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COURTESY: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Mel Counts, the center on Oregon State's 1963 Final Four team, is among those former Beavers who follow and admire the 2015-16 OSU women's basketball team headed to its own Final Four.Oregon State’s women are headed for Indianapolis, the Final Four and a Sunday night date with a dynasty — Connecticut.

It’s the first time for the Beavers’ distaff side to make the Final Four, but not the first time for the school.

The Oregon State men have made it twice — 1949 and 1963 — and finished fourth both times in the years when a third-place game was staged.

The ’63 OSU team featured some of the most prominent names in the school’s athletic history, including All-American Mel Counts, a 7-foot center who played for the U.S. gold-medal Olympic team in 1964; guard Terry Baker, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner in football; and forward Steve Pauly, the 1963 AAU national decathlon champion.

Baker and Pauly weren’t the only ones on that team to play two sports at Oregon State. Guard Frank Peters was a third baseman who went as far as Triple-A in the Baltimore Orioles organization and later gained fame as manager of the renegade Portland Mavericks. Jim Jarvis, a guard and the Beavers’ sixth man, was a middle infielder who went on to play professionally in baseball and basketball.

The nucleus of the team hailed from Oregon. Baker prepped at Jefferson High, Pauly at Beaverton High. Jarvis was from Roseburg. Counts played at Marshfield High. Peters’ high school years were spent in Anaheim, Calif., but his formative years were in Corvallis.

Fifty-three years later, most of the key members of that OSU team still reside in the area. Baker, Pauly and Peters live in Portland. Counts lives outside of Keizer. Jarvis lives in Asotin, Wash., but will soon move to Corvallis so he can watch his grandson, George Mendezona, a senior at Redmond’s Ridgeview High, play baseball at Oregon State next year.

  • Those 1962-63 Beavers have paid close attention to what the Oregon State women’s team has accomplished in recent years.

    “They’ve done a heck of a job,” says Peters, 73. “The left-handed gