When Bob Lochmueller played in the NBA the law of the jungle ruled more than the casual blowing of the referee’s whistle.
The National Basketball Association of the 1950s played the same game as the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers do now, but there were twists. More elbows were thrown, for one. More punches, too. And fans in some cities were just as likely to poke a visiting player with the sharp end of an umbrella as give them a hello cheer.
No place was rougher than Syracuse, one of just eight cities in a league that had not yet gained a firm foundation on the American sporting landscape. The Nationals, who became the Philadelphia 76ers, were the brief affiliation of Lochmueller before he spent four years coaching the Seymour High boys basketball team.
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Lochmueller came and went so long ago, coaching between 1957 and 1961, that those who remember his tenure best fit the senior citizen category now.
Lochmeuller, a member of the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame, died recently of natural causes at 93. He settled in Tell City, making a coaching mark there after he starred at the University of Louisville and had his brief, injury-marred stay in Syracuse during the 1952-53 season.
According to the Seymour Tribune, when Lochmueller announced he was leaving town to become a college assistant coach at West Virginia, he buttressed his a resume with 57 wins and 41 losses for the Owls and four straight sectional championships.
Larry Cooper, 76, was a forward for the Owls at the time. At 5-foot-10, in reality, not by definition of front-court position, he was a small forward.
“I remember him being a big, tall fellow,” said Cooper, a retired local educator. “We had a small team.”
The Owls were vertically challenge during that era. Lochmueller, at 6-5, was probably the tallest guy in the gym.
“We could never match up in height with anybody we played,” said play-making guard John Judd, who was 5-9.
Judd said Lochmueller seemed like a giant, towering over him, but he was not someone who yelled and screamed to make points, something that may have intimidated the Owls.
“He never did,” Judd said of Lochmueller not raising his voice in huddles or games. “He was a big guy and he loved the game of basketball.”
Mickey Beck played only his Seymour senior year for Lochmueller and remembers him as being a stickler for discipline and rules.
“He was pretty strict to play for,” Beck said. “He wanted everything done right.”
Beck said the players knew Lochmueller was getting serious about a subject when they saw him lacing up his sneakers and pulling on knee pads to join them in practice.
“We knew then our practice was going to be pretty rugged,” said Beck, who in the 1970s coached Seymour and served as athletic director. “He scrimmaged with us half-court. He wanted you to pay attention and play hard.”
Lochmueller was born in Elberfeld, Indiana in 1927 and after serving in the U.S. Army he graduated from Louisville in 1952 where he had been a two-time All-American player. The Cardinals played in the NCAA and NIT tournaments during Lochmueller’s stretch with the team. He averaged 15 points a game.
The Nationals made Lochmueller a first-round draft pick. But Lochmueller’s pro career was aborted during his first season due to an injured knee. He averaged 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 62 appearances.
One Indiana basketball figure who remembers Lochmueller from those days is Bob Leonard, 88, the long-time Pacers broadcaster and former coach.
“It was a rough league then,” Leonard said. “You had to be tough to play then. His career was a short one because he got hurt.”
Lochmueller’s son Steve played for him at Tell City, became a star, played for the University of Kentucky, and is also enshrined in the Indiana hoops hall.
After those four seasons at Seymour, Lochmueller was eight years into high school coaching. His old NBA teammate George King was the head coach at West Virginia and hired him.
“Of course, I hate to leave Seymour with the fine group of kids we have on the team,” Lochmueller said when he announced his departure in March of 1961. “But this is the opportunity I’ve set my sights on since I started coaching eight years ago. This is stepping up for me, so my ship has really come in.
“I’ll miss Seymour because I’ve made a lot of friends here, but I’ll be happy in my new position.”
Lochmueller eventually returned to Indiana and coached Tell City for 15 years, winning nine sectionals and two regionals. Over 23 seasons of Indiana high school basketball coaching, Lochmueller went 399-150 with 13 sectional and two regional titles.
Judd, who made a career in the Air Force and lives in South Carolina now after considerable time spent in New Mexico, played for the Air Force Academy, where he averaged 14 points a game over three seasons.
Lochmueller, said Judd, was a great influence. He sometimes took Judd and other players to Indiana University or Louisville games and introduced them to coaches.
Lochmueller was a coach who stressed the significance of free-throw shooting. He made a believer out of Judd and his foul shooting accuracy was a key factor in his college success.
“He taught us to shoot free throws when we were tired,” Judd said. “If we missed we had to run laps. I’m telling you I didn’t like to run those laps.”
Judd made 80.2 percent of his free throws at Air Force, a school career record at the time, once hitting 19 shots in 19 tries against Colorado.
“A lot of people pooh-pooh free throws,” Judd said. “You win games with defense, rebounding and free throws.”
Bob Lochmueller did.