Jack Thobe, 1962
The first time Jack Thobe ever flew on a plane, he was 18 years old. It was 1958, and Xavier was in the National Invitation Tournament in New York. Thobe sat in the stands at Madison Square Garden as the Musketeers beat St. Bonaventure in the semifinals, and again when they scraped past Dayton to win the tournament. The team, which was courting him as a top basketball recruit, invited him to fly back to Cincinnati with them.
By the time they landed at Lunken Airport, Thobe knew where he was going to college. “I thought, well, I’ve gotta come here,” he says.
Thobe thrived at Xavier. The 6-foot-8-inch center from Ludlow, Ky., stymied opponents with his inside hook shot, scoring 1,296 points in his three years on the varsity team.
When he graduated in 1962, Thobe was drafted by the Kansas City Steers and the Cincinnati Royals, providing him a chance to play with—instead of against—University of Cincinnati star Oscar Robertson, “the greatest I ever saw,” he says. But Thobe had just married his childhood sweetheart Blanche—his “princess charming,” as he calls her—and he wanted a steady job. So he joined the Akron Wingfoots, a corporate team sponsored by Goodyear Tire and Rubber in the National Industrial Basketball League. As part of that program, Thobe played for a year and trained in Goodyear’s plastic packaging sales division. He spent 30 years with Goodyear, eventually moving out to California where he oversaw sales in 14 Western states.
Thobe now lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. He doesn’t make it back to Cincinnati much, but he’s sure to watch all the Xavier basketball he can on television. “That’s one thing I insist on when I get a TV network, that I can see those games,” he says. Thobe has five children, all athletes in their own right. Two of his sons became Major League Baseball players, and one daughter is a professional golfer.
He also has grandchildren, whom he’s trying to teach the fundamentals of a good hook shot. “That’s basically what I lived on,” he says. “But the old legs aren’t what they used to be.”
Brandon McIntosh, 2002
Brandon McIntosh didn’t get to play basketball as much as he wanted at Xavier, and it broke the 6-foot-5-inch forward’s heart. But McIntosh’s faith helped him cope with the disappointment and shape who he is today.
“I was behind coming in, and that presented a challenge,” says McIntosh, who came to Xavier as a prep standout from Cincinnati’s Roger Bacon High School, but was ruled academically ineligible and didn’t get to play his first year.
“Being from Cincinnati, it was embarrassing and humbling,” he says. “I was used to playing in high school, but I was sitting on the sidelines. It was at that point, when I was heart-broken, that God started talking to me.”
McIntosh’s faith inspired him to work harder academically and to accept the future he believes God intended for him. After improving his grades, McIntosh worked his way back onto the court and graduated in three years with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2002. In spite of the impressive comeback, McIntosh’s dream to play basketball professionally never materialized.
“I thought the NBA was for me, but God was using basketball as a stepping stone to show me the bigger picture,” he says.
For McIntosh, the bigger picture revolves around the myriad ways in which he counsels people today to reach the potential God intends for them. He earns his living as a treatment advocate in Columbus for the National Youth Advocate Program, a foster care organization, and recently founded a non-denominational Christian church for which he is pastor. He stays connected to sports, too, as a volunteer chaplain for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The message of Christ appeals to the young and old, to athletes, to criminals, to the rich and poor, says McIntosh, who uses his own story of despair on the basketball court to faith-inspired triumph off court to make his point.
“Everyone wants to know their purpose in life, what they are here for,” he says. “My passion is helping people see their full purpose, where they are now, versus where they should be.”
Like magic, Bob Staak built Xavier into a winning team. Within six years of taking over asXavier’s new men’s head basketball coach and athletic director, he had the team winning regularly. But, more importantly, within six years he laid the foundation for what the program is today.
The University had been looking for a prominent, competitive sports program to replace football since it’s cancelation in 1973. Deciding on basketball, the University went searching for a coach who could make an impact. It found Staak.
Experienced as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Staak rebuilt Xavier’s program from the ground up, recruiting all-state players, joining a league for the first time, moving home games to the Cincinnati Gardens, and upgrading the schedule to all Division I teams. Four of the players he recruited were drafted later by the NBA, but the highlight was taking the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years.
