Thursday, February 14, 2002

Attention: UC


Let's honor 'Juck,' coach of champions

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        Nice guys in Cincinnati don't always finish last.

        But the city sure has a funny way of honoring them.

        Ed Jucker, hometown boy and nice guy, finished first. Not once. But twice.

        In 1961 and 1962, he coached the University of Cincinnati's two and only NCAA Championship basketball teams.

        But you would hardly know that today from walking around UC.

        And that's his alma mater. He bled Bearcat Red and Black. But, the people running the Clifton Avenue degree mill never adequately said thanks.

        Now, it's too late. At least to do it in person. Ed Jucker is dead.

        His recent death at age 85 shouldn't keep UC from honoring him posthumously. Better late than never.

        During Monday's memorial service at the Presbyterian Church of Wyoming, the late coach known as “Juck” was eulogized by his former players. One quoted Bob Goin, UC's athletic director, calling Juck “a pillar” of the school.

        Yet, at a university quick to name sidewalks after benefactors, not one pillar or brick says “Ed Jucker.”

        Juck's baseball jersey has been retired by UC. (Early in his college career, he played and coached the sport.) He's on the school's hall of fame wall. And there's an Ed Jucker baseball scholarship fund.

        But, he deserves more. He beat the odds.

        Ed Jucker did not come from what many view as the right part of town. He grew up in Norwood.

        He did not go to the right high school. He graduated from Woodward.

        As a first-year head coach, he did not have the right player. Oscar Robertson — UC's brightest star — had graduated in 1960.

        Yet, in 1961 and 1962, UC's Cinderella teams went to the Final Four and won it all.

        During the Jucker era, the Bearcats played in the Armory Fieldhouse. The building still stands. Outside, a historical marker mentions the '61 and '62 champs. But not their coach.

        When I was a grade-school kid, my dad scraped together enough money to buy two season tickets to see the '61 underdogs.

        My dad took me to the games in hopes of persuading me to be the first person in my family to go to college. He also wanted to see this green team and its new coach. His plan worked.

        So did Juck's plans for his teams. He became so successful he even wrote a how-to book.

        Eons ago, I got an autographed copy with the inscription: “Always do your best.”

        Those words accompanied me as I looked for signs of Ed Jucker at UC.

        Oscar Robertson never played on an NCAA championship team. His statue stands outside the Bearcats' Shoemaker Center.

        “Know what Juck always wanted?” asked George Wilson. “A bigger banner.”

        A star on UC's 1962 championship team, George attended Monday's memorial service.

        The 1963 banner hanging on a wall inside Shoemaker Center, George noted, is the same size as ones for UC's Final Four appearances in 1959 and 1960.

        “But in '59 and '60, Oscar's years, they finished third,” George said.

        In '63, the Bearcats just missed winning a third NCAA championship by three points.

        “We finished second that year,” George said. “So, Juck wanted the '63 banner to be bigger than '59 and '60.

        “If UC would do that,” he added, “Juck would be sitting on a cloud a happy man.”

        There you go, UC. Expand the banner. Honor an old coach's wishes.

        Then thank him properly. Name some significant structure in his honor. Maybe, old Armory Fieldhouse. Show Juck some respect. Do your best.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.
       

       



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