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Lucas, Hondo and the Gator

By admin Published: January 7, 2009

jl

I'm on the SI.com e-mail list and today's missive included a link to the 1962 story presenting Ohio State's Jerry Lucas as Sportsman of the Year. The story is here and I loved it for a couple of reasons. One was this passage:

As a freshman, Lucas got a reputation for helping his less able dormitory mates with their studies, for making up his own mind and for changing girl friends. One of these had charms enough to play the seductive Maggie in the school version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Another, possibly out of pique, sent him a live alligator from Florida. "It was a mean alligator," remembers John Havlicek, Lucas' teammate, who roomed with him then, "and goofy Luke kept letting it walk around loose in our room."

The other was just the way SI read then. It still loves detail but not to this degree:

Lucas can be found almost any evening this winter studying with Treva in their four-room apartment, which is located exactly 1.3 miles from the granite-gray Ohio State field house. Their telephone number is unlisted. There is no name tag on their door. But, aside from that, they live much like the thousands of college married couples across the land. Their furniture is Early American, selected because it won't go out of style. They own a 1955 Chevrolet, on which the final $46 payment was made last month, a new dishful of plastic fruit, which Jerry considered an extravagance at 80¢, and an India-rubber plant that looks very dead, though Treva insists it will revive. Nowhere in the living room is there an indication that this is the home of a basketball player. In the basement are several cardboard boxes filled with emblems, medals, plaques and clippings, waiting for the trophy room Jerry someday plans to have. There is also a silver punch bowl big enough to float a basketball and maybe even a referee. Middletown had wanted to give Lucas an automobile after the Olympics, but the NCAA said no, and Jerry wouldn't let the Lucas Day Committee fake it by giving the car to his family. He got the punch bowl; he wishes he had the car. ("You see a lot of athletes with new cars," he says. "It makes you wonder.") The Lucas budget is a frugal one. Jerry recently had to get through four days on $1.76, waiting for his monthly scholarship check to come.

As you know if you're stil reading this, Lucas and Havlicek went on to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Lucas became known as a memory expert. One of their OSU teammates was Bob Knight, who has also -- to put it mildly -- made a mark. But I wonder what happened to the alligator.

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