After several coaching positions, Staak is making a different kind of magic now as a talent scout for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The job is seasonal, which means he travels a lot during the fall and spring, scouting NBA and college players. In his five months of free time, he plays a lot of golf at courses around his home in Cornelius, N.C.
But Staak says his time at Xavier was the most memorable of his career. There are times he wishes he’d never left.
“Because I built it into a program that was competitive with one of the better teams in the league we were in,” he says. “That foundation moved it along and contributed to the success Xavier has now. I feel proud of the fact we were able to start it and build that foundation, and secondly that it has continued.”
Gene Smith, 1952
It goes without saying that Gene Smith was going to be drafted after he graduated from Xavier in 1952. The 6-foot-5-inch center from Hamilton Catholic was the first Musketeer to score more than 1,000 points in his three years of varsity ball, and the first to average more than 20 points per game in a season. Smith once scored 45 points in a game against Georgetown, Ky., at Schmidt Fieldhouse.
When he graduated, Smith was drafted twice: first by the Minneapolis Lakers and second by Uncle Sam.
“The U.S. Army was sitting there waiting for me,” Smith says. It was the height of the Korean War, and Smith suited up for two years of service with the Army. If he was disappointed about missing a chance to play professionally, Smith doesn’t show it. “I did get a chance to play some top-notch basketball in the service,” he says. Some of the country’s best players were joining the military, and Smith helped lead his Army team to a tournament in Washington, D.C., where they lost to the Air Force in the finals.
When Smith left the Army, the Lakers still wanted him. But he chose to sign up with the National Industrial Basketball League, instead. Goodyear Tire and Rubber offered a program where top athletes could play for their Akron Wingfoots team and simultaneously train for a job with the company. Smith was an NIBL all-star for all three years he played for the Wingfoots. And in the days before big television deals and high-capacity arenas, he made as much as he would have in the pros. He also launched a career in sales and stayed with Goodyear for almost 40 years.
These days, Smith is in the stands at every Xavier home game—he’s been a Xavier season ticket holder since the 1970s. He says basketball has changed since he played it. “It’s a different game,” he says. “I call it one-on-one basketball—‘Throw it to me and get the hell out of the way.’ ”
Derek Strong, 1990
Derek Strong grew up in Watts, one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles where nearly half
of the population lives below the poverty line. It was there, on the city’s basketball courts, that he found his profession. After graduating from Xavier in 1990 with a degree in communications, he went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA. But it was also there, in the empty parking lots of the city’s retail and office buildings, that Strong found his passion—auto racing. Strong would slide into one of his uncle’s go karts and drive as fast as he could around the makeshift parking lot race tracks.
It’s not quite the stuff of legend, like Nascar Hall of Famer Junior Johnson learning to drive fast by running moonshine through the backroads of North Carolina. But the same racing bug bit Strong, and he’s aiming to end up in the same place. Since retiring from pro basketball in 2003, Strong has traveled around the country, strapping himself into almost any racecar he could find in order to gain the experience—the “seat time,” in racing parlance—needed to excel in his second professional sport. And he’s done so with a fair amount of success, finishing in the top 10 in 67 percent of his races.
And all was progressing fine until the crash. Not a racing crash, of course, but the economic crash. When the economy went for a spin, it took out the much-needed corporate sponsorship with it. And in the world of auto racing, sponsorship equals money, money equals equipment, equipment equals speed and speed equals wins. So Strong is back out knocking on doors trying to line up sponsors for one of the series he’s hoping to race in—ARCA or the Camping World Truck Series, both minor league affiliates of Nascar.
But he’s also sharing the education he got at Xavier, working with the Memphis-based Motorsports Institute to help promote racing and reading. The Institute brings Strong and his cars to schools—and offers free tickets to races—if the students read so many pages.
He wants them to see him race, though. He’s been racing late-model and ASA cars, but—like all racers—wants something bigger and faster. “It’s time to step it up,” he says.
Michael Davenport, 1991
While Michael Davenport was dreaming of playing professional basketball, little did he know that as he tore up the court for Xavier from 1988-1991 the teamwork and leadership skills he was developing as a starting guard would benefit him more as a businessman.
And Davenport is all right with that.
