2018 HOF inductee Wellemeyer recalls playing days

By GREG ECKERLE

As a three-year starter for the University of Evansville Purple Aces, 1967 Huntingburg High School graduate John Wellemeyer played all over the court.

Wellemeyer

Even at 6’3’’, he started out as a center. Coach Arad McCutchan then moved him to forward and then to a guard as a junior and eventually back to forward. He could shoot, dribble, pass, and defend well enough to compete anywhere. But most of all, wherever Wellemeyer was, he played hard. Hard enough and effective enough to recently be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle as part of the 2018 class.

Wellemeyer teamed up with 1968 Holland High School graduate Don Buse to lead U of E to the 1971 NCAA College Division (now Division II) national championship. Wellemeyer led the Aces in scoring that year with a 19.8 average and was also named an Indiana College All Star.

Buse, a guard who went on to play 13 years in the NBA and ABA and was a 1977 NBA All Star, said of Wellemeyer, “He was as good as anybody I ever played with as far as really running those lanes on a fast break, getting him the ball and taking it to the hole and finishing. He was like a bull going through there, he was tougher than heck getting that layup, making the shot, and drawing fouls. And he was a good outside shooter. What set John apart from some other guys is the way he would run the floor and get in the right spot. And there was nothing selfish about him, he was a good team player.”

“Thank goodness I had Don running with me,” says Wellemeyer. “I scored a lot of points because of Don Buse. My thought on fast breaks was if you go in hard, it makes it a lot harder for them to block the ball. A lot of people don’t expect you to go in hard. My approach was just play the game as hard as you can.”

Wellemeyer would often grab a defensive rebound, throw the ball to Buse, and outrun the opponents to score on the other end. “Once we got the ball, I wasn’t going to loaf down the floor. It puts you into position for a shot. And it’s hard for the guy guarding you if he has to sprint down the floor all night long. Sometimes it’s hard for people to keep up with you. Playing for Coach McCutchan, we were in pretty good shape.”

For an opponent, trying to draw a charge from Wellemeyer on those drives could be risky for their health. “I had to be careful not to get a charging foul,” he says, “but sometimes people got in front of me, and sometimes they were a little sore getting up. I played football in high school, and I think it helped me be a little bit more aggressive.”

As a freshman at Huntingburg High School, Wellemeyer started in four varsity sports – football, basketball, baseball, and track. He led the Hunter basketball team in scoring and rebounding all four years. As a senior he averaged 25.4 points per game and set the Dubois County scoring record for a single game with 52 points against South Spencer in the Tell City Holiday Tourney. He made 21 of 32 field goal attempts that game, 10 of 11 free throws, and recalls that several of his baskets were from today’s three-point range. Wellemeyer was selected to the 1967 Indiana Basketball All Star team, but unfortunately broke his foot in a pick-up game the day before he was to report to All Star practice.

Wellemeyer received over 100 college scholarship offers or inquiries. He narrowed his decision to Evansville, Purdue, and Louisville. He was most comfortable with Evansville, as his mother and brother had gone there, a sister was there at the time, and his parents already had basketball season tickets. “I had seen Evansville beat a lot of really good teams,” he says. “I saw the excitement and the atmosphere; it was a really exciting place to play. At the time, Evansville was in the top 10 in attendance of all universities in the country.”

One of his highlights at Evansville was beating Purdue at the old Roberts Stadium. He recalled that with the score tied, Buse stole the ball from Purdue with about 5 seconds left. After a timeout, “the ball came to me about center court, I shot the ball, and (Purdue’s) Bill Franklin went up and goal tended and we won by two points.”

As for being inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, Wellemeyer says, “It’s a huge honor. I am excited, appreciative, and humbled. I’ve received a lot of nice letters and comments. I guess some people still remember after 50 years.”

Wellemeyer is retired from Bristol Meyers and lives in Evansville.

Greg Eckerle, the sports exhibit director for the Dubois County Museum, can be reached at gregeckerle@twc.com.




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