To say Buckeye basketball operates in the shadows of Ohio State football is an understatement. Take, viagra sale treatment for example, the story of the Ohio State basketball coach who led the Buckeyes to 255 victories over 23 years, including four Final Four appearances and five Big Ten championships and yet, the long tenure of coach Harold G. Olsen remains obscured in near total eclipse.

How can Olsen’s name remain virtually absent in Ohio State’s hard court history? After all, he was enshrined as a charter member in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame along with such hoops luminaries as Dr. James Naismith, George Mikan, and the Original Celtics; yet he’s absent from the Ohio State’s Varsity “O” Hall of Fame.

Harold G. “Oley” Olsen was an All-Western Conference guard at the University of Wisconsin in 1915-16, playing for pioneering coach Walter Meanwell. Meanwell’s teams dominated the Western Conference (predecessor to the Big Ten), winning 7 titles in ten years.

Prior to Meanwell, basketball was primarily a half-court game with offensive players standing in place and passing the ball until someone threw up a two handed set shot. Meanwell’s “Wisconsin System” set basketball in motion. His players moved, using screens and set crossing patterns to open the floor. Dribbling was deemphasized, and passing elevated.

Oley was a Meanwell acolyte hired to bring his mentor’s concepts and success to Columbus.

Basketball had languished since its origins at OSU, despite posting a .735 winning percentage between 1899 and 1912.

Lynn St. John guided the club from 1912 through 1919, tadalafil winning 81 while losing 69, before resigning to devote more time to his duties as athletic director.

George “Red” Trautman followed St. John but left after just three unfruitful seasons. He was accused by former players and others as only playing football players and neither knowing nor caring much about the basketball teams’ success or failures. Though he used football players to fill the roster, including gridiron great Chic Harley, only three lettered in Trautman’s three seasons.

Source Ohio State University Archives

Johnny Miner

Olsen’s hiring promised a new direction, “the dawning of a new day in Ohio State’s basketball life,” as Ohio State Monthly proclaimed.

“My concern now is all about making good and I feel sure I can. You’ll get all I’ve got.” Olsen told the magazine.

Though Olsen’s 1923 team managed only four wins out of 15 games, the OSU faithful understood the magnitude of the undertaking.

“Taking everything into consideration, the success of this years squad is not measured by the (winning) percentage column. Coach Olsen met and conquered untold difficulties in whipping a more or less disorganized bunch of material into a team strong enough to compete with machines of the Big Ten. We entertain great hopes for the future, store as Rome wasn’t built in a day, an unnamed student wrote in 1923.

Things were noticeably improved the next season as Oley’s Bucks finished 12-5. The 1924-25 campaign would mark the turning point for the Scarlet Scrappers.

The difference between Oley and his predecessor was the ability to spot talent.

“Johnny Miner, the Chic Harley of Ohio State basketball, was strictly an Olsen product from the ground up. Miner played at Columbus East but wasn’t good enough to make all-high,” Dispatch sports editor Russ Needham explained. Oley went to the old Armory for a meeting and stopped to watch an intramural game underway. “Johnny Miner was there playing with (his fraternity) team. Oley watched. He watched some more. Finally, at the half, he went down into the locker room and asked the boy to come out for the varsity. A year later he was all Big Ten and in another he was an immortal.”

Olsen plucked fellow starter Mel Shaw off the intramural courts as well. Trautman had cut both Miner and Shaw during the first day of tryouts the year before.

Oley added All-Big Ten center Harold “Cookie” Cunningham (who happened to be an excellent football player as well), Ralph ”Red” Seiffer, and Jake Cameron in 1925 to form the first Scarlet quintet to capture a Western Conference championship.788467Cookie Head shot

Columbus became enchanted, with 10,000 fans routinely filling the stands at the Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Cunningham told Bob Hunter in Buckeye Basketball: “Basketball at Ohio State had never been too strong before that time … So when we started winning, they had standing room only out there. The fans were really behind us and we had good support.”

The momentum didn’t last long as the Buckeyes failed to finish in the top half of the conference over the next seven seasons.

Many of Oley’s players questioned his methods and some even called him lazy. Olsen s said to have sat in the stands during practice, barely uttering a word, while the players ran their drills. He usually didn’t even remove his topcoat in the unheated Coliseum.

While some former players may have had an axe to grind, each said he was a nice man, with high character. They didn’t question his basketball knowledge, just that his low-key, quiet nature didn’t make it seem like he put forth menoucgh effort.

Needham thought Oley’s true skill was spotting and developing playersathletes: “He seemed to have a talent for recognizing latent talent in a flash and the added skill of developing it to the utmost.”

It is clear that when Oley’s roster was sprinkled with talent his teams excelled. If one of those athletes was a gifted center, like Cunningham, the Buckeyes were competing for championship rings.

The 1932-33 season was one of those years. The Buckeyes featured atrio of players from Dayton Stivers High School who had won three consecutive Class A state titles, led by sharpshooter Bobby Colburn and outstanding pivot Bill Hosket, Sr.