“Basketball is like a business. You have to be part of a team,” he says. “Basketball teaches everything you need to know. In the business world, I’m part of a team, but I still have to do my part.”
After graduating in 1991 with more than 1,000 points under his shoes, Davenport headed for the pros. But at the tryout in Wichita, Kan., the coach ended up cutting the guy from Xavier, because in Wichita, only guys from Kansas State bring in the fans. Getting cut hurt, but Davenport could see it was a good business decision. The man who played under Pete Gillen on the first Xavier squad to go to the NCAA Sweet 16 was smart enough to realize his playing days were over.
So he got a law degree, worked as an assistant basketball coach at West Point and Xavier, and landed at US Bank in Cincinnati. Starting as a branch manager, he worked his way up to corporate compliance, where he stays abreast of federal banking regulations.
Though busy raising two boys, Davenport still makes time for his Xavier teammates— Dwayne Wilson, Jamal Walker, Tyrone Hill, Stan Kimbrough, Rich Harris. “My closest friends are my teammates,” he says. “I was in battle with them for years. It’s cool to see the knuckleheads they were coming in and see what quality men they are now.”
Jamie Gladden, 1993
Like many of Xavier’s recruits, Jamie Gladden had more than a few offers when it came time to decide where to play college ball in 1989. A native of Lorain, Ohio, Gladden was getting calls from Oklahoma State, Tulsa University, University of Cincinnati, Ohio State and Drake University. It became overwhelming.
“It almost felt like I was more of a number than a person,” he says. “But every time I talked to a Xavier coach, it was a totally different experience. They didn’t promise anything they couldn’t deliver.”
Gladden remembers Skip Prosser, then an assistant coach, telling him, “Whatever you get here, you’re gonna have to earn it.” Gladden respected that. He also liked Xavier’s high graduation rate.
“The first thing I noticed is the great deal of camaraderie, the family atmosphere that the team had,” Gladden says. He didn’t have to wait long for a return on his investment. In his freshman year, his skills at shooting guard helped lead the team to its first appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Gladden graduated in 1993 with a degree in sociology. Before then he would reach the NCAA tournament two more times and score 1,780 points—the seventh highest tally in Musketeer history.
Gladden is now assistant vice president of lost mitigation at Litton Loan Services in Atlanta. He still plays basketball, but limits himself to the casual two-on-two variety, and he tries to stick to guys his age, for his knees’ sake. He also helps out with the Amateur Athletic Union basketball team of his 14-year-old son, who grew up watching old VHS recordings of Gladden’s games with his cousin. Among them was the 1990 Crosstown Shootout nail biter, and a memorable game against Loyola Marymount, just two months before their star, Hank Gathers, died on the court. Xavier won both games, thanks to buzzer-beaters from Jamal Walker.
“Jamal was their favorite player,” Gladden says. “They’d cheer for him more than they would for me.”
Rick Reder, 1970
Rick Reder finally found his calling—at age 50. The 6-foot former guard graduated with a degree in business from Xavier in 1970, married his high school sweetheart soon after and went into the insurance business. Everything was just as it was supposed to be.
But something was missing with his work: Passion.
“It was a job,” Reder says. “I was never terribly enamored with it. I guess I was somewhat successful.”
Reder, a lifelong Catholic, realized his true calling while on retreat in the mid-1990s. “One of the priests in the group said, ‘You’d make a great deacon.’ ” Reder was unfamiliar with the role of deacons in the church. “I said, ‘I’m almost a 50-year-old Catholic, what the hell is a deacon?’ ”
Reder heeded the advice and began taking classes at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati to become a deacon. He eventually sold his insurance business and today is the executive director of the Jesuit Spiritual Center at Milford, Ohio, which hosts retreats for individuals and groups.
“There was never even a thought about being a deacon or working in a religious environment,” he says of his early career aspirations. “But God’s there all the time. It took me 50 years to figure it out. I’m a slow learner.”
Smiling, he refers to the unlikely circumstances that led him to become director of the center. “Here I am,” he says from his office on the tree-lined grounds on the spiritual center in suburban Cincinnati. “My goal is to bring people to God and let God touch them. If we can get them here, I know God will take care of them.”