ELEVEN days from now, Howard Komives will turn 67. His knees feel like they're 80. This once gifted athlete, one of the best Toledo ever produced, hobbles about. The spring in his legs is long gone. He limps, pushing a walker ahead of him, because he has no choice. But the university where he distinguished himself almost five decades ago has an opportunity to demonstrate that while Mr. Komives can no longer hit a jump shot or penetrate to the hoop, he is not forgotten.
Bowling Green State University can do that by giving him the highest honor an athlete can receive who's been the very best of the best - it can retire his jersey number.
Mr. Komives is already a member of the BGSU sports Hall of Fame, along with a number of other great players: Charlie Share, Mac and Don Otten, Wyndol Gray, Jimmy Darrow, Jackie Motycka, and of course, Nate Thurmond. But only one of them - Mr. Thurmond - has his number retired. Mr. Thurmond's "42" hangs high in the rafters at Anderson Arena, a most deserving tribute to a player who went on to a great professional career in the National Basketball Association and was ultimately selected one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Though Mr. Komives played in the NBA and played well for 10 years, his professional accomplishments do not match Thurmond's. But his number "30" should join Mr. Thurmond's because of what he did as a collegian.
Mr. Komives graduated from Woodward High School in 1960 and decided that flying all over the country on college recruiting trips was not for him. He elected to stay close to home and play for Harold Anderson at BG. And did he ever play. He became a three-time all-Mid American Conference selection. He and Mr. Thurmond and a great supporting cast won back-to-back MAC championships in 1962 and 1963 and played in two consecutive NCAA tournaments before the event came to be known as March Madness.
But it was in his senior year, with Mr. Thurmond gone to the pros and his team more dependent on him than ever, that Mr. Komives turned it up another notch. Firing up a remarkably accurate left-handed jump shot, he led the nation in scoring, averaging 36.7 points per game for all games, and he led the MAC with a 35.6 average in league contests. Those would be staggering numbers even today, but what makes them all the more remarkable is the fact that there was no three-point shot in Mr. Komives' time. Since he got most of his points from long range, it is not a stretch to imagine that he would have averaged in the mid-40s had the three-pointer been in play.
Mr. Komives was equally effective from the foul line, setting a national mark for consecutive free throws in his senior year. How many did he make? How about 50? Try doing that in your driveway, let alone in high-pressure game situations. Free-throw shooting seems like a lost art for most college basketball players these days, as last month's NCAA tournament demonstrated once again. For Mr. Komives, however, it was one more way to beat his opponent. After his miss on the 51st free throw, he went on to hit 24 more in a row.
Teammate Tom Baker, who occasionally still meets Mr. Komives for coffee and to reminisce about those long ago days, says nobody ever worked harder at the game. "And don't forget he played tremendous defense. He and Nate were the greatest ever at BG."
When Mr. Komives graduated in 1964, he owned five MAC and 24 BGSU scoring records, and his senior year scoring average was the fourth highest ever for a collegian. He was a third-team Associated Press and United Press International All-American.
Mr. Komives was a shooter in the classic sense. In other words, if he missed, and he didn't miss often, he'd keep on shooting. When the ball left his hand, pushed into an upward arc with the gentlest of finger rolls, he expected it to go in.
So did his opponents. Ray Wolford, a great player himself at Scott High School and then the University of Toledo, battled Mr. Komives many times. "Butch Komives was the best shooter in the world," Mr. Wolford said in a 2006 Blade article.
BGSU Athletics Director Greg Christopher doesn't disagree that Mr. Komives deserves to have his number retired but raises legitimate questions. BG, for example, has three hockey players in its athletic Hall of Fame who all wore the same number. It has two hockey players who won the Hobie Baker award, college hockey's "MVP." Orel Hershiser went on to a great professional baseball career. Track star Dave Wottle won Olympic gold, but is there even a number to retire in his case?
And what about Jackie Motycka? She remains the most prolific scorer in BG basketball history, men or women. I think her case may be as strong as Mr. Komives'.
So where do you draw the line? BGSU has no formal policy for such things, but Mr. Christopher thinks it's time to draft one. "The issue is not whether these athletes are worthy [of such recognition] but how to get there," he said.
Like BG, the University of Toledo has no firm policy regarding retired numbers. Four football players - Chuck Ealey, Gene Swick, Mel Long, and Mel Triplett - have had their numbers retired, but no basketball players have received the honor. Three UT hoops stars have banners bearing their names hanging from the rafters at Savage Hall (Steve Mix, Kim Knuth, and the late Haris Charalambous) but a university official said their numbers are not considered retired. Maybe that's something that should be revisited. Mr. Mix and Mr. Komives were both inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
Mr. Komives doesn't visit the BGSU campus much any more. He still feels the effects of a stroke nine years ago, and his knees can't climb all those stairs at Anderson Arena. He used to show up occasionally when his son, Shane, played at BG in the mid-1990s. Shane, who had to cope with the long, late afternoon shadow of his father's legacy, is an amazing story in his own right. Now an assistant coach at St. John's Jesuit High School, Shane donated a kidney to his dad in 2005.
No doubt when Butch went to BG to watch Shane, his mind drifted back to the night of Feb. 16, 1963, when the Falcons hosted the second-ranked team in the nation, Loyola of Chicago. Loaded with talent - including great players named Harkness, Hunter, Rouse, Egan, and Miller - the Ramblers came into BG undefeated and, in fact, would go on to win the national championship several weeks later with a 29-2 record. But on that cold winter's night in Bowling Green, they had no chance. Mr. Komives scored 34 and the Falcons won going away, 92-75.
Mickey Cochrane, who coached BGSU's lacrosse and soccer teams for many years and now is the university's sports historian, thinks Mr. Komives is deserving. "BGSU has not done much of this, but Komives is probably the most appropriate person we could honor."
University President Sidney Ribeau agrees. "I wasn't at BG in those days but it's clear to me that the excitement and national recognition he and Nate and that great team brought to our university and our conference warrants serious consideration." Like his director of athletics, President Ribeau wants to see a process and a policy defined first.
USA Today columnist and Toledo native Christine Brennan recalls that when she was growing up, "Butch Komives was to Bowling Green what Steve Mix was to Toledo a few years later. The name Komives still conjures up images of the Falcons, Anderson Arena, and those great BG-UT rivalries. His number - and Mix's too - definitely should be retired."
BGSU officials recently announced plans to build a new basketball and volleyball arena to replace Anderson. When the Falcons take the floor for the first time at the new Stroh Center in 2012, they and their fans ought to be able to look up and see two retired jerseys up there. Nate Thurmond's spot is secure. Howard Komives' should be.