The Buckeyes would go on to finish with a record of 17-2, including an impressive win at Kentucky and a share of the Western Conference Crown with Northwestern.

OSU’s hope of winning additional titles outright vanished the following season when Hosket had academic issues. Without a dominant big man, the Buckeye basketeers muddled through the next few seasons.

In addition to coaching, Olsen always carried additional duties. He served as an assistant football coach to John Wilce. Later he spent four years as the head golf coach. More importantly Olsen had served in the administration of the athletic department and longed to succeed Lynn St. John when the legendary athletic director retired.

Oley was also active in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and served as its president during the 1932-33 season, while winning a share of the Big Ten title.

Harold Olsen Basketball Coach, 1935

In the early 1930s, Edward “Ned” Irish, a sportswriter for the New York Telegram, showed that promoting college basketball contests could be profitable.

Irish teamed with the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association (MBWA) to host the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in Madison Square Garden. The writers even decided to anoint the winners as national champions.

Initially, many in the game viewed the NIT with promise.

“I think it (NIT) would be an interesting experiment,” commented University of Kansas coach Forrest “Phog” Allen, expressing hope the NIT would end “provincialism and sectional play” that had a “strangle hold on college hoops.”

Others were skeptical of eastern influences, particularly to the trustworthiness of “outside promoters” and the high profile presence of gamblers at the Madison Square Garden games.

Olsen felt the NABC, with the NCAA’s backing, as the only legitimate authority to sanction such a coronation. “The prestige of college basketball should be supported and demonstrated to the nation by the colleges themselves, rather than be left to private promotion and enterprise.” Olsen wrote.

Olsen’s case was convincing, and the NCAA placed him in charge of the newly formed NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee. Olsen’s committee decided to split the nation in half and conduct four-team tournaments in the east and west with the winners of each meeting somewhere in the middle. Each of the eight regions chose its own representative, most appointed panels of ‘experts”, while others held play-in tourneys.666569

 

Prospects for Ohio State’s 1938-39 season didn’t seem to hold anything special. Despite three returning starters, including the high-scoring Jimmy Hull, the Buckeyes stumbled early season, losing four out of six on a west coast swing.

When newspapers met the returning team at the train station, Hull brashly told the reporters, “We are going to win the Big Ten Championship.” The reporters present, included Ohio State Journal sports editor Bob Hooey, thought Hull’s statement was, well, a bunch of hooey.

Considering the program’s current record and the team’s recent middling stature, no one had a compelling reason to take Hull seriously, but 1939 was different, even if it wasn’t apparent to the press or anyone else.

The reason was Hull. Olsen said the 5’11” forward possessed “incomparable leadership” abilities and inspired a “flaming intensity of camaraderie” among his teammates.

Though Hull was more than just a rah-rah guy.

“Jimmy was such a fine shooter,” remembered assistant coach Jack Graf for Hunter’s book. “He had kind of an underhanded, two-hand shot, but was very quick. He would fake a drive, and then pull back and fire away, and he had great accuracy from outside. And then he could also get in the pivot and shoot a good hook shot.”

Though senior Dick Baker was an accomplished scorer if needed, Olsen’s 1938-39 Buckeyes were not a team dripping with talent. No one suspected they could compete for a Big Ten title. What elevated them to a championship level club was the team spirit Hull had summoned.63a_med

Entering the regular season’s final weekend, Ohio State trailed Indiana by one game. A loss by Branch McCracken’s Hoosiers to Purdue, combined with Ohio State’s win at Wisconsin behind Hull’s school record of 27 points, drew the two teams to a tie.

The Scarlet quintet hosted defending conference champs Purdue to close out the schedule. An OSU victory meant a share of the conference title. Indiana traveled to Ann Arbor to close the conference slate against the 3 and 8 Wolverines.

“In story-book fashion, Ohio State captured the undisputed Western Conference basketball championship last night defeating Purdue 51 to 35 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum,” wrote the State Journal’s Clarence Young.

Michigan “very obligingly” upset Indiana in Ann Arbor leaving the Buckeyes alone at the top of the standings.

A “victory mad crowd” of 11,184, many apparently perched in the Coliseum’s arched wooden rafters, “cheered wildly” when the results were relayed from Ann Arbor.

Hull captured the conference scoring crown, breaking Johnny Miner’s school standard along the way.

It was a triumphant night for Oley Olsen and Ohio State.

At the bottom of the Journal’s sports page was a short squib announcing “Bucks, Big Ten Champs, May Play In Tourney,” though no one knew what this meant.

The commercialism Olsen wished to avoid, Selection Sunday, bracketology, and March Madness were all decades in the future. Olsen was on the verge of not only seeing his NCAA Tournament come to life but also leading his team in it.

As Western Conference champs OSU was a logical choice, but having Olsen’s mentor, Walter Meanwell on the three-man selection committee didn’t hurt their chances.

