Adam Jardy, our intrepid Ohio State men’s basketball writer, has tweeted 47,000 times about the team since last season. He has written 500 stories about the potential recruits and the actual recruits and the coaches and what they’re all thinking. He has certainly done his bit to fill this section of today’s newspaper.
Jardy is a must-follow, as they say, for an Ohio State basketball fan. I follow him. I also talk to Yoda.
“I haven’t seen this team play so I will withhold comment at this point,” Yoda said last week.
Dave Barker is Yoda. He has appeared in this column space before and will again, as long as this great man remains upright.
Barker has seen more live Ohio State basketball games than anyone, ever. His run predates the great state university’s lone basketball championship, won in 1960.
That championship is often remembered for its super sophomores — among them, Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. Another Hall of Famer, Bob Knight, was in that sophomore class but he rode the pine in 1960. He didn’t like it, either.
Mel Nowell, yet another sophomore in 1960, started at point guard and ran the show for coach Fred Taylor. Those old Buckeyes ran a cutting-edge, fastbreak offense and they were terrific on defense. Nowell was one of two former East High players — the great power forward Joe Roberts was the other — and one of six Columbus high-school products on that championship team.
Barker was another. He was a sly, ambidextrous forward out of St. Mary’s in German Village. He was one of a few seniors on that championship team. Sixth man Dick Furry out of West High was another.
Those 1960 seniors are reaching another milestone. Barker is 80. He was at the party up in Lakewood where Furry celebrated his 80th a couple of months ago. Lucas, Nowell and Gary Gearhart were there, too. These guys are still tight. They also are aware that their get-togethers are destined to shrink in numbers.
John Cedargren, a former North High star, died in 1966. Larry Siegfried, a terrific shooting guard whose number is retired by the Boston Celtics, passed in 2010. (It was a helluva funeral.)
“It was a very special, very talented group,” Barker said. “The whole starting five was drafted to the pros. Everyone on the team graduated with at least one degree.”
Barker is a decades-long link to the alumni and the program.
He was a kid when he went to his first Ohio State basketball game. He played four years in scarlet and gray. He never left the building: He has seen all but seven or eight home games since Eisenhower won a second term.
These days, Yoda’s seats are in Section 127, up in the corner — where he can see the whole floor and watch the bench. Although he keeps close tabs on recruiting, he tends to reserve judgment until he sees the team play for real. He is curious to see how second-year coach Chris Holtmann handles a rebuild.
“He had seasoned players — and good seasoned players — last year,” Barker said. “It’ll be a challenge taking a new group and forming them into a cohesive unit. There are a few guys with some experience. I’m excited to see what they’ve got.”
For 50 years, Barker sat on the 45-yard line for football games. He had to give up his football season tickets a few years ago, when a new points system priced him out of the stadium. Way out. Barker is a retiree and lives on a fixed income. But he still has basketball. Yoda loves basketball.
“This year will prove more the quality of coaching, what (Holtmann) can do, or should do,” Barker said. “We’ll see what happens. That’s the exciting thing about this. The Schott is spruced up with renovations. There have been a lot of empty seats in recent years, and I’m hoping for better attendance.”
Barker opened his season last Wednesday night, when he was in his regular corner perch for an exhibition game against UNC Pembroke. On many game nights, Nowell comes along — and believe this: Mel, even at age 78, can still break you down off the dribble. Roberts, who played in the NBA and ABA and had a distinguished career in coaching, shotguns whenever he is in town.
Drop by and say hello to these men, who did something for Ohio State basketball that is not likely to be replicated in their lifetimes. They have seen much. They see more yet.