I wish I was old enough to have been able to watch Whitey Skoog play basketball because the 1944 Brainerd High School graduate must have been something.
Following a stint in the service, he played at Minnesota (1948-51) where he was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time All-American. His senior year he was awarded the Big Ten Medal for scholarship and athletic prowess.
He went on to play six seasons for the Minneapolis Lakers and was a member of three NBA championship teams.
Skoog's No. 41 Gophers jersey was retired in a halftime ceremony Feb. 22 at Williams Arena when Minnesota hosted Northwestern. He became one of only six Gophers to have their jerseys retired (Jim Brewer, Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale, Lou Hudson and Trent Tucker are the others).
Whitey Skoog (inset), one of the pioneers of the jump shot, attempted the jumper while playing for the University of Minnesota in the late 1940s. The Brainerd High School graduate (above) addressed the crowd at Williams Arena Feb. 22 after his Gophers jersey was retired.
University of Minnesota
One of the pioneers of the jump shot, Skoog must have felt like a proud father while watching players shoot the shot he made famous.
"I didn't know it was going to be that popular, that everyone would be shooting it," Skoog said last week from his home in St. Peter. "Watching the Gophers and Northwestern it was one jump shot after another after another. I pointed out to my son and his wife, that I didn't realize how all encompassing (the jump shot) has become."
Whitey and I have had a few conversations through the years and it's always impressed me how vivid his recollection of his first jump shot remains.
The first occurred during his sophomore season at the 'U' (freshmen were ineligible in those days) when the Gophers were playing in a tournament at Drake (Iowa).
"A guard gave me the ball and screened away," Skoog said. "I put a move on my guy. I was going fast but I could see their center stepping in front of me. It was going to be a magnificent crash. People would have died.
"I was going so fast I couldn't go right or left so I put my feet down, leaped up and leaned back. I was looking for a man to roll to the basket, but he didn't show. I was left hanging there. I looked at the basket and there wasn't much thought, not much time. I cocked my arm back, fired it, and you know what happened? Two points.
"When I came down and started to get back on defense I had two thoughts - 'That's something new and practice it.'
"When we got back I started shooting it in practice. Our next game was against Michigan, and I hit about four that game. It became an integral part of my skill process. It was not long before others were doing it."
Not bad for a guy who never aspired to play at Minnesota. BHS coach Kermit Aase literally helped Skoog get to the 'U.'
"A week after my senior season Kermit called and asked me to come to his office," Skoog said. "So I went and he said, 'I just received a phone call from the coach at the 'U.' He said he would like you to come down and play for him,' and I thought 'What's so great about that?'
"I had never thought about going to college, none of my family had gone. We were not a college-oriented family. That's how uninformed I was about things like college.
"I didn't even know where the 'U' was. Kermit took us down to Minneapolis to see the state basketball tournament at Williams Arena. I went in, sat down, and was agog at the size of that puppy. When I went they could get 17,000 to 18,000 people in there. I made the decision to go to the 'U' right there."
After finishing his career with the Lakers, Skoog went on to coach 24 seasons of basketball at Gustavus, notching 289 victories. The Gusties won two MIAC titles and went to one national tournament in his tenure.
He had even more success in golf. The Gusties won the conference championship 17 times and were fixtures at nationals.
Today, Skoog, 82, has had to overcome a few health problems but is doing well. He hasn't been to Brainerd for a while but every so often he gets the urge to get in his car and drive north.
Just like the urge I have to turn back time and have a chance to see Whitey play.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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