A decade ago when I was the senior writer at Buckeye Sports Bulletin I was putting together a lookback piece about the 1960 Ohio State men’s basketball team. That squad, of course, won the national championship and was littered with star players.
It also is famous for rolling through the NCAA Tournament in dominant fashion and housing four Basketball Hall of Famers – coach Fred Taylor, future coach Bobby Knight and all-time superstar players Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.
But I still had to talk to Larry Siegfried, who was a standout junior guard that year and the team’s unofficial spokesperson. Siegfried was a talker, a people person, a storyteller, and my publisher was none too happy about me racking up a hefty long distance charge by letting him gab my ear off for a solid hour.
I later came to find that Siegfried did this with anyone who showed interest in that team, the history of the program, the personalities involved or even the current makeup of the Buckeyes.
He is going to be sorely missed. Larry Siegfried died on Thursday at the age of 71.
His daughter, Erin, confirmed the death and said it was the result of heart failure. Siegfried, who resided in Perrysville, Ohio, suffered a heart attack on Oct. 5 and wasn’t able to recover.
National stories of Siegfried’s death praised his outstanding NBA career and prominently mentioned the fact that he won five titles for legendary coach Red Auerbach and with Havlicek as a key member of the Boston Celtics from 1963-70. In fact, Siegfried – a knock-down outside shooter, steady ball handler and willing defender – won championships in his first three seasons in Boston as well as at the end of the 1967-68 and 1968-69 campaigns. That was the last organization to repeat as champion until the Los Angeles Lakers did so in 1988.
Still, Siegfried is best remembered in his home state of Ohio as a proud native of Shelby, a high school phenom and a clutch performer at Ohio State.
Lee Caryer, the author of “The Golden Age of Ohio State Basketball: 1960-1971,” said in an e-mail on Friday that Siegfried was “the best guard in school history.”
“He was as good a player at guard as I’ve seen in the Big Ten,” Knight was quoted as saying in Caryer’s book, which was published in 1991.
Siegfried averaged a team-high 19.6 points per game as a sophomore before Lucas and Havlicek were eligible and he produced 13.2 and 15.2 ppg the next two seasons despite the presence of OSU’s dynamic duo, Knight, Mel Nowell, Joe Roberts, Richie Hoyt and others.
Siegfried served as team captain in 1961 and was named All-Big Ten after helping the Buckeyes post a record of 27-1. They were the nation’s top-ranked team from mid-December until the 70-65 loss in overtime to Cincinnati in the NCAA title game on March 25.
Siegfried also averaged 4.8 rebounds per game including 9.6 his senior season and posted a career free-throw percentage of 81.9.
He went on to lead all of the NBA in the latter category twice and often was involved in key moments of Celtic playoff wins because of his penchant for making clutch shots.
Still, Siegfried often was overshadowed during his NBA career by star players such as Havlicek, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones, also Hall of Famers. It was nothing new for the north central Ohioan, who isn’t revered nearly as much as Lucas, Havlicek or even Knight despite his heroics and likable demeanor.
I remember once asking Siegfried about how he handled the second-banana tag and he simply laughed it off, assuring me that all those players deserved their press clippings and that he never played the game for fame or money.
He was born Lawrence Eugene Siegfried on May 22, 1939 and was a prep legend, averaging right around 38 points per game as a senior at Shelby High School. While growing up he helped with chores on the family farm. His dad also worked at a printing company to make ends meet.
Siegfried never apologized for his rural upbringing and, in fact, always managed to embrace his roots.
In 1988, as a senior at Ohio State, I wrote a lengthy article on Havlicek for the Lantern, the longtime school paper. My sources were Havlicek, Knight, Taylor, Auerbach and Siegfried, who of course, had the best anecdotes of all.
“All of us kids used to sneak over to the girls’ dormitory and eat potato chips and drink soda pop then go home,” Siegfried recalled at the time. “We were all real naïve. None of us ever dated so we just hung out in Baker Hall with the other athletes.
“John, like the rest of us, came from a little town. We didn’t do a whole lot around campus other than play basketball and go to school. People used to think we thought we were too good for anybody because we only associated with each other, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was just our backwardness. That was the nature of the whole team, really. John was probably more raw-boned than I was.”
Siegfried looked a bit ashen and mostly remained seated at the 50-year reunion of the 1960 team in February, but he still was filled with stories and warm memories of his college days. He was such a devout Buckeye that when the Cincinnati Royals drafted him in 1961, he turned down the opportunity because he couldn’t face the thought of playing in that city after what the Bearcats did to OSU in his collegiate finale.
Instead, he signed with the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League, a short-lived franchised owned by George M. Steinbrenner.
In 1962, Siegfried became a high school teacher after he failed to make the roster of the St. Louis Hawks. But the following year he was added on to one of the greatest squads in the history of the NBA, the mighty Celtics.
According to reports, Auerbach gave Siegfried a tryout after some persuasion from Havlicek. After his run with the Celtics, Siegfried played for the San Diego Rockets and Atlanta Hawks. He retired in 1972, spent a year assisting Taylor at Ohio State and three more as a coach with the Rockets.
But Siegfried, of course, wasn’t about to just fade into the distance. When I interviewed him a decade ago he told me he was finding work as a motivational speaker and particularly enjoyed counseling prisoners and giving them hope.
That was Larry Siegfried, a humble man who was always ready to spin a yarn and unexpectedly touch the life of someone else.
In addition to his daughter, Erin, of Westlake, Ohio, Siegfried is survived by his mother, Barbara; two sisters, Bonnie Slone, of Shelby, and Linda Fagg, of Willard, Ohio; his wife, the former Tina Caskin, whom he married in 1972; two other daughters, Carie Muhlenkamp, of Dublin, Ohio, and Olivia Siegfried, of Columbus, Ohio; and a grandchild.
The following statement from current Ohio State head coach Thad Matta was released on Friday: "Our basketball program has lost one of its finest members. His legacy at Ohio State and as a professional is so impressive. He was a player that could do it all and it was a thrill to have him around our team during the 1960 Championship Celebration Weekend last year. Our hearts go out to his entire family."