Friday, June 16, 2006

Long After Lewis Lloyd and His 'Street Offense' At Drake, Mavericks TV Analyst Bob Ortegel Is Still Enjoying the Rewards Basketball Gives Him

I haven't seen or talked to Bob Ortegel for a while, and that's too bad.

Ortegel's name came to mind the other night when I was spending my usual 3 minutes watching the Dallas Mavericks play the Miami Heat in yet another NBA playoff game.

For overpaid basketball players to still be slam-dunking as I start giving some thought to my Fourth of July fireworks and picnics is....well, idiotic.

Whatever, watching the Mavericks on the tube took me back more than 30 years.

I was thinking of Ortegel [right], not Mark Cuban and his Dallas players.

I knew Ortegel was the longtime analyst on the Mavericks' telecasts, but that means nothing around here. What he does on Dallas' local telecasts isn't shown in Iowa, now or during the regular season.

It's all network stuff now.

Come to think of it, I'll bet some of you don't even know who Bob Ortegel is.

Well, he was Drake's basketball coach from 1974 through 1981, and his very first team at the school won a national championship.

You read that right.

National championship.

Not every coach can say that.

No, it wasn't the NCAA title, which Drake came so very close to winning in 1969 when Maury John was running the Bulldogs' show so masterfully.

No, it wasn't the National Invitation Tournament, which is where Drake teams played in 1964, 1981 and 1986.

Ortegel's 1974-75 Bulldogs decorated a 19-10 season by winning something called the National Commissioners Invitational Tournament in Louisville, Ky.

The NCIT was a postseason event the National Collegiate Athletic Association bosses put together in an attempt to kill the NIT, which it then had no control over.

In effect, the NCIT was a tournament for third-place finishers in their conferences.

Don't laugh. There were some good teams in it. Drake beat Southern California, 80-70, in its first game, beat Bowling Green, 78-65, in its second game and held off Arizona, 83-76, to win the championship.

Larry Haralson was Drake's leading scorer that season with a 20.1 average, and Terry McKissick was the top rebounder with an 8.4 average.

I've still got the wristwatch Ortegel made sure I received from the tournament, and it keeps time after all those years.

I do wonder about something, though. The thieves that broke into my home 25 or so years ago didn't bother taking the watch.

I don't know if that's indicative of what they thought of the watch or what they thought of the National Commissioners tournament.

Whatever, unlike the watch, the tournament lasted only a few seasons.

Ortegel had come to Drake as an assistant on Howard Stacey's staff, Stacey was the poor stiff who had to succeed John in the 1971-72 season after the Best Coach In Drake History took the Iowa State job.

It didn't take long for Drake officials to realize that Stacey wasn't the answer. After records of 7-19, 14-12 and 13-13, he was shown the door.

In came Ortegel, who seemed like a breath of fresh air -- especially when his 1974-75 team beat Texas, 103-98, in overtime and won at Iowa State, 65-64, in December.

Ortegel is a guy whose style is probably what Drake needs now. The recruiting rules were looser at the school then, and he was able to bring in players Drake couldn't or wouldn't waste a plane ticket on these days.

One was Lewis Lloyd [left], who set a record with a 30.2-point season scoring average in 1979-80, then averaged 26.3 in 1980-81. His number was retired by the school in 1981, something that still rankles living members of John's 1968-69 team that went to the Final Four.

Ortegel was a likable guy who I enjoyed dealing with most of the time during his seven seasons at Drake.

He understood my needs as a newspapermnan, and I tried to understand his needs as a coach.

One Saturday when I was preparing to drive to Ames to cover an Iowa State football game, he called me at home to tell me Lloyd had been injured in a pickup game. That gave me a good story for the Sunday paper.

I know one thing. Lute Olson never did anything like that when he was coaching at Iowa.

Another time, Ortegel called me at home to tell me he was suspending two or three players who had misbehaved during Drake's road trip to New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M.

In those days, Drake's players and traveling party had made a habit of going into Mexico whenever they played at New Mexico State [which then was in the Missouri Valley Conference].

Evidently, a few of the Bulldogs had treated themselves to something other than tacos, enchiladas and cream soda on one of their trips across the border, and Ortegel called me to say he was suspending them.

That made for a good story, too.

Not so good for the players and Drake, but good for me.

Actually, Ortegel was a guy most reporters liked. If you were covering his team on the road, he invited you to dine at the team's pregame meal on game day, and he enjoyed entertaining you with stories, food and cream soda or other liquids on road trips throughout the season.

Ol' Bob never tried to overwhelm you with X's and O's. At one preseason press conference he told us he was planning to install something called the "street offense," which meant there wasn't much structure to it.

"Street offense" indicated there was about as much discipline connected with it as the "street" games that were being played in the ghettos in those days.

No matter. Ortegel's teams were usually fun to watch.

Ortegel finally called it quits after his 1980-81 team went 18-11 and lost to Minnesota, 90-77, in the first round of the NIT.

My guess is that he had determined he wasn't going to be the next Maury John, even though his teams were much more respectable than those in the 19 straight non-winning seasons the school has had under Gary Garner, Tom Abatemarco, Rudy Washington, Kurt Kanaskie and Tom Davis.

When he left Drake, Ortegel went into what the Mavericks call "the corporate world."

For 14 years, he was an executive with ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc., and Merle Harmon's FanFair.

It's probably fitting that Ortegel worked for an outfit called ShowBiz because he's always had plenty of show biz in his blood.

He even went Hollywood on us recently. Ortegel played the role of a sportscaster in the movie "Glory Road" that chronicled Don Haskins' Texas Western basketball program.

This was Ortegel's 24th year as a TV basketball analyst and his 18th with the Mavericks. He's worked with ESPN, ABC, the Southwest Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference Game of the Week. In addition to his TV responsibilities with the Mavs, he headlines the team's speakers' bureau.

It's difficult for me to believe that Ortegel will turn 66 years of age in September and that his four daughters -- Kim, Kari and identical twins Mindi and Missi -- have presented him with eight grandchildren.

But time obviously marches on.

Summing it up, basketball has been good to Bob Ortegel, and he's been good for the game.