Feb. 13, 2014
By David Holman
In a weekend filled with hearty laughs and timeless stories, the 1964 Ohio University men's basketball team celebrated its 50th Anniversary Reunion to commemorate its Mid-American Conference Championship and ensuing Elite Eight run in the NCAA Tournament.
Altogether, eight players from Jim Snyder's squad along with two managers and a trainer traveled to Athens for a salute to the MAC's first team to reach an NCAA Regional Final. Players present for the weekend-long event included then seniors Charlie Gill, Jerry Jackson, and Paul Storey, juniors Joe Barry, Tom Davis, and Mike Haley, and sophomores Ken Brown and Gary Lashley.
Additionally, managers Milt Plunkett and Roger Pratt were in attendance. Trainer Ken Wolfert also took part in the celebration, as did freshman squad member Russ Hamilton. The team also honored three deceased players from the team in spirit - Lloyd Buck, Don Hilt and Tom Weirich.
Varsity Ohio kicked off the reunion on Friday night with a reception at the Ohio University Inn. Members of the team and their wives were joined by current head coach Jim Christian in a festive gathering. Throwback 1963-64 Ohio game programs were on display, as well as every box score from the storied season. Players delightedly glanced through game box scores highlighted by regular season wins against programs such as Wisconsin, St. John's, and Louisville.
The relics from a season long since completed brought memories flooding back from one of the most memorable post-season campaigns in school history.
Remembering The Run
Going into the final game of the season, Ohio held a share of first place with archrival Miami. There was no MAC Tournament at the time, meaning whoever won the MAC in the regular season would get the conference's only NCAA tournament slot.
In a hard fought game at the Grover Center, the Bobcats concluded the 1964 season in stunning fashion with a crucial overtime victory over Toledo to finish the regular season 19-5, giving them sole possession of the MAC Championship and an automatic bid to the 1964 NCAA Tournament.
The Green and White earned themselves a first-round date with Peck Hickman's Louisville Cardinals in Evanston, Ill. Ohio had already went head-to-head with Louisville twice in the 1963-64 season. The Cards won the first match-up while the `Cats came out victorious in the latter. Led by Don Hilt's double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) effort, the Bobcats persevered, 71-69, in an overtime thriller to earn themselves a Sweet 16 berth. Three other Bobcats joined Hilt in double figures; Haley finished with 17 points, Jackson with 15, and Storey with 13.
In the second round, Ohio faced-off against the fourth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at historic Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. Adolph Rupp's club boasted a 21-5 record and was prepping itself for another Final Four run. Led by guard Jerry Jackson's 25 points and 11 rebounds, Ohio handed the Wildcats their worst defeat of the season, an 85-69 route, to advance to the Elite Eight. Storey, Haley and Hilt all joined Jackson in double figures, finishing with 19 points, 15 points, and 14 points, respectively.
"Louisville was a real hard fought game. We played them twice in the regular season. They won on their court, and we beat them on ours. Really either team could have won." Forward Mike Haley said. "But Kentucky? We knew it was over at half. We were faster and we were the better team."
"After the game against Kentucky, I remember Adolph Rupp coming into the locker room and telling us how well we played. That was really something I'll always remember." Jackson said.
Rupp also applauded the Bobcats in his press conference for their tenacious defensive attack.
"There is no defense designed that I am aware of to beat a fired-up team like Ohio. They did everything too well." Rupp said after the game.
Next up was the Mideast Regional Final. A physical 22-4 Michigan Wolverines crew coached by Dave Strack opposed the Green and White in a match-up, again, at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Despite Hilt's 18 points and Haley's 10-point, 11-rebound performance, the Wolverines, led by All-Americans Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin, topped the Bobcats, 69-57, thus ending Ohio's magical season.
Although it was 48 years later, some of the players quipped it was refreshing to see Ohio's 2011-12 squad upset Michigan in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. A few players even called it "friendly revenge".
When comparing the 1964 run to the 2012 run, Charlie Gill remarked how different the tournament was 50 years ago.
"It was popular, but today it's just so much bigger. When we went to the Elite Eight, I had no idea that it would be celebrated as much as it has. None of us really recognized it as legendary, but as the years passed, it really turned into a storied achievement that means a lot to this community," Gill said.
Mike Haley also was surprised in the evolution of the 1964 team's legacy.
