Tales from UC's championship teams

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Before Tuesday night's game against Villanova, UC will honor members of the 1961 and 1962 national championship teams as a kickoff to a two-year celebration.

This brings to mind some of the related stories in "Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball," a book I wrote which came out in 2004.

Here are a few anecdotes about some of those players.



     It was the day of the 1961 national championship game. No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Cincinnati. The first time in NCAA history two teams from the same state met in the title game.

     The Bearcat players were getting taped and dressing in the hotel across the street from the arena in Kansas City. A radio was turned on, and the team was listening to an Ohio State broadcaster breaking down the game's matchups. It was pretty much even, they decided, except for one position: That was UC's Bob Wiesenhahn against OSU's John Havlicek.

     "They thought he was going to whip me," Wiesenhahn said.

     Now understand, Wiesenhahn was the kind of player who preferred to play on the road and loved to get booed. It made him play harder. He was, well, an emotional guy.

     Getting knocked on the radio? "That's all I needed," he said. "I was a psycho. I got fired up real easy."

     "Weise's face just got red because (the announcer) called him a hatchet man," Carl Bouldin remembers. "He said, 'I'm going to kill him.' "

     Wiesenhahn outscored Havlicek 17-4 and outrebounded him 9-4. The Bearcats won their first NCAA title, 70-65 in overtime. Wiesenhahn mostly tried to keep Havlicek, who finished 1-of-5 shooting from the field, from touching the ball.

     "That was the greatest feeling that you could have," Wiesenhahn said. "That was very satisfying."




     Ron Bonham was getting pressure to stay in state. A star at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School, his team won 29 straight games before losing to East Chicago Washington in the Indiana high school state finals.

     Naturally, Purdue and Indiana pursued him hard. Bonham picked Purdue, but was not thrilled with the choice. He went to West Lafayette, stayed a few days, then went back home and told his family he wanted to attend the University of Cincinnati.

     "UC is where my heart was all along," he said.

     In 1960-61, he played on UC's freshman team, which played an up-tempo style of basketball, just as Bonham's high school team did. That season, however, the "varsity" was slowing down their play under first-year coach Ed Jucker, and they went on to win the NCAA title.

     When his sophomore season started, Bonham was coming off the bench.

     "I have to admit, I played very little defense when I was in high school," he said. "We pressed the whole time. I didn't know how I was going to fit in (at UC). I had to get acclimated to playing defense, and that took a while. That helped me later on."
     Bonham was soon a starter and was second on the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). In the 1962 national championship against Ohio State, Bonham was matched against John Havlicek of the Buckeyes. Bonham scored just 10 points in the final, but UC won 71-59. Havlicek scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

     "We had scouted each other so much, I'd come off a pick and Havlicek would be waiting on me," Bonham said. "Jucker's strategy for me was to be a decoy. I just ran around and kept Havlicek right on me, and that helped them in starting the fast break."
     As a junior, Bonham averaged 21 points, was UC's top scorer and a consensus first-team All-American after leading the Bearcats to the 1963 NCAA final, where they lost to Loyola (Ill.) in overtime.

     He averaged 24.4 points and was second-team All-America as a senior, when the Bearcats went 17-9. Bonham left as UC's No. 2 scorer behind Oscar Robertson.



     George Wilson was one of those guys who set a standard for role-playing when he was a Bearcat. Wilson was a high school All-American coming out of John Marshall High School in Chicago. He was a big-time scorer who continued that trend on UC's freshman team.
     But when it came time to join the varsity as a sophomore, the Bearcats were not in need of a scorer. They had Paul Hogue, Tom Thacker and Bonham. Coach Jucker told Wilson that he needed him to rebound and play defense. And so it was that Wilson became the defender always assigned to stop UC's toughest opponent.
     Wilson accepted the role and took it seriously, reading about his opponent and watching film so he knew what to do in games. All of this is why he calls a two-point, one-rebound performance the best of his sophomore year and one of the best in his career.
     Cincinnati was facing Creighton in its first NCAA Tournament game in 1962, and Wilson was going to be matched up with Paul Silas, who led the country in rebounding and was among the nation's top scorers.
     Silas would finished with just eight points and five rebounds, and UC won 66-46.
     "Everybody had to do their part, and that was my role," Wilson said. "Everybody gets a ring when you win a championship. When I speak to kids, they always ask, 'How many points did you score?' I didn't worry about scoring. I set picks. I did what I had to do."


     Tom Thacker had not hit a shot all night. He was 0-of-6 from the field. And with the score tied in the final seconds of the 1962 NCAA semifinals against UCLA, the plan was for Thacker to give up the ball to Bonham, who would take the potential game-winning shot. Thacker dribbled to the right side, but Bonham was covered. "He couldn't get free," Thacker said. "I think everybody in the world knew Ron was going to get the ball."
     Time was running out. Thacker knew he had to get off a shot quickly. So, he fired away from about 12 feet out with three seconds left.
     "As soon as I let it go, I felt good," Thacker said. "It hit all net."
     The Bearcats would go on to the title game and defeat Ohio State 71-59 for their second consecutive national championship.
     When it came to winning championships, nobody was better than Tom Thacker.

     After winning two titles at UC, he won a North American Basketball League title with the 1967 Muskegon (Mich.) Panthers, an NBA title with the 1968 Boston Celtics and an ABA title with the 1971 Indiana Pacers.
     Thacker, from William Grant High School in Covington, Ky., would also become the first African-American head coach at the University of Cincinnati, leading the women's basketball program from 1974-77.





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