10 VIRGINIA ACC 993.25

A national championship in women’s hockey and third-place NCAA finishes from men’s golf and men’s tennis bolstered Ohio State’s rank this year. The Buckeyes also benefited from top-10 finishes in men’s volleyball (fifth), men’s gymnastics (sixth), wrestling (eighth), women’s swimming and diving (ninth) and football (10th). The school also earned points from one additional men’s sport, swimming and diving (13th), and eight women’s sports: rowing (12th), gymnastics (13th), basketball (17th), tennis (17th), golf (31st), cross country (32nd), soccer (33rd) and track and field (45th). Co-ed fencing also took sixth at its NCAA championships.

Ohio State’s top-10 finish in the Directors’ Cup represents the 10th time the Buckeyes have paced the Big Ten in points. Nine of those 10 finishes occurred under athletic director Gene Smith, who will retire on June 30 after 19 years in the role.

While celebration is in order for Ohio State’s athletic department, I can’t help but wonder if the school’s time pursuing a Directors’ Cup title has ended. While Ohio State president Ted Carter and soon-to-be athletic director Ross Bjork intend to keep all 36 sports, Smith said last month that continuing to fund all of those sports at a championship level could become impossible.

“The expectations for the other sports (will change),” Smith said. “In the past, we’ve always had expectations for all of them to chase championships, where realistically if you’re not providing all of those resources that we currently provide – because you have to reduce their budgets in order to fund whatever comes at the top level – then you have to change your expectations. My guess is we’ll still sponsor 36 sports, but X number will be sponsored at a different level.”

A message to Ross Bjork: Just divert all athletic funding to Ohio State synchronized swimming. I hear they win lots of championships. That's just what I hear!

 “WE LIKE WILL A LOT.” Jim Nagy is the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl. For the past four years, the former NFL scout has kept tabs on a 6-foot-4, 240-pound quarterback from Downingtown, Pennsylvania. That quarterback, of course, is former Kansas State and current Ohio State signal caller Will Howard.

“We like Will a lot. We’ve watched him for a couple of years,” Nagy told Andy Staples of On3 last week. “I think he has a good arm. I like the accuracy. He does a lot of NFL-transferrable things from that Kansas State tape – watching him operate from under center, the play-action game.”

I have some good news for Nagy.

If he liked Howard at Kansas State, he will love him at Ohio State.

No offense to the Wildcats, Kansas State is a great program, but the purple and silver don’t have athletes in the same stratosphere as TreVeyon Henderson, Quinshon Judkins, Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss and Jeremiah Smith – or even the reserves, for that matter. So, yes, if Howard wins the Ohio State quarterback competition, I am sure Nagy will be thrilled.

“We’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks put up big numbers for the Buckeyes. I think Will is going to do that, too,” he said.

I’d love nothing more.

 NOW THERE ARE TWO OF THEM. Folks, Jeremiah Smith has a younger brother. His name is Angelo, and he was at Ohio State’s prospect camp on Tuesday. 

Our Dan Hope interviewed Angelo Smith and asked him to assess his performance at the event. As their conversation continued, he told Eleven Warriors he hopes to be better than his older brother in the future. Reminder: Jeremiah was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2024 class, according to the 247Sports composite. He also was one of Ohio State’s top performers this spring – as a true freshman.

“I feel like I'm gonna be a better player than him, I know that,” Angelo said. “I play both sides of the ball. I’m definitely a game-changer.”

Another reminder: Marvin Harrison Jr. has a younger brother, too. His name is Jett. Is there a future where Jett Harrison and Angelo Smith are Ohio State’s top two receivers?

Boy, I hope so.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Time” - Pink Floyd.

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