CENTERVILLE – Compared to his legendary grandfather and well-known dad – who between them played 194 basketball games for the University of Dayton, heard lots of cheers and were responsible for a family name that’s become one of the best-known in Flyers’ hoops history – Brady Uhl is just in the infancy of his own UD story.
Although the redshirt freshman walk-on has played in just one game this season, he’s already experiencing something neither his grandfather, Bill Uhl Sr., the 7-foot post player of the 1950s who became an All American and a UD Hall of Famer, nor his 6-foot-9 dad, Bill Jr., ever did.
That thought came up the other afternoon when Bill Jr. was visiting his father at the Bethany Village retirement community on Far Hills Avenue.
Bill Sr., who’ll be 89 in five days, was in his room, sitting in his easy chair. A TV was in front of him, his rosary was in a leather pouch on the table next to him and all around him were reminders of Dayton Flyers basketball.
A UD schedule – along with a “For the love of Jesus and Mary” prayer – was affixed to the wall next to his bed.
Another schedule – surrounded by Christmas cards, calendars and photos of the family members and dogs—was on the wall facing him.
That’s where you also found a picture of Brady, arms crossed in front of him, in his UD jersey.
Bill Jr. recalled the recent game against Virginia Tech at UD Arena when a group of students in the Red Scare section, began chanting: ‘We want Brady! We want Brady!”
Bill, who was sitting with his wife Kelly in the front row, across the court from the UD bench, admitted: “Our faces turned red. It was happy embarrassment, but really there were still more than seven minutes left!
“He’s got some sophomore buddies over there who pull for him. They started up again with five minutes left and then with two minutes to go.” Earlier in the week, after practice, Brady recalled the moment, too: “Yeah, I heard them. It was pretty cool. Hopefully I can hear cheers like that for four years.”
His dad admitted he doesn’t remember anything quite like that happening for him when he played from 1986 to 1990.
“Back then, sometimes I was playing and sometimes I was not. And when I wasn’t, I had a friend walking around the Arena with a banner that said ‘Where’s Uhl?’”
He started to laugh: “I caught some stuff for that from Coach Donoher at halftime and after the game.”
That prompted a story from Bill Sr., as well.
It happened on March 26, 1956 after the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.
Uhl, as he had in the previous two seasons, was the leading scorer and rebounder for the 25-3 Flyers, who’d spent much of the season ranked No. 2 in the nation behind the Bill Russell-led San Francisco Dons.
In New York, the Flyers fell 93-80 to No. 6 Louisville in the title game. The year before they’d also lost the NIT championship game.
“I played a lousy game,” Uhl admitted. “When I went out on the court to get my (runners-up) watch, 15,000 people booed. I came back to the bench and cried.”
But if you follow the tracks of those tears, they lead you to a legacy unlike almost any other in Dayton basketball history.
With Brady now completing their UD triumvirate, the Uhls have become one of only two families to produce three generations of Flyers basketball players. The other is the Zimmermans: George, Jack and Jack Jr.
While it started with Bill Sr., it wouldn’t have happened without his wife Cynthia, who he calls “my rock. Without her, I’d be lost. I couldn’t make it.”
He remembered the day he first saw her at McClain High in Greenfield.
She was Cynthia Fetters then, the daughter of a traveling salesman who continually moved his family around.
“I was sitting in study hall and everybody was talking about this new girl in school,” he remembered. “I saw her come through the door for the first time and was impressed right away. I got one good look at her and I said ‘I’m gonna marry that girl!’”
Six years after Bill’s graduation, in 1957, the couple did marry and that 64-year union has produced five children and 11 grandchildren.
It’s the best example of Bill Uhl showing he knew what he wanted in life.
Another happened soon after he headed to Ohio State to play basketball.
At McClain, he’d only played the sport as a senior.
“He didn’t play before that because his parents couldn’t find basketball shoes that fit him,” Brady said, repeating an oft-told tale.
While Bill did have a hard time finding size 16 shoes back then, he said there was more to the story:
“My mother wouldn’t let me play any sports. I had an enlarged heart when I was young and she worried about too much exertion.
Credit: Contributed photo
Credit: Contributed photo
“But I grew into my heart and when my mother died while I was still in school, my dad sent me out to play football and basketball.” Although he drew recruiting interest from across the nation – “I’ve got hundreds of his letters from people like Adolph Rupp, everybody, in boxes at home,” his son said -- Bill Sr. wanted to go to OSU because “they had all that publicity.” But it didn’t take him long to realize he’d made a mistake: “I didn’t like it and I called my father and said, ‘I’m coming home.’”
Unbeknownst to him, he said his dad had contacted UD coach Tom Blackburn and asked: “Would you like to have my son?”
“Blackburn told him ‘Sure, you don’t get 7-footers that often,” Bill Sr. said. “So when I got home, my dad said, ‘Don’t unpack. You’re going to Dayton.’
“And when Blackburn called me in his office, he wanted to know what I wanted to accomplish at UD.
“I told him three things.
“I said I wanted to play in Madison Square Garden because, at that time, if you played there, Man you were something. Anybody worth anything played there.
“I told him I wanted to be an All American.
“And let’s see, there was a third thing.…Aaah what was it? There was something.”
