Sunday, March 1, 2009
His name was Doug Ostrom. At 5'10" and 150 lbs. he wasn't the most intimidating basketball player, but he didn't need to be. He was quick and could shoot a sweet jump shot from anywhere on the court. He could pass, too. The starting guard on my high school basketball team, Doug Ostrom was getting looks from college scouts in his senior year. Though much lighter and smaller, Ostrom could easily be compared to Jason Kidd. I saw Kidd play when he was in high school. It's a fair comparison.
I loved watching Doug Ostrom play because the guy really enjoyed himself. Even 4 decades later, I can easily see his grin, those knobby knees and the arc of his jumper.
Because I played class B basketball in high school, in the off season, I was programed into period 7 P.E. with coach Burton. In tose days, there were 4 leagues, 4 classifications based on age and size. Freshman and sophs played "C" or "B" basketball; juniors and seniors played JV or Varsity. Occasionally, someone like Ostrom would go from "B" to Varsity; he was that good.
But this day, I was in a pick-up game during P.E. We were all mixed in, all levels and playing outside on the blacktop before the Varsity went inside to the Gym and we underlinings remained outside. So here I was trying to hang with the big boys. Scared, excited, but loving the opportunity. Ostrom was on the other side, but at least I didn't have to guard him. He'd constantly comment on the game like a built in announcer. But his descriptions were filled with joy, praising, defining, questioning, and moving, always moving.
Someone hit me with a pass after I got open on the left side. I hit a 10 foot jumper and acted like I belonged. You know, gave it the Barney Fife sniff of the nose. When it happened again a minute later, Ostrom began his commentary.
"What's that guys name," he asked someone.
"Greene," came the reply.
"Green," Ostrom said, "OK, Sihugo Green."
I knew the name. Sihugo Green was an NBA star in the early years of the league. He'd been a top college player in the mid-50s at Duquesne, and then drafted by Rochester of the NBA. He later went on to play for the old St. Louis Hawks. Sihugo Green was so talented he was actually drafted ahead of Bill Russell. (It was a very good year)
I hit a few more shots in that little game and each time Ostrom would call out, "Si Hugo Green from outside." or Si...Hugo...Green..." Those outside basketball courts had chain nets and the nothing but net "swish" sounded more metallic. But it was a lovely sound, full and rich and solid.
Doug Ostrom went on to a First Team All League season and I actually got my letter that year playing the role of 6th man, much better on defense. I watched Ostrom from the bleachers throughout his Polytechnic High School career. By the time we both graduated, I heard he was playing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He'd kicked around for a while but was beginning to draw attention again.
Soon after, a good friend of mine was killed in Vietnam, and I did most of my basketball watching at UCLA. One day I read in a local paper that Doug Ostrom was killed in a car accident while driving back home on Highway 101.
Like Sihugo, he just vanished.