David Adam

Quincy players have ties to NCAA Tournament title game

Indiana vs Ohio
Ohio State players Fred Poole (31) and Terry Burris (43) and Indiana University players Scott Eells (31) Jim Wisman (23) and Bob Bender (25) tangle for a loose ball during early game action in Bloomington, Ind., Mar. 6, 1976. The top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers toppled OSU, 96-67 in their season finale, ending their second undefeated season. (AP Photo/RDP)
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By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 3, 2017 9:50 am Updated: Apr. 3, 2017 11:50 am

Have any local players ever played in the championship game of the NCAA men's basketball tournament?

Yes. Three played in the title game. One was on the bench but didn't play in two title games. One was on the bench for a title game, then later played in a title game and was an assistant coach in a title game.

Jack Gower, a 1952 graduate of QHS, scored one point for Bradley in a 92-76 loss to La Salle in the 1954 championship game. Gower played in 26 games as a sophomore and averaged 1.8 points per game.

Gower averaged 9.1 points for the Braves as a junior and 11 points per game as a senior, finishing with 598 career points in 81 games.

Gower played in the first televised IHSA state championship basketball game in 1952 and in the first televised NCAA championship game in 1954.

Gower was a captain and pilot in the U.S. Air Force from 1957-59. He retired after a 34-year career as commodity manager with Moorman Manufacturing Co. He died June 11, 2011.

Jim Wisman, a 1974 graduate of QHS, played 21 minutes and scored two free throws in Indiana's 86-68 victory over Michigan in the 1976 championship game. The Hoosiers went 32-0 that season, and no team since has gone undefeated to win the national championship.

Wisman played 104 games for the Hoosiers in four years, scoring 420 points and averaging 4.0 points per game. His highest scoring average was 6.3 points per game in the 1976-77 season. He is remembered by most college basketball fans as the player who Indiana coach Bobby Knight grabbed by the jersey and took off the court after throwing away three consecutive out-of-bounds passes, two that resulted in layups, during a nationally televised game in February 1976 against Michigan.

Wisman retired as executive vice president of Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago at the age of 57. A 2013 story in a newspaper from the Philippines reported Wisman plays tennis every day, shuttling from his homes in Spain and France. A 2016 story by the Indianapolis Star said Wisman missed a reunion of the 1976 Indiana team because he was in Europe.

Bob Bender, who played basketball at Quincy Catholic Boys, was a member of the 1976 Indiana team but did not play in the game. He played in 17 games that season, scoring 35 points.

Bender was a freshman on the 1972 CB team that lost 57-56 to eventual state champion Lawrenceville in the quarterfinals of the first Class A state tournament. Bender's father coached the Raiders, so when he took the coaching job at Bloomington High School, his son went with him. Bob Bender Sr. coached at Bloomington for two years, and Bob Jr. averaged 22.7 points for the Purple Raiders as a senior.

After one season at Indiana, Bender transferred to Duke, and he played three seasons for the Blue Devils, scoring 514 points and grabbing 116 rebounds in 93 games. He averaged 6.8 points as a junior and 6.4 points as a senior.

He played 16 minutes and scored seven points in Duke's 94-88 loss to Kentucky in the 1978 championship game. He was an assistant coach at Duke and was part of the team that lost 72-69 to Louisville in the 1986 championship game.

Bender eventually coached four years at Illinois State and nine years at Washington before becoming an assistant coach in the NBA. He was with Philadelphia for two years, Atlanta for nine years and Milwaukee for one year. He was a scout for the Brooklyn Nets for one season and now is an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Bill Heitholt, a 1951 graduate of QHS, was on the roster for Kansas when the Jayhawks defeated St. John's 80-63 in the 1952 title game and also when the Jayhawks lost 69-68 to Indiana in the 1953 title game. However, Heitholt didn't play in either game.

As a freshman, Heitholt played in 27 games and scored 43 points while grabbing 53 rebounds. As a sophomore, he scored 59 points in 18 games and grabbed 41 rebounds. One of his teammates was Dean Smith, who went on to a historic coaching career at North Carolina.

Heitholt went on to excel as a high school basketball coach in Kansas and Missouri and as an athletic director for eight years at Maryville. He now lives in Commerce, Texas.

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