Archdeacon: ‘There’s never been a better Flyer than Bucky’

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Bucky Bockhorn honored at UD Arena on Jan. 18, 2022

It was 30 minutes before the Dayton Flyers would tip off against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday night and Bucky Bockhorn – wearing a red sweater and a bit of an overwhelmed look – sat in one of the new Terrace Suites that juts out over the stands at the south end of UD Arena.

Part of the $76.2 million upgrade of this fabled basketball hall, his vantage point – for a guy whose association with UD hoops began 70 years ago and always had kept him on the court in sneakers or sitting courtside with a microphone – had him marveling:

“This place, with everything they’ve done, is just frickin’ amazing!”

For the rest of the night, the sellout crowd and the UD players and coaches – present and past – would be sending that same message right back up to him:

“Amazing!”

This was a night to honor the 88-year-old Bockhorn, who is one of the most beloved and accomplished players ever to wear a Flyers’ uniform.

He’s in the UD Hall of Fame, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame and he’s part of the Flyers All-Century team. After a seven-year NBA career, he became the color commentator for UD radio broadcasts in 1970, lasted a mind-boggling 50 seasons and now has added three more emeritus years.

Before this night would be over – and with the Flyers, fueled in part by his presence, notching one of their best wins of the season with a 68-50 victory over the Bonnies – the spotlight-shy Bockhorn would have:

» The sold out crowd of 13,407 on its feet and chanting: “Bucky!…Bucky!…Bucky!”

» At halftime, the big video boards above the court playing well wishes from 16 former players and coaches, as well as his longtime broadcast partner Larry Hansgen.

Flyers scoring great and former NBA player Brian Roberts spoke for all UD players when he said: “Everybody looks up to you. Us former players, we definitely respect everything that you represent.”

Former coach Brian Gregory added: “The impact you made in my life and the lives of everybody around the University of Dayton program has simply been incredible. You know that I love you and cherish our friendship.”

» All the Flyers players and coaches congregating near the foul line after the game and looking up at him, they smiled and waved as he waved back.

» And finally, before going back home with Peggy – “my beautiful wife of 64 years,” – his son Dan, who’d come up from Florida and his grandkids, Bockhorn would stop in the victorious Flyers dressing room, where, as Coach Anthony Grant put it:

“The guys got a chance to show him love and he had some great words he shared with (them).”

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Dayton coach Anthony Grant, left, and players wave to Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn after a victory against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton coach Anthony Grant, left, and players wave to Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn after a victory against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

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Dayton coach Anthony Grant, left, and players wave to Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn after a victory against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

From the farm to Dayton

But sitting alone before the game, his conversation drifted back to another time when he was unsure of UD’s embrace.

It was the 1940s and he was one of Elvin and Hulda Bockhorn’s 10 kids. They lived on a hardscrabble farm in southern Illinois. His dad worked in a coal mine.

The family was poor and some of the older children were “farmed out” to live with other families. Several of the boys went off to military service and two died in wars.

Junior was killed in the fierce Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II and Gene died eight years later in Korea.

As a kid, Bucky labored like a man in the fields. His dad had no use for sports – he saw them as a diversion from work– but Bucky did manage to get a hoop tacked up on a chicken coop.

Eventually he got all his eggs in the right basket – the one with a net – and became a star at Trico Consolidated High School.

That drew the interest from UD, but when he got an offer from Tom Blackburn, he said: “I was scared…to…death!

“I was a farm boy. I’d never been on a Greyhound bus or a train. I’d never flew. They had to come and get me for Christ’s sake!”

That was in 1952 and – except for an interruptive two years in the Army, which came after his freshman season as a Flyer, and then as a take-no-guff, 6-foot-4 guard with the Cincinnati Royals, with whom he played 474 games, averaged 11.5 points per game and teamed in the backcourt with Oscar Robertson – he never left UD.

“I’m the luckiest guy in America,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been on a 60-year scholarship.”

Were it not for back surgery before the 2019-20 season and the complications that have followed, he’d still be calling games courtside.

“My balance isn’t the best, which is why I’m up here tonight instead of out on the floor,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to make a damned fool of myself and fall in front of 13,000 people”

He need not have worried.