The thought, like some others these days, was elusive and finally, a bit flustered, he shook his head at his inability to recall:
“I just can’t remember it right now.”
Family insurance business
Bill Sr. would play in Madison Square Garden 11 times and he was a first team All-America selection by Look Magazine and a consensus second team pick by everyone else.
Although chosen by the Rochester Royals in the 1956 NBA Draft, he turned down a pro career. Again he knew what he wanted:
“I wanted to go into the insurance business and to get married and start a family.” He and Cynthia have four daughters and Bill Jr. All five kids graduated from UD, as have a pair of granddaughters. And now two grandsons are there.
“That’s another UD legacy,” Bill Jr. said.
And then there has been the financial commitment to UD athletics, which, among other things, includes the Uhl Family Endowed Scholarship given to a men’s basketball player who has shown promise in the classroom.
As for hoops, Bill inherited his dad’s size, but not his scoring ability.
Bill Sr. was a force inside and had an almost unstoppable left and right hand hook shot. He scored 1,627 career points and averaged a double-double – 18.5 points, 14.6 rebounds – in his three years as a Flyer.
“Sometimes I just over thought it too much,” said Bill, who came to UD from Alter, redshirted a year and then scored 531 points as a Flyer.
Credit: Ty Greenlees
Credit: Ty Greenlees
Those first two seasons he was a teammate of Anthony Grant, now the Flyers’ head coach. One of his shining moments was a game-winning free throw with one second left against Bucknell in 1988.
“It was on a tape, the kind where you put it in a TV, and I probably watched it 1,000 times,” Brady said.
Bill Jr. was one of six seniors on the first Jim O’Brien team that beat Xavier twice, won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Tournament and then beat Illinois in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Arkansas by two points.
After college, he joined his dad at the William G. Uhl Insurance agency and a few years later bought the business. He and Kelly have four boys.
“I got my name from my dad, but I got my height from my mom,” the 6 foot-1 Brady said with a laugh. “She weighed me down.
“But she gave me my drive and determination.”
The combination paid off at Alter, where he was a three-year starter and two-time captain for the Knights. He was the Greater Catholic League Player of the Year as a senior and the league’s top scorer, averaging 18.8 points a game and finishing with 1,036 career points.
With no Division I offers, he went to the University of Cumberlands, an NAIA basketball power in Williamsburg, Ky.
But like his grandad at Ohio State, he said he didn’t feel comfortable there. The situation was exacerbated by the COVID rules last season that kept his family from attending Patriots’ games.
He played in eight games, scored 11 points and decided to transfer.
Once back home, he initially decided he was going to give up basketball.
‘A dream come true’
He’d grown up an avid Flyers fan.
“I probably went to my first game when I was three years old,” he said. “I had a Flyers Fathead and pictures on my bedroom wall. I remember going to team camps when I was four or five.
“I’d go to games wearing my Flyers jersey and I’d get autographs. I think I still have a sheet of all the signatures from the 06-07 team. It was Brian Roberts senior year. Jimmy Binnie was on the team. He was my favorite player.”
Yet when UD assistant coach Ricardo Greer first mentioned the possibility of him walking onto the team, Brady turned the offer down.
“I thought I could be happy just going to school and not playing basketball anymore,” he said. “But then I started playing at the RecPlex and I realized I missed it. I missed being a part of something special, something that’s bigger than you.”
His dad, Bill Jr., had been supportive of his initial decision, but admitted: “I always wondered if, in the back of his mind, he wanted to put a Flyers jersey on.” In September, Brady joined some 20 others at a Flyers tryout and was the one player to make the team as a walk-on.
After being a star at Alter, he had to adapt to sitting at the far end of the bench.
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
“It’s about adjusting to a different role,” he said. “My job is to practice hard and make the team better. And I think our team is getting better and better.”
Some of the biggest rewards have come from moments special to all Flyers players. Running out of the players’ tunnel onto the court for a game in front of roaring, sold-out crowd is “surreal,” he said.
“It’s really a dream come true.”
Moments like that move his dad as well: “It’s hard to describe how proud I feel. A lot of memories flood back to me of what it’s like to be a Dayton Flyer. I’m sure my dad went through some of the same feelings.”
Bill Sr. is just as proud of Brady: “I can’t wait until he gets in a few more games.”
As is, the three Uhls have played for the three UD coaches who have the deepest ties to the program: Blackburn, Donoher and Grant.
“Blackburn was tough,” Bill Sr. said. “But I remember he told me if I did what he asked and worked hard, I could accomplish those three things.
“Let’s see…It was play at Madison Square Garden. Be an All American. And aaahhh….what was that third one? I just can’t get it.”
Bill Jr. nudged him away from his frustration: “We’ll think of it later, Dad. Right now I have to head out to a meeting, but I’ll be back.”
As he was about to walk out, he turned and said softly: “Love you, Dad.”
Bill Sr. nodded at his smiling son.
In front of him, grandson Brady was smiling down on him from that photo.
And right then, Bill Sr. had his answer.
While it might not have been that third thing he’d requested of Blackburn, it was better.
He had ended up with a Flyers’ legacy that now spanned three generations.
Brady had said it best:
“It’s really a dream come true.”
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