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1939 University of Oregon - Basketball


The “Tall Firs” will forever be remembered not only as the only Oregon team to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1939, but for winning the first NCAA championship during an era when the collegiate organization was establishing itself across the nation.

The Ducks earned their nickname during the season due to the height of their starting frontline. Center Slim Wintermute and forwards Laddie Gale and John Dick were all 6-foot-4 or taller, which caused newspaper editor L.H. Gregory to invent the nickname. Although height was an advantage for the team, it also featured an early version of a fast break offense just two seasons after the center jump following every made basket had been eliminated.

Guards Bobby Anet and Wally Johansen were key players in managing the tempo of games.

Coach Howard Hobson, in his fourth season, had built the team by first hiring Astoria High coach John Warren as an assistant in his first season. Warren then recruited two of his top players, Anet and Johansen, and the Ducks were on their way to building a championship team.

Oregon returned all five of its starters from a team that reached the Pacific Coast Conference championship game, and four of those players were seniors. Dick was the lone junior among the starters.

To gain experience on the national level, the team traveled to the East Coast at the start of the season, and played eight games in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, a trip that made the school the first from the West Coast to send a team to the East.

Oregon won the PCC North Division title with a 14-2 conference record, and beat California in two games to win the conference title and a spot in the first NCAA Tournament, which featured eight teams.

The Ducks beat Texas 56-41 in the quarterfinals and Oklahoma 55-37 in the semifinals, both games being played in San Francisco. They advanced to the final to play Ohio State on the campus of Northwestern University in Chicago and beat the Buckeyes 46-33 before a crowd of 5,000 spectators. Dick had a game-high 15 points. Ohio State shot just 17 percent from the field.

Oregon’s roster of 11 players were all from Oregon or Washington.

The “Tall Firs” were inducted to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In addition, the starting five are also inductees as are Hobson and Warren. The University of Oregon Athletic Hall of Fame inducted the team, its starting five and Hobson, and has retired the number of all five starters. The Basketball Hall of Fame inducted the team in 1965.