On this night, no one in UD Arena stood taller.

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Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn waves to the crowd after being honored during a game between Dayton and St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena.

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn waves to the crowd after being honored during a game between Dayton and St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena.

Credit: David Jablonski

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton basketball legend Bucky Bockhorn waves to the crowd after being honored during a game between Dayton and St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at UD Arena.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Bucky and Larry

The partnership of Bucky and Larry began 39 years ago in what was then a dusty, dark storeroom not far from this Terrace suite. It had a small window that overlooked the upper reaches of the Arena and the court down below.

Bucky’s first broadcast partner – fellow UD standout Chris Harris – had moved on and UD needed a replacement. Some early candidates didn’t work out and Hansgen – four years out of college and just two years at WHIO – volunteered.

He’d only broadcast high school games at another station in northwest Ohio and UD athletics director Tom Frericks, in Hansgen’s words, said “Hell no!”

But when the search went nowhere, Frericks offered to give Hansgen a tryout if Bucky agreed.

Bucky did, but laughs when he talks about his first impression. He thought Hansgen was “a nerd… who didn’t know crap about basketball” – but admitted he liked him right off.

The two slipped into that darkened storeroom, put a tape recorder on a stack of boxes, sat on two barstools, looked out that little window and did play-by-play of a Flyers’ scrimmage down below.

Two tapes later, Frericks hired Hansgen and he and Bucky became one of the longest running broadcast combos in college basketball history.

As the years went by, Hansgen watched how Bockhorn studied the copious notes packets sports information director Doug Hauschild gave him before games and how he attended nearly every practice of the season.

“I’d venture to say Bucky spends more time at practice in any season than Tony Stanley ever did in his career,” a grinning Hansgen once told me in reference to UD’s “wild child” star, as Bucky called Stanley.

While he might tease a player or chide a boneheaded play, Bockhorn never did it maliciously and was always there to lift everyone up.

One after another, UD players and coaches – Chris Wright, Jordan Sibert and Ryan Perryman to Oliver Purnell and Archie Miller – brought that up in their video comments.

And that’s why, just before every game, Flyers players always made the pilgrimage from the UD bench to the broadcast table across the court to give Bockhorn a fist bump of respect.

And Kyle Davis, the gritty Chicago guard who played for the Flyers from 2013-17, remembered a postgame exchange, as well, in his video excerpt:

“A memory I know you won’t forget and I won’t forget is when we won the title at UD Arena and I stood on the table right in front of you and you held your arms out to catch me.”

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Kyle Davis talks to Bucky Bockhorn after the victory over Rhode Island on Jan. 6, 2017.

Kyle Davis talks to Bucky Bockhorn after the victory over Rhode Island on Jan. 6, 2017.

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Kyle Davis talks to Bucky Bockhorn after the victory over Rhode Island on Jan. 6, 2017.

‘I love being around the kids’

“He was just so nervous coming over here,” Bockhorn’s son, Dan, said with a laugh.

While he’s uncomfortable in the spotlight, Bucky said he always has soaked in the energy he felt from the players:

“I love being around the kids. Doing those games kept me young.”

Even though he’s no longer courtside, he said he feels something special about this young Flyers team.

“The kids are playing pretty good right now and they just keep getting better,” he said before Tuesday’s game.

He praised Grant for instituting the press after some uncharacteristic losses early in the season:

“The press gets everybody involved. You get camaraderie when you do that and confidence. Their defense triggers their offense and a lot of that happens with the press.”

Since instituting full-court pressure, the 12-6 Flyers have had several big wins, including Tuesday against the Bonnies.

“When (Bucky) came into our locker room, he was so energetic and happy,” said Koby Brea, who had made 6 of 7 three-pointers for a career-high 20 points. “Me and the team and the coaching staff were just so happy that we were able to have such a big win in front of him

“I know he’s really proud to see us succeed like this.” DaRon Holmes II, who had 20 points as well, said Grant had schooled them on Bockhorn.

“We kind of shared with the guys who he was and how important he is to the university, the community and our program,” Grant said.

But the final word on the night came from another UD legend, Flyers’ Hall of Fame coach Don Donoher:

“There’s never been a better Flyer than Bucky.”

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