"If you would have told me 50 years ago that we'd be celebrated on campus for going to the Elite Eight, I wouldn't have believed you," Haley commented.
Back On Campus
At the end of Friday night's reception, members of the team viewed a special presentation produced by Ohio Athletics' multimedia team. The presentation included black and white video highlights from the 1963-64 season narrated by the "Voice of the Bobcats", Russ Eisenstein.
On Saturday morning, the team met at the Convocation Center for an exclusive tour of the Ohio basketball locker room. The team was excited to see a locker dedicated to deceased teammate, Lloyd Buck.
Following the tour, team members were able to sketch their names and numbers on Ohio's alumni basketball wall. The wall features dozens of former student-athletes, managers and trainers' signatures adorned on a panel cutout from the Convocation Center's original wood floor. After the tour, the team enjoyed a gathering in the Rohr Room prior to tip-off between Ohio and Toledo.
The highlight of the weekend occurred during the first half of the Ohio-Toledo game. Just like it did 50 years ago, the 1964 Ohio basketball team took the court front and center. 9,000-plus fans roared out of their seats to give one of the best basketball teams in Ohio history a standing ovation.
Nearly 90 minutes later, the former players got their icing on the cake when Ohio prevailed to an overtime victory over Toledo, reminiscent of the 1964 team's late season win over the Rockets to take the MAC.
Life After Ohio
Throughout the weekend, teammates relished shared memories and their love of basketball. Whether it be playing, coaching, or just avidly watching, each one of the players holds a special bond with the game as well as one with the teammates they stormed the court with.
Jerry Jackson was the team's lone NBA draft pick, a 1964 seventh round selection by the Detroit Pistons. Jackson played through the exhibition season, but was waived before the 1964-65 season. Following his brief NBA stint, Jackson joined the service and then became a teacher. He served as head basketball coach for Ohio University-Zanesville for 12 years. Prior to Jackson's arrival at Ohio, he played at Corning High School with guard Charlie Gill, his fellow teammate from the 1964 team.
One of the most remarkable plotlines from the 1964 team involves the sons of Charlie Gill and teammate, guard Joe Barry. After their playing careers, both Gill and Barry passed the Bobcat basketball fever to their sons, Chad Gill and J Barry. Chad Gill played for the Green and White from 1990-93. Uniquely enough, J Barry played for the Bobcats from 1991-93, thus making the sons, like their fathers, teammates on Ohio's men's basketball team.
Following his Ohio basketball career, Joe Barry became an assistant coach for the Miami Redhawks and eventually worked his way onto the desk as Miami's radio play-by-play announcer in 1995. Barry retired from broadcasting in 2011.
In addition to his son, Joe Barry has another noteworthy connection with one of his Bobcat teammates. Barry's father worked for the Norfolk and Western Railway, where he knew Mike Haley's father who also worked at the NW Railway.
Like his teammates, Haley stayed involved in basketball long after his days as a Bobcat. Haley became a teacher and a high school coach in Dayton, Ohio. He led Roth High School to three Ohio state titles (1976, 1981, 1982) and won a fourth title with Dunbar High School in 1987.
Perhaps the longest basketball playing career produced from the 1964 team was guard Tom Davis'. Following graduation, Davis became a teacher in Hawaii and later relocated to Turkey in 1970. Once he arrived in Turkey, he began playing for Besikitas, a professional basketball team stationed in Istanbul. In 1973 Davis set the Turkish record for most points (69) in a single game.
"I got to be pretty famous there because I was the only American who played on the same team for seven years," Davis said. "TV was just being introduced to the country and, with only one channel, they would put basketball games on the TV. So I could travel anywhere in Turkey and be recognized."
After his seven year career, Davis moved back to Ohio and began teaching at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.
Team captain Paul Storey joined the air force after his days at Ohio. When he was stationed on air force bases, one of Storey's favorite hobbies was playing recreational basketball with fellow comrades. Storey began working in Ford's sales department following completion of his service. He's lived in nearly every corner of the United States including Arizona, Texas and Alabama. Storey currently resides in Xenia, Ohio.
50 years removed from the 1964 season, it is clear that the Elite Eight run is only one accolade among a long list of superlatives for the members of the 1964 team. However, for each member of the team, the 1964 run will always hold a momentous place in their heart as it still stands today as one of the greatest achievements in Ohio Athletics history.