ALLSPACH: Quite a life for Le Mars' Gunther

ALLSPACH: Quite a life for Le Mars' Gunther


Butler University and Virginia Commonwealth University, either the common man on the grander scale of the game of college basketball that is reigned over by the Kentuckys and Connecticuts of the world, somehow found themselves confronting destiny.

Monday night, one of the commoners, win or lose, will tearfully listen to the poignant restrains of lines penned by David Barrett -- "One shining moment, you reached for the sky.''

The winner of the Butler-VCU semifinal game Saturday in the Final Four will play for the national championship. The ogres, UConn and Kentucky, met in the other semi.

"Not a matter of strikeouts (or three-pointers or dunks), but of people confronting fame and time and themselves'' it has been written.

So it was in the long ago.

On March 23 of 1956 at McGaw Hall on the campus of Northwestern University, the "Fabulous Five'' of the University of Iowa pulled on their sneakers confronting fame and time and the game's greatest player.

The now legend and iconic senior quintet of Carl Cain, Bill Logan, Sharm Scheuerman, Bill Schoof and Bill Seaberg were the Davids facing Goliath. They were playing unbeaten, No. 1-ranked defending national champion San Francisco and 6-foot-10 All-World Bill Russell in the national title game.

The Hawkeyes, toiling gamely, were unable to shake down the thunder even though they had a capacity crowd of 10,600 buzzing and sensing a monumentual upset with an early 15-4 lead.

The Dons won their 56th straight game with Russell scoring 26 points and grabbing 27 rebounds and without K.C. Jones, who was suspended for the game. He and the legendary Russell later earned fame and All-NBA honors with the Boston Celtics.

On the night Iowa lost, Dave Gunther and his teammates on the freshman squad at Iowa gathered to watch the game of television and also tune in a transistor radio or two.

Freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition at the time, but Gunther, the former Le Mars High first-team prep all-stater, and his rookie mates scrimmaged the Fabulous Five often.

"Playing against those guys was an eye-opener,'' recalls the 6-foot-7 Gunther, who faced the 6-7 Logan on many occasions in Iowa Fieldhouse. "They played as one. It's a cliché, but they'd been together for so long they absolutely knew what each other was going to do every second of the game.

"The passing was phenomenal. There was no wasted movement, no needless dribbling. A couple of passes, the ball never hit the floor, and they'd find the open guy for the basket.

Gunther's decision to play for the Hawkeyes was prophetic.

Earning a varsity starting role as a sophomore, he would become the first Iowa player to be named the team's most valuable player three straight years.

The lanky forward averaged 12.3 points as a sophomore in 1957, 19.8 as a junior and 21.9 as a senior. He twice led the team in rebounding, too, pulling down 12.1 missed shots a game as a senior.

Interestingly, he finished his career with 1,118 points, the same total as the popular Logan, a second-team All-American and prep all-stater at Keokuk and the lone Iowan on the Fabulous Five.


In 2005, the university named an All-Century team along with All-Decade teams.

Gunther, a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior, earned ultimate accolades when he was among 20 players on the All-Century Iowa team and one of five to the 1950s Decade squad.

Making the All-Decade team was no mean feat. It also included Logan, Cain, Seaberg and Chuck Darling, like Cain a first-team All-American.

The jersey numbers of Logan (31), Cain (21) and Seaberg (22), along with Schoof (33) and Scheuerman (46) are among just nine so honored.

"I was humbled by my selection on the honor teams at Iowa,'' says Gunther, who wore the No. 57 jersey as a sophomore, then No. 25 as a junior and senior. "It's a truly great honor and I'm extremely grateful to even be considered, let alone be chosen.''

We digress. Since Iowa was ranked fourth nationally the Hawks weren't exactly a Cinderella story in '56.

They beat Morehead State, the highest scoring team in the country, and almighty Kentucky in regional play to reach the Final Four, then tripped 15th-ranked Temple in the semifinals before losing to USF.

Iowa had also reached the Final Four the previous season and despite being Big Ten champion, might have been the Cinderella club that year.

San Francisco would win the first of its two straight national titles, Colorado was ranked higher and LaSalle, a national power from the vaunted Main Line in Philadelphia, was the reigning national champ.

The Hawks lost to LaSalle and Tom Gola -- an All-American and future NBA star -- then fell to Colorado in the third-place game. Fortunately, they still had a consolation game back then.

Iowa had claimed the Big Ten title in '55 in a showdown with Minnesota in Minneapolis, a classic duel that drew 20,176 to the Gophers' Williams Arena.

Following the Fabulous Five was no easy task. Gunther's teams were 31-35 in three seasons.

"We felt some pressure to live up to the standard they'd set and I think coach (Bucky) O'Connor's death may have affected us more than we really knew,'' said Gunther.


Gunther was still in high school when the Fabulous Five was created by O'Connor on Feb. 22, 1954.

To ignite a listless team, O'Connor, who recruited Gunther, but died in an automobile crash in April 1958 that stunned and shocked the state just after his junior campaign with the Hawks, benched stars McKinley "Deacon'' Davis and Chuck Jarnagin.

Thus, the famous era of success began when the Hawkeyes upset eventual Big Ten champion Indiana.

On a sadder note, Gunther and teammates attended O'Connor's funeral and he returned to Iowa City during the recently completed season to attend a memorial for Scheuerman, who passed away at 76 last August while living in Denver.

It was Scheuerman, at age 24 the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I history, who succeeded O'Connor and coached Gunther, just three years younger, as a senior.


After his college days, Gunther was twice called to active duty with the National Guard while trying to make it in the pro game.

He was drafted by the old Philadelpia Warriors in the eighth round of the 1959 draft, the 56th player chosen.

Later, he spent time with the Cleveland Pipers in the National Industrial League, the Eastern League in Williamsport, Pa., and was with the San Francisco Saints of the old American Basketball League when he was called to active duty a second time.

He was later cut by San Francisco Warriors (after they moved from Philly) of the NBA and toiled with the Chicago Majors of the ABL when that franchise folded.

His first head coaching job was in Iowa at Charles City High School for a season, then it was on to Kimball High in Royal Oak, Mich., for three seasons. Moving to the college ranks he spent three years at Wayne State (the Nebraska version) and then 18 years at the University of North Dakota (332 wins, five North Central Conference titles), two at Buena Vista and six at Bemidji State before retiring 10 years ago.

Three of Gunther's Division II Elite Eight North Dakota national tourney squads lost to eventual national champions - Old Dominion, Puget Sound and Tennessee-Chattanooga.

"I'll always treasure my time at UND,'' says Gunther, who will turn 74 in July. "Grand Forks I still call home. Other than the times I go fishing or hunting and the three months my wife Jane and I spend each winter in Florida, we're in North Dakota.

Dave's brother, Steve, still coaching football in the Houston suburb of Magnolia, Texas, is a former head grid coach at Sioux City North.

Daughter Laurie and her husband Tom Kuchera reside in Sioux City, where he's the retail sales director of the Sioux City Journal.


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