Jerry Lucas was college basketball's golden boy of the early 1960's, a two-time national Player of the Year described by one sports writer as "a 6-foot-8 Jack Armstrong." Lucas later became a standout in the NBA, averaging more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in back-to-back seasons and snatching 40 rebounds in a single game, most ever by a forward in the NBA.
Renowned for his mental dexterity, "Luke" had a sixth sense for rebounding. He studied angles and knew where the ball would carom based on the location of the shooter. He was maniacal, once saying he'd rather rebound than eat. Offensively, he ranks with the best long-range shooters in NBA history.
Lucas was born March 30, 1940, in Middletown, Ohio. In high school, he set a national scoring record, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's mark. His exploits continued at Ohio State University, where he led the nation in field-goal accuracy for three consecutive seasons and in rebounding twice. Lucas was a sophomore when OSU won the national title, beating California in the finals.
Later that year, he was the outstanding player on the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Rome. In a game against UCLA in 1961-1962, Lucas had 30 points and 30 rebounds, after which John Wooden called him "the most unselfish athlete I have ever seen." Sports Illustrated named Lucas its Sportsman of the Year for 1961.
Lucas joined the Cleveland Pipers of the infant American Basketball League in 1962, but the Pipers, owned by George Steinbrenner, folded before Lucas played a game. In 1963, he joined the Cincinnati Royals and promptly won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. The following season, he ended Bob Pettit's run on the All-NBA first team, while joining Pettit and Chamberlain as the only players to average 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same season.
Lucas moved to the San Francisco Warriors during the 1969-1970 season, then to the New York Knicks in 1971. He retired in 1974 with career averages of 17.0 points and 15.6 rebounds. At the time of his election to the Hall of Fame in 1979, he was the sixth-leading rebounder in NBA history.
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