ATHENS, Ohio -- They were the first.
Led by 20th-year head coach Jim Snyder, the 1968-69 Ohio men's basketball team had the honor of being the first to play in the Convocation Center -- a 13,080-seat arena located on the edge of the Athens campus that was the vision of Ohio President Vernon R. Alden.
The Bobcats opened the Convo in style, coming from behind to beat Big Ten Conference foe Indiana, 80-70, on Dec. 3, 1968. That win kicked off five decades of memorable games, fantastic finishes, championship celebrations and colorful personalities that have given life to the Roundhouse On Richland.
Ohio Athletics officially celebrated the 50th anniversary of the arena with a Convo 50 Celebration on Saturday (Feb. 2) surrounding a men's and women's basketball doubleheader day.
Members of the 1968-69 team returned to Athens to take part in the festivities, which included a Rohr Room dinner on Friday (Feb. 1) night and an on-court recognition prior to the tip off of the men's basketball game. Those in attendance included guard John Canine (Hazel Park, Mich.) forward Larry Coon (Athens, Ohio), guard Tom Corde (Maysville, Ky.), forward Bob Howell (Mendon, Ohio), guard Ken Kowall (Parma Heights, Ohio), center Craig Love (Franklin, Mich.), center Greg McDivitt (Windham, Ohio), guard Mike Miller (Middletown, Ohio), center Bernard "Buck" Rumpke (Cincinnati, Ohio) and center/forward Gary Wolf (Columbus, Ohio). Assistant coaches Dale Bandy and Mike Schuler were also in attendance, as was Garry Hunter, the twin brother of the late Larry Hunter (Athens, Ohio), who was a sophomore on the '68-69 team and served as head coach of the Bobcats from 1989-2001.
A couple members of the 1968-69 caught up with OhioBobcats.com following the dinner in the Rohr Room to share some of their memories.
On comradery with his teammates
"All the years you play together, you bond, you attach, you do things together off the floor. We had a very good chemistry with our guys. This is basically the same team my senior year when we were 20-4 and at one point ranked fifth in the nation -- the highest of any Mid-American Conference school. We've just got a lot of memories and a lot of fun times and a had great coach in Jim Snyder, as well as Dale Bandy and Mike Schuler."
On playing for Jim Snyder
"He was a very value-centered coach. He wanted his players to finish school, get good grades. He wanted them to be good citizens. That was all more important than playing basketball. The big thing for me, I kind of had a hot dog side when I played, and he would have none of it. I told a story about throwing a pass behind the back against Indiana that Kenny Kowall scored. Coach Snyder took me out of the game, and he said, 'If you ever do that again at Ohio, you won't be playing anymore here.' I respected that, and it was what I needed to hear. He was an awesome coach, and he cared about his players."
On playing in the first game at the Convo
The thing that impressed me about this arena is that as you look around, everybody's right on top of you. I played at Grover for two years, and this was a totally different experience. To think that you could get 10, 12, 13,000 people in there. When we played Bowling Green and when we played Purdue in 1970, both of those games drew over 12,000 people, and they were right on top of you. There were times when I played out here that you couldn't hear anything but the fans. You couldn't talk to another player on the floor because the fans were so loud. It's just a great arena to play in. Vernon Alden was an unbelievable visionary in that he saw things for Ohio University that other people did not see, and one of them was the Convocation Center. It's a great place to play.
On his fondest memories of playing at Ohio
"We beat Purdue here with Rick Mount, who was a three-time All-American from Purdue. That's a great memory. We played Bowling Green in the championship game my senior year in 1970, and we beat them to win the MAC Championship. That was another great memory. We had some fun games here, too. I remember one year we played George Ireland and Loyola out of Chicago, and Ireland had seen me play two or three games prior to our game with them, and I scored a lot of points. So, he put a box-and-one on me, and I'll never forget, Coach Snyder called timeout after the first couple minutes, and he said, 'Johnny, they're playing a box-and-one on you. I want you to go to the corner and just stand. We'll play 'em four-on-four. And so that's what we did. I think I had nine points. It was my lowest score of the year, and I went in the corner and stood, and we beat them by 30 or 40 points."
On catching up with his teammates
"I think it's great to see everybody again. I think that's the best part of it. The comradery and the ability to talk about all the war stories and nothing else matters. Everybody remembers the good stuff, nobody remembers the bad stuff, so that's the best part."
On the bond his teammates formed playing at Ohio
"I think that goes back to the coaching staff that we had at that time. We had Jim Snyder, who is legendary, and Dale Bandy and Mike Schuler were the assistants. They developed a family atmosphere. If you look at the stats, and I think this is a great, telling story of our team, our junior year, our leading scorer was John Canine with 16 points per game, and the lowest starter was ten-and-a-half. Every game, there was a different leading scorer. Everybody played to the guy who had it going. I think that was a testament to the coaching staff."
On memories of the win over Indiana in the Convo's first game
"Four days before that, we lost at Ohio State. We had them tied at halftime, and they came back and beat us 12-2 to finish the game. We were really upset on the way that ended, and we didn't want to let it happen again here. Indiana got close, and we were able to finish this time. The facility was phenomenal, but I think it was beyond our comprehension at the time. We were just focused on trying to win the game."
On playing for Jim Snyder
"Legendary. Everybody should have somebody who touches their lives like he touched mine. The best part of him is that he cared more outside the lines than when you were inside the lines. He said, 'I can always get guys to play inside, but I want to develop you as a person and make you a better person and have a life after basketball."
On being a part of the Convo 50 Celebration
"It's incredible to think that 50 years have passed. It's a phenomenal thought. It's hard to think of yourself on the Convo being 70 years old. What impressed me, first of all, was that the Convo is just the same place as we came to play in. It is still, I think, the premier arena to play in in the country for playing basketball. It brings back memories of when we filled this place with 13,000 screaming fans and how much of a thrill that was for a 20-year-old playing college basketball. Coming back rekindles those memories. The other big impact is the team dynamic. We haven't been together for many years. A couple guys, I keep track of, but I don't see them every day. We get back together again, and the team dynamic is back. Same comradery. Same kind of stories, some of them have been inflated and just keep getting better. For the players of today, the people playing in this Convo, to realize what they're doing today can still have an impact 50 years from now, I think should be the one takeaway from seeing this happen, because it was a special time in my life."
On his memories of playing in the first game at the Convo
"I was a sophomore. At that time, freshmen didn't play right away. I was in awe, playing in this huge arena with all of these people. I was on the bench. I didn't start. We were playing Indiana, a Big Ten team. In the first half, we were behind. But we hung tough. In the second half, I remember that we held them scoreless for four or five minutes in the second half and came back and won. That was kind of a coming of age, at least in my era, of the Ohio program. A huge, new, world-class arena, beating a Big Ten team on your home court. It was memorable."
On his favorite memories of suiting up for the Bobcats
"Some of my memories are stronger of the following seasons. In the 1969-70 season, we beat four out of five Big Ten teams we played that year. At one time, we were ranked fifth in the nation. We played really good. The game I really remember was winning the MAC Championship over Bowling Green here that year. We set an attendance record for the Convo. I don't really remember the specific games so much as vignettes of people and events and so forth and the overall fun of being here."
On the bond he shares with his teammates
"I was never part of a fraternity. I didn't have any other groups. My family at school was my basketball team. To this day, they still are. They still are the guys that I bonded with through three or four years of college basketball. It is special. We've lost a couple. Just by chance, I happened to ride back in the plane with my teammate, Gary Wolf, who lives in Atlanta. He walks on the plane, and we're sitting right next one another, and we had the best hour on the plane reliving stuff. It is awesome."