Proceeds from dinner will benefit the Jerry Lucas Scholarship.
MIDDLETOWN — Even before the first word was written about Jerry Lucas, before the 76-game winning streak started and the first of the two consecutive state titles were won at Middletown High School, Jerry Ray Lucas practiced.
Day and night.
Usually at Sunset Park until the older players arrived and Lucas was kicked off the court.
By the time Lucas was 15 or so, he was a dead-eye shooter of the basketball. A woman who lived near the park often looked out her front window in amazement of the number of consecutive shots the young Lucas sank. She was so impressed that she told her husband, who was at work when Lucas typically practiced, that he had to watch.
“You gotta see this kid shoot,” the woman told her husband.
But on this day, Lucas, always a perfectionist, decided it would be fun to intentionally miss every shot, and intently watch where the shots landed on the concrete court. This way, Lucas figured, he’d know every angle and that would make him a better rebounder. He’d outsmart the taller players.
After watching Lucas for a few minutes, missed shot after missed shot, the man turned to his wife and said: “That’s the worst shooter I’ve seen in my life.”
That brought a chuckle from the overflow crowd that gathered Saturday night at Miami University Middletown to celebrate Lucas, his athletic accomplishments and the courts at Wade E. Miller Gym and Sunset Park being named Jerry Lucas Court.
For more than two hours, Paul Walker Jr., whose late father coached the Middletown High School boys basketball team to five state championships, Jim Nein, who starred at MHS in the early 1960s, and Bill Hosket, a standout player at Dayton Belmont High School and Ohio State, talked about Lucas’ high school, collegiate, Olympic and professional basketball feats.
Some of the stories have been told countless times over the years — in every barbershop, bar and gym around town — but no one seemed to mind. It was a special evening, a two-day celebration, for Lucas, called the “elder statesman who poured the foundation” for Middletown’s rich basketball history.
Lucas helped the Middies win 76 consecutive games, still a state record, and back-to-back state titles in 1956 and 1957.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Jerry Lucas Scholarship that the organizers are hoping to establish. Donation envelopes were handed out to the more than 200 people in attendance.
This night was all about Lucas, 72, and his legacy, on and off the court.
Lucas said when he was a fourth-grader, he played on the sixth-grade team, but he only got into the last game of the season and for only 15 seconds. Lucas committed a foul and he was pulled. That’s when he decided to dedicate his youth to becoming the best basketball player ever.
That meant making — and missing — thousands of shots.
Jerry Lucas talked about a wide-range of topics Saturday night during the Jerry Lucas Court Dedication Dinner at Miami University Middletown and he took questions from the audience.
Middletown High School player Vince Edwards, a junior, said throughout his travels playing AAU basketball, when he tells people he’s from Middletown, they know that’s the home of Jerry Lucas.
Lucas called that “very gratifying” and said “I love his place.” He said his parents are buried at Woodside Cemetery and he visited and decorated their graves Saturday afternoon. Lucas said he will be buried at Woodside.
Someone asked who the best player Lucas ever played with. That was an easy one, Lucas said. Oscar Robertson with the Cincinnati Royals.
Any advice to the younger players? “Outwork everybody. There are a lot of great athletes. Work harder and be smarter.”
His favorite victory? Winning championships in high school, college, Olympics and pros. He was the first player to accomplish that feat, and only the third in history.
At Sunset Park in the summer, the winning team stayed on the court, while the losers had to wait their turn. Did Lucas ever lose at Sunset? “I can’t remember losing.”
What about his high school coach, Paul Walker? How was he able to win five state championships? “He was a special person. He had great knowledge of the game. He blended and meshed his players together.”
Since retiring from basketball in 1973, Lucas said he has dedicated the last 40 years to improving the educational system in America. One day, he said, he will be known more for education than athletes. “The best part of my life is ahead of me.”
During the 76-game winning streak, there were several close games, including one at the Cincinnati Gardens when Hamilton stalled, holding the ball for more than five minutes in the second quarter. Lucas was asked if the Middies ever stalled. He said once during a timeout Coach Paul Walker told the players not to shoot, and Walker looked right at Bob Cole, who Lucas said couldn’t “spell pass.”
Cole told Walker: “If you don’t want me to shoot the ball, don’t pass me the ball.”
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