No name is more synonymous than Jerry Lucas when talking about the history of Middletown’s Wade E. Miller Gym.
Lucas not only led the Middies to back-to-back state titles in 1956 and 1957, but lost only one high school game: the state championship his senior season. Lucas said he never lost a game at Miller, including junior high school.
He remembered as a junior high student at Roosevelt playing McKinley in an exhibition game during halftime of a varsity game. There is a picture of Lucas getting ready to rebound a free throw shot by J.B. Deaton, still one of his best friends.
“I had to get ready because he never made a shot, ” Lucas said with a laugh.
At the time, few had even heard of Lucas. He was “just another skinny kid” on the basketball court, he said.
Besides the two state championships, Lucas also is revered in Middletown for scoring a school record 63 points in his final home game. Earlier in the year, when Middletown beat Lima 67-54, Lucas was “held” to 16 points, an accomplishment the Lima players bragged about after the game.
So when Lima played at Middletown, Coach Walker played Lucas the entire game, truly a rarity. He answered with 63 points — missing only a few field goals and free throws — as the Middies rolled, 105-48.
After high school, Lucas played in several all-star games and one of them was coached by Walker and played at Miller Gym. Toward the end of the game, Lucas and an all-star from Kentucky had a jump ball by Ohio’s free throw line.
There was a timeout and Lucas asked Walker what would happen if he tipped the ball in the basket.
“It would count, ” Walker told Lucas.
So Lucas outjumped the Kentucky player and tipped the ball toward the basket.
“It didn’t even touch the rim, ” Lucas said proudly. “The place exploded.”
He never has seen that done since, he said.
Middletown High School, or anywhere for that matter, may never see another Jerry Lucas.
But he’s quick to point out that Middletown won five state championships before he played, and came within a basket or two of winning more titles. He said he just “followed” other great players.
He has fond memories of the games and the friendships made playing basketball, he said. There was nothing like Middletown basketball in the 1950s.
“The whole city was at Miller, ” said Lucas, 77. “It was the place to be.”
He was asked what he remembers the most about the gymnasium. He gave an insight only players may have seen. As the players left the locker room, they walked down a hall and on the left was Coach Walker’s office.
Lucas called the office Walker’s “haven” and since he respected his coach, he respected his office.
Will there be any Middie Magic in the new arena? Maybe another state title, the first since 1957.
“They better get busy,” Lucas said.