Wyenandt recalls basketball days
March 18, 2009
>>> Read More Features, Columns and Blogs on VUcommodores.com
Longtime Vanderbilt basketball fans will never forget the shooting exploits of Bo Wyenandt who rocked the SEC and Memorial Gymnasium. The Cincinnati native was part of some of the best basketball teams in Vanderbilt basketball history of the 1960's.
"The colleges that looked at me in high school were Miami of Ohio, Xavier, Louisville and Michigan," Wyenandt said. "I cancelled a trip to Duke because I was tired of looking around. I liked Nashville so I chose Vandy. I liked the coaching staff especially assistant Don Knodel. Knodel was a personal friend of my high school basketball coach. They played basketball together at Miami of Ohio. I met with Coach (Roy) Skinner and the players. I wanted to play in the SEC and I liked the school. I didn't know anything about Vanderbilt. I had never been South of the Ohio River before I went down there."
Wyenandt would play in first season as a Commodore on the freshmen team as freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition. The 6-foot-4 forward came to Vanderbilt after one of the Commodores most successful varsity seasons with junior center Clyde Lee in 1964-65.
"During my freshman year Vanderbilt won the SEC championship," Wyenandt said. "They were 24-4 and beat DePaul, but lost to Michigan in the regional finals. There were only about 16 teams in the tournament at that time. They lost to Michigan by two points (87-85) and they had their own "Fab Five" with Cazzie Russell and those guys. That Michigan game was the best college game I've ever seen. I was a freshman watching in person and it was back-and-forth-back-and-forth."
Wyenandt led his freshman team in scoring and was one of three scholarship players. One of his freshmen teammates was Bob Warren who was also an outstanding scorer. This dynamic duo of Wyenandt and Warren would become future All-SEC players. Wyenandt was the freshman center since he was the tallest player on the team.
In Wyenandt's first year on the varsity he broke into the starting lineup on another team that went 22-4, but recorded a second-place SEC finish behind Kentucky. Only the league champ could advance to NCAA Tournament in that era.
"We knew we were going to be good," said Wyenandt. "We had Clyde coming back who was a consensus All-American and Player-of-the-Year in the SEC. We had other kids coming back that contributed. We were 22-4 and lost to Kentucky twice. They were 27-2 and lost in the finals.
"Clyde was special. He was the fastest kid on the team and could jump the highest at 6-foot-9. He was the best athlete on the team. He had soft hands and a great sense of the game. Back in those days it was not as physical of a game as it is today. In those days the offensive players had the advantage because of the "hands off" policy. In the post, you had to give him arms length in guarding. You couldn't lean on him. The big guys in those days were not as athletic as they are today. Lee was that exception at the time."
In Wyenandt's junior season the Commodores were 21-5 with another second-place finish in the SEC at 14-4. He would also make the First Team All-SEC team. With Lee graduating the Commodores would surprise the league with their success.
"We had a good collection of players," Wyenandt said. "The expectations were not there for us to do well in the conference. We could shoot. We had Jerry Southwood at point guard and he was as good as there was. We had a sophomore in Tom Hagan who ended up being the second leading scorer at Vanderbilt and an All-American. Nobody knew how good he was going to be, but us. We gave him the ball a lot. The chemistry was terrific. In my four years at Vanderbilt there were no ball hogs, no prima donnas; everybody shared the basketball. It didn't matter who scored the points.
"The main idea was to win. We weren't always better than everyone else; we just played together very well. When it came to the last five minutes of the game, we rarely lost a close game or in overtime. We handled the ball and could shoot free throws. In those days you didn't have the shot clock and they had to foul you if you wanted to hold the ball with a lead. Our free throw shooting won a lot of games for us."
Skinner broke the racial barrier in the SEC with the signing of Perry Wallace in 1967 the first black basketball player in the league. Wallace was an outstanding rebounder for the Commodores and became varsity eligible during Wyenandt's senior season.
