Friday, December 21, 2018

In Memoriam: Mel Hutchins

Jay Drew, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec 21, 2018

Former BYU basketball standout Mel Hutchins, who led the Cougars to the NIT National Championship in 1951, died Wednesday, December 19, 2018, near his home in Encinitas, Calif., at the age of 90.

Hutchins (No. 14) and his former BYU teammate Roland Minson (No. 11) had their jerseys retired at the Marriott Center during a 2013 game against Portland.

“These players helped put BYU basketball on the map,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in the halftime ceremony.

When BYU won the 1951 NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City, it was considered an equivalent to the NCAA tournament. Hutchins was also the MVP of the 1951 College All-Star Game.

The 6-foot-6 power forward and center was selected in the 1951 NBA draft and played in the league until 1958 with the Milwaukee Hawks, Fort Wayne Pistons and New York Knicks. He led the NBA in rebounding in 1951-52 as a rookie, with 13.3 per game.

He played in four NBA All-Star games, and finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1956.

Hutchins’ sister is 1952 Miss America winner Colleen Kay Hutchins, and he is the uncle of former two-time NBA All-Star Kiki Vandeweghe.

After his professional basketball career, Hutchins worked in real estate and became an avid golfer who competed in various high-level amateur tournaments in Northern California.

Hutchins was born in Sacramento and played high school basketball in Arcadia, Calif.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Vic Yanz Identified

Originally listed as "Vic Yanze," I couldn't find anything except a reference to playing basketball at Massachusetts State College. And then nothing else. Nothing in, either.... until today when I revisited him and tried again. This time, I found a reference to "Vic Yanz." No "E" at the end of his name, so that lead me onto a new direction. I found an obituary for "Vic Yanz" in the Chicago Tribune, which lead me back to Ancestry and his widow in the obit. I found that "Yanz" was shortened from Yozonaitis (or Yanzanaitis). Feeling confident, I got confirmation from a family member the this "Vic Yanz" did indeed play basketball, with a Lithuanian team around Chicago in the 30's. We found our guy. Not sure if he ever really did play at UMass or if it is just a mistake in the Sheboygan Press article.

Skeets Lonoff Identified

I have pretty much decided that the Newark Joe Fays (ABL) player previously listed as Al Lonoff is actually Abe Lonoff, Newark-area athlete and later businessman.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bill Lane (Detroit Eagles 1940-41) Identified

Didn't have a lot on him before, but found his childhood address which lead to family members which lead to full name which lead to obituary.

William Bradfield Lane (1916-1997)


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In Memoriam: Lou Decsi

Lou Decsi (1923-2018)



Louis Decsi, Jr., 95, passed away November 19, 2018 in Englewood Florida. He lived most of his life in Glastonbury, CT and 12 years in Old Saybrook, CT before moving to Englewood Fl.Raised in Akron Ohio, he served in the Navy for 3 years in WWII. He graduated from Bucknell University with a B.A. in Economics in 1948 attending Harvard University via its ROTC program and the Navy's V-12 program at Bucknell. He was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity at Bucknell and was captain of Bucknell's basketball team and co-captain of Harvard's basketball team that went to the NCAA basketball tournament held in Madison Square Gardens. He continued his basketball career professionally with the Sunbury Mercuries from Sunbury, PA and tried out for the Boston Celtics who sent him to their farm team, the Hartford Hurricanes, in Hartford, CT.He was an Assistant Treasurer of the Hartford Insurance Group and ITT Hartford, retiring after 37 ½ years of service. He was past president of the Hartford Insurance Group's Men's Club, captain of their All-Insurance Basketball Team and captain of their Men's All-Insurance Duckpin Bowling team. He was a past life member of Englewood's Elk's Club, a life member of VFW post 10420, a member of Rotunda American Legion and a member of Senior Friends.Lou was an avid golfer who golfed at least twice weekly into his early nineties (his years not his score!). He enjoyed playing cards, both bridge and poker. He and his wife of over 40 years, Ellen, loved to dance. Lou continued dancing after her passing, meeting his companion of over 10 years, Maye Pikiel of Rotunda, Florida. He leaves many dear friends in the community of Englewood, FL including Joe and Jean Demko, and Mickey and Beverly Beaudoin He leaves his children Mary-Kate Russell of Fort Lauderdale, FL; Michael Decsi of Whitehall, NY; and Brigid Nessing of Manchester, CT; and his grandchildren Frederick and Sarah Russell, Paul Decsi and Brian Nessing. There will be a mass in his remembrance at St Raphael's Church, Englewood Florida, Tuesday December 4 at 10AM. In lieu of flowers, donations made be made in Lou's memory to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association PO Box 417005 Boston, MA 02241-7005 or a charity of your choice.

Monday, November 26, 2018

In Memoriam: Gene Berce



Gene Berce, Marquette's first 1,000-point scorer and professional basketball draft pick, died last Saturday (November 17, 2018) at 91, the university said.

Berce was a standout basketball player at Milwaukee Marquette High School. He initially headed to the University of Wisconsin in 1944, but the school did not guarantee him a scholarship.

He then headed to MU and head coach Bill Chandler.

