(picture courtesy of UC)
He is 68-years-old, but is probably closer to his playing weight than most of his teammates from yesteryear. He's a fixture at charity golf outings and around a lot of gyms. In particular, you usually find him at Woodward High School every summer taking in some of the Deveroes Summer League contests.
Most that can play basketball at that level know him. If not, they should.
George Wilson has been an ambassador for UC's program for years and always has a smile on his face to greet fans and young players. For guys like me always looking for interviews, "Big George" is always willing to talk to someone.
"I was here when it first formed," said Wilson of the Deveroes League. "I try to make it at least once a week. What I do is I try to support the young folks. I'll stand in the stands and I'll wave at them and let them know I'm here to watch them and enjoy."
For those that may not know, George Wilson has more career points than such semi-recent players as Melvin Levett, James White and Field Williams. Unlike some of the 1,000-point club though, Wilson's numbers came in three years as freshmen weren't eligible in the early 60s.
Between 1961 and 1964, George Wilson averaged a double-double as a UC forward/center (9.2 ppg, 8 rebounds as a sophomore; 15 and 11.2 as a junior; and 16.1 and 12.5 as a senior). He also won two high school championships, a national championship with the Bearcats in 1962, and an Olympic gold medal in 1964.
In other words (if you're a player) if you haven't been where George has, you best listen.
"I slapped high five with Yancy (Gates) when he arrived," said Wilson of this particular visit to Woodward. "It's just to let them know that the old man is still around supporting them more than anything else. I just love watching basketball."
Wilson has watched plenty of it when you factor in his post-UC years in the NBA up until 1971 (Royals, Bulls, Sonics, Suns, 76ers and Buffalo Braves/ABA). Somewhere, there are some bubblegum cards with some worthy credentials.
"As I tell them, it wasn't by accident," said Wilson of his basketball success as a Bearcat. "Each guy did what they had to do. My job was to rebound and play defense. I didn't worry about scoring. Tony's (Yates) job was to distribute the ball and get assists. (Ron) Bonham was to shoot. We used to tell him, 'If I set a pick for you and you don't shoot, I'm going to be mad!'"
As entertaining as a Deveroes game can be, it often lacks the finer strategies in basketball. The term, "fire drill" comes to mind and the veteran Wilson often sees what's missing.
"That three-point line, I always laugh about that," said Wilson. "That, in my opinion changed the game. They come down one-on-one and they love to shoot that three-pointer. We had guys in my day that could shoot it, but it wasn't a three-point play, that was just their normal shot."
Especially in a summer league game, there's often a lot of ego and sometimes a bit of selfishness which usually lands such a player on the bench come fall. The UC national championship teams were well known for NOT being selfish.
"We played a team sport whether we played in summer league, high school, college or pros," noted Wilson. "It's more one-on-one now. It's more, 'Let's go have a good time' in there (the Woodward gym). I sat through three games, you saw me. I counted five box-outs in three games where they made an effort to box somebody out. That's the difference."
Wilson credits his early coaches like Ed Jucker and Tay Baker for stressing the fundamentals that led UC to the title game three years in a row.
"You have to have that coach or that assistant to teach them--it's OK not to score or have a fancy pass or three-pointer, you know?" said Wilson. "It's hard to get kids nowadays. You know how things have changed. You come to college, you stay one or two years and then it's off to the pros. We knew you had to be in school four years. Even if you flunked out, you couldn't go to the NBA 'til your class graduated."
When Wilson went to the NBA, he lasted seven years. Shorter than some, but longer than most. He averaged 5.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as his reputation as a role player continued.
"Basically, I went to the pros because of my rebounding skills, my blocking shots and boxing out," said Wilson. "Scoring was fourth. That's why I got drafted and that's why when they expanded, I always was picked. They knew I didn't mind playing defense, rebounding and blocking shots and I could help the young guys because I had so many fundamentals from playing at UC."
Having watched many players at UC since then, one player reminds George of George (and a statistical comparison proves this out).
"The one that really reminds me is Kenyon Martin," said Wilson. "I was his size (6-8, 225). He's always focused on playing. He plays defense, he'll score, he'll run, he'll do whatever's necessary. That's why he's been around in the league so long. I saw he got a real nice contract last week."
That's another thing different in today's game...big contracts for pro players.
"One player makes more money than the whole team made back when I was playing," said Wilson. "That's the way it is. Back in those days if you made $10,000 and were working, you were doing good."
One thing Wilson would like to see changed in the NBA (and the NFL has taken steps to do so) is to improve retirement conditions for those that played under different economic circumstances.
"Yeah, so we get a nice raise before we leave up out of here," said Wilson. "Tom Thacker and I are going to try and talk to the NBA Players Association to see if we can get them to think along those lines."
During his NBA career, George Wilson, along with former Bearcat great Oscar Robertson was a rep for the NBA Players Association.
"We really had to put our careers on line just for the NBA Players Association," said Wilson.
George Wilson always gets his message across--back then and still now. Before I wrapped up recording "Big George", he left one parting shot....
"Just remember young folks," he said. "It's up to you to get it done. Us old-timers, we can tell you and we can show you, but you have to put it in your mind to get focused and do what has to be done to be an all-around basketball player."
Or, as a handful of philosophers have said, "To learn about the future, study the past."