Though Jimmy Hull said he and his teammates initially preferred to stay home to watch the upcoming Ohio high school tournament (“We didn’t even know what the tournament was”), that quickly changed. “If we don’t get an invitation to that tournament, we’re going to be disappointed,” Hull said, advocating his teams merits. “Don’t forget we played some mighty fine teams outside the conference. I believe we have played the strongest teams in the country.”

The upstart event had difficulty garnering respect. Missouri, the Big Six co-champions and Missouri Valley champs, Drake, turned down invitations, citing concerns about players missing class time. The snubs prompted Phog Allen to comment that it looked “like we’re running a side show.”

Ohio State was selected and drew Wake Forest as their Eastern Region first-round opponent, at Philadelphia’s Palestra.

Wake Forest led at the half, 29-23, but the Buckeye’s exploded for 41 points in the second half, powered by Dick Baker and Jimmy Hull, to win 64-52. Oley’s Buckeyes dispatched the Deacons, along with any doubt they deserved to be in the tournament.

Hull led the way the next night, notching 28 points as the Bucks beat Villanova 53-36. The snag was that Oley didn’t get his star out of the game soon enough, and Hull had to be carted off the floor after turning an ankle.

“It wasn’t broken, but it would have been better if it had been broken,” Hull told Hunter.

The triumph earned the Buckeyes a trip to the first national championship game.

Hull told Bob Hunter that Olsen’s reaction was puzzling. “After the second impressive performance by his team in two nights, he was not displaying a winning coach’s beam. Just the opposite, in fact. He said, ‘Gentlemen, this is just a little embarrassing to me,’” recalled Hull. “And at that point, John Schick, our center, says, ‘What do you mean embarrassing? We just won you an Eastern championship of the United States.

“And Olsen says, ‘Well gentlemen, I’m the chairman of the [tournament] committee, and here, my ball club wins.’”

The championship game would be played against an impressive University of Oregon team at Northwestern’s Patton Hall. WOSU announced it would “broadcast summary bulletins” of the game live. Announcer Wib Pettigrew would relay “telegraphic reports from Evanston” sent by OSU athletic department’s Jim Renicks. Unfortunately, FCC rules precluded WOSU from being on the air past 10 p.m. Though there were no TV timeouts, the game started at 9:30 p.m. in Columbus so only a small portion of the game was “broadcast.”

The national media began to appreciate the significance of the matchup between “champions of their respective conference and possessors of brilliant scoring records” and felt both “teams stand out as two of the nation’s leading quintets.”

Allen’s sideshow concerns notwithstanding, the warm-up act was a nine-on-nine demonstration of basketball under the original rules of the game (sans peach basket) created by Dr. James Naismith, who would be courtside as the game’s most honored guest.

Oregon was dubbed the “Tall Firs” because of their imposing front court trio; 6’4” forwards Laddy Gale and John Dick and 6’8” Urgel “Slim” Wintermute in the pivot.

Despite nearly a week to recover, Hull’s ankle affected his accuracy as much as the Ducks’ towering defenders. As a team the Buckeyes made only 17 percent of their field goals. Oley choose to insert 6’7” Bill Satler for much of the game, but his inexperience offset any altitudinal advantages.

Turns out WOSU listeners in Columbus were lucky, the Webfoots jumped out to a quick lead and the game was never really close. Though hobbled, the gutsy Hull managed to contribute 12, but Dick Baker was shutout and the Buckeyes fell 46–33.

As an event, the game was a flop; organizers had to give tickets to Northwestern students to boost attendance and lost $2,531. But the NCAA did recognize potential and accepted financial responsibility moving forward.

A few seasons later, Olsen would return to the Final Four behind future Hall-of-Fame center Arnie Risen. The Buckeye fans would enjoy a three-year run in 1944, 1945, and 1946 that saw Olsen’s teams make the Final Four.

In September of 1946, Oley abruptly resigned and accepted the position to become head coach of the Chicago Stags in the newly created professional American Basketball Association.

Though it was a surprise to many, Oley’s departure was understood by others. After 23 years of loyal service Oley had expected he’d follow Lynn St. John as Ohio State’s Athletic Director. When Dick Larkins was announced as St. John’s replacement, Oley’s time in Columbus had come to an end.

Dispatch sports editor Needham, who surmised he’d “covered more Ohio State basketball games then any other writer,” wrote:

“Harold G. Olsen has been a fine example to the sports life of the community. It is with regret that he goes. It is unfortunate and inevitable that he would become entangled in the unsavory political situation rampant on campus. He has more friends in Columbus than he thinks he has. And they’ll be watching for his continued success and hope enthusiastically for his continued happiness.”

Despite winning at a .600 clip, Olsen would only spend three years in professional basketball. He returned to college basketball to become the coach at Northwestern in 1950, but health issues forced him out after two seasons.

Olsen died of a heart attack in October 1953.

Though his tenure at Ohio State was long and successful by any measure, Olsen’s greatest accomplishment was spearheading the creation of the NCAA basketball tournament.

The 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament marks the 75th anniversary of what has developed into “March Madness.”

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