“So I left Wisconsin, I was there one day, then we played them a week later and I had 22 points against them,” Berce told the Journal Sentinel in 2017. “Bud Foster, who was coach then, said that was the worst mistake he'd ever made in his life."

Berce also played one season at Cornell in 1945 while he was in officer training during World War II.

After the war, Berce came back to MU and led the team in scoring in three seasons before graduating in 1948. He ended up with 1,171 points at MU.

Berce was drafted in 1948 by the New York Knicks in the Basketball Association of America, a precursor to the NBA. Berce later played for the Tri-Cities Hawks and the National Basketball League's Oshkosh All-Stars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Milestone #8 - American Basketball League II

What I call the ABL II is the same organization as ABL I. There was a two-season break in the league due to the depression, but when it came back, it was still lead by John O'Brien who reformed it from the Metropolitan League. The scope of ABL II was much smaller geographically. ABL 1 covered a large swath of the Eastern US, from Chicago to Boston; roughly a thousand-mile diameter footprint. When ABL II came along, it was a much smaller footprint, with the largest distance between two teams being about 300 miles apart. A prominent league in the beginning, after World War 2, it was relegated to minor league status, and by the early 50's, was barely even the largest minor league.


It was clear after the 1952-53 season the American Basketball League was in dire condition. Teams were failing to sell tickets, secure home courts and fighting with the league office. In May of 1953, Eddie White announced that his Wilkes-Barre Barons were leaving the ABL. Granted, he had made claims prior to this before, but he went so far to sell the actual bleachers in the Kingston Armory, the Barons home court.  A week later, the Pawtucket club was sold to George Patrick Duffy who was the publicity director for the Providence club in the American Hockey League. . In June of 1953, Elmira’s ownership was dealt a blow with the death of Harl Robacher. Robacher was the principal owner of the Colonels and had taken over the team prior to the 52-53 season. He died suddenly from a heart attack at 51 years of age. 

By the end of summer, it didn’t appear there would be another season. President John O’Brien made efforts to reorganize, despite his public claims he wanted to pass the presidency to someone else, specifically Matty Begovich, the former player who now was the chief of the referees. Finally, On October 16, 1953, the announcement was made that the league had suspended operations.
The Scranton Miners, a two-time ABL champion and two-time runner up in 5-and-a-half seasons in the league (they moved from Jersey City partway into the 1947-48 season) would reform in 1954 as a member of the Eastern Basketball League. The won that league title in 1956-57, and would continue to play through 1970, when the league renamed itself as the Eastern Basketball Association. The club changed their moniker to the Scranton Apollos. They won the EBA championship in 1971, and again in 1977. After winning that title, the club dissolved, with a lot of their personnel moving to Wilkes-Barre. relocated to Wilkes-Barre Barons to become the Wilkes-Barre Barons, of all things. When the league changed to the Continental Basketball Association in 1978, the team would play the 1978-79 season under that name before changing their name to the Pennsylvania Barons (1979-80 season) then to the Scranton Aces (1980-81) before disbanding.

The Wilkes-Barre Barons had won three ABL crowns in their six seasons in the league.  After the league folded, the team joined the Eastern League in 1954 along with Scranton. The club quickly became a powerhouse in that league, winning 4 EBL Championships in their first five seasons in the league. They would win the title again in 1969, and yet again in 1973 as the EBA, The team folded in midseason of the 1973-74 season. During the 1975-76 season, the Brooklyn Pros team of the EBA moved to Wilkes-Barre in mid—season and took the Barons name. This incarnation, not tied to the ABL team any more, would play the 1978-79 season under that name before changing their name to the Pennsylvania Barons (1979-80 season) then to the Scranton Aces (1980-81) before disbanding.
The Manchester British Americans would continue play in the much smaller Eastern Basketball League of Connecticut for the 1953-54 season before disbanding.

The impact of the ABL is mainly in its foundation. It was the first attempt at a major basketball league in the lines of the NHL, NFL, AL and NL. The sport was barely 30-years old at the time of the ABL's formation in 1925. It was also the first league to serve as a minor league support system to the NBA (some franchises, at least.) However, grander vision and deep pockets possessed by the owners of the BAA/NBA/NBL spelled the leagues doom. Solidifying itself as the top major league, the NBA would enjoy years without a serious run at its hegemony.

As for ABL-II, here are the numbers for the six season run:

Number of ABL-II players:  951
Unidentified/unknown whereabouts:168
Surviving ABL-II players: 50. It is quite possible that a few of the guys I have listed as living have indeed passed, but I haven't found that information yet. Compared to other sports' longevity data I have, that number should be around 40. It is also possible that of the 130+ unideintified players who debuted after the 1930's, a few of them could very well be alive. I wouldn't take the number of surviving players as definitive number.

Of the 951 players, 127 players (13.35%) lived to see the age of 90. 46 men (4.84%) died before the age of 50. (Numbers could obviously change as unknown players get identified.

ABL-I and ABL-II Longevity numbers combined:
1225 player
155 (12.65%) saw the age of 90.
68 (5.55%) died before 50.

Earl Hill ('26) and Gil Ely ('26) both lived to be 100. Hubs McCord ('29) made it to 101.

So there you go. I started this journey with the ABL back on October 10, 2017, so a little over 13 months. I'm tired. Have a good Thanksgiving and Christmas and Happy New Year, too.