"I went to Nashville to play basketball and go to school," said Wyenandt. "I didn't get involved with anything political like the Vietnam War or segregation. Coming from Cincinnati we played against black kids in high school. It wasn't a big deal for me. I did not realize when I went to Vanderbilt that the SEC was a white-only conference.
"That's how naïve I was. I never thought about that. For Perry I'm sure it was more traumatic. He was a great ball player, student and person. He was a teammate that helped our chemistry. He had some problems on road games and we stuck by and supported him. When we went to Mississippi we tried to get him to go out to dinner with us or to a movie and he wouldn't go. He never pushed the issue."
As a Cincinnati native, Wyenandt was familiar with the reputation of the Kentucky Wildcats as a national power in college basketball. In his three seasons playing for the varsity, Wyenandt experienced beating the Wildcats twice in six games.
Another rival that he soon learned was important to Vanderbilt fans were the Tennessee Vols. Wyenandt was 4-2 against the Big Orange.
"Looking at those two teams was not a big deal at first," said Wyenandt. "But it certainly was to the Vanderbilt fans and the players from Tennessee and Kentucky. When Kentucky played somebody it was the biggest game on that team's schedule throughout the SEC. Tennessee was a rival just because it was in state. I didn't know it was a big rivalry until I came down there. At Tennessee they were playing in the old gym and the student body was behind the goals posts.
"When we ran out onto the court and during the game they called you everything you could think of. But once the game started, I just blocked it all out and played basketball. Beating Kentucky would give you prestige and you always wanted to beat Tennessee. Ray Mears (UT coach) liked to play a 1-3-1 zone with a slow down offense-type game. It was a challenge to play against him since in those days everybody liked to play a run-and-shoot offense and score a lot of points. Mears liked to control the game in his favor."
Roy Skinner is Vanderbilt's all-time winningest coach with two SEC titles and four SEC Coach-of-the-Year honors. He recruited Wyenandt early in his high school days.
"Coach Skinner had a knack of getting good players," Wyenandt said. "He was honest when he was recruiting players. He wasn't a fast talker and didn't have an ego. All that came through when he talked to you and your parents. You hear about some of these coaches that scream and holler. In the four years I played at Vanderbilt, the worst thing I heard him say was `Gee that's sorry.' When we made a bad pass we'd hear, `Gee that's sorry.' We didn't get jerked out of the game when we made a bad pass or missed a block out. We were well disciplined and well coached. He was a great guy to play for. It was a shame he quit when he did.
Wyenandt won several games as a Commodore with last second game-winning shots. In his senior year his jumper at the buzzer beat Duke in Memorial Gymnasium and propelled Vanderbilt as the third ranked team in the country.
"We had North Carolina, Davidson and Duke back-to-back-to-back and won," said Wyenandt. "The thing I remember about the Duke game was one of our starters was sick and didn't play. I believe it was Kenny Campbell. Bob Warren had the flu and couldn't play into the second half. Most of us were hit with the flu. I don't think I had scored a point in the second half until I hit that shot.
"Someone had to make the shot it just happened to be me. That was a great memory for me. Those games took a toll on us because they were played before the conference schedule. Having the flu and playing those three games I believe hurt us. We didn't seem to have as much energy."
Wyenandt's 1, 078 points ranks him 32nd all-time in scoring at Vanderbilt. On February 11, 1967 Wyenandt broke Vanderbilt's single-game scoring record with 42 points against Alabama in Memorial Gymnasium. He passed Clyde Lee's mark of 41 set two years earlier. Two years later Hagan became the highest single-game scorer with 44 points. That record still stands.
Wyenandt graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in business and economics. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in the 10th round of the 1968 NBA draft, but was cut after a few days. Wyenandt made an attempt to play in the ABA, but decided to give up on professional basketball.
"I cannot name one special highlight from my time at Vanderbilt," Wyenandt said. "The entire four years was a highlight. My dad told me going to college was going to be the best four years of my life and looking back he was right. Other than marrying my wife, going to Vanderbilt was the best decision I ever made in my life."
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.
Men's Basketball Headlines