Oftentimes, basketball fans look upon their favorite contemporary hardwood warriors as being the very best who have ever done it. While it is true that modern collegiate basketball players are more athletic than their counterparts of the past, any coach could tell you that athleticism doesn’t always equate to being better. Jerry Lucas is a prime example of that. Many recall him as an NBA Hall of Famer who is listed as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All Time. However, his basketball pedigree was first honed to a razor’s edge on playgrounds of Ohio, where he would sometimes play against Oscar Robertson.
At 6’8”, LucaS displayed a versatility that was unmatched by all of his contemporaries but one while at Ohio State-Oscar Robertson who was then playing at the University of Cincinnati. Jerry Lucas could pass like a point guard, rebound like a power forward and shoot like a two-guard. Lucas was a freshman at Ohio State in 1958. During that time it was customary for freshmen to be placed on the freshman basketball team, but Jerry proved early on that his game could not be contained by anyone. Legend has it that Lucas scored 98 points and grabbed over 40 rebounds in two games against his varsity counterparts. During the 59-60 season, he would join future basketball legend John Havlicek and point guard Mel Nowell to lead a Ohio State Buckeyes’ attack that was the envy of every campus in America. That is, every campus but the University of Cincinnati.
Lucas would lead the Ohio State to its first NCAA championship in 1960. Their offensive attack led the nation in scoring with Jerry Lucas averaging 26 points and 16 rebounds per game. To say his jump shot was wet would be an understatement. Lucas also led the nation in shooting percentage at 64 percent. Those are incredible numbers in any era. As impressive as that was, he came up short against the Big O on several occasions. He finished second to Robertson in voting for 1960 NCAA Player of the Year. The Buckeyes went undefeated in the 1960-61 regular season. They would kickass and take names all the way up to the 1961 NCAA Final Four before losing to, who else, the Cincinnati Bearcats sans Robertson. He had left school by then. The following year the Bearcats would again defeat Ohio State in the 1962 NCAA Finals. Still, Lucas won the NCAA Most Outstanding Player Award in 1960 and 1961.
Jerry Lucas would win NCAA Player of the Year honors in 1961 and 1962. He was also named Big Ten Player of the Year a still unprecedented three years straight and was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year for 1961. Even though the Big O defeated him twice on the field of play, Lucas was widely regarded as the best collegiate player of all time upon leaving Ohio State University.
Lucas’ basketball career included a 1960 Olympic gold medal win on a team which included Oscar Robertson, a AAU tour of Russia with legendary coach John McClendon and a professional basketball career in which he averaged 17 points and 15 rebounds a game. Though there have been Buckeye players who have been flashier, no player in Ohio State basketball history can be considered better beyond a shadow of a doubt. He quite possibly is STILL the greatest college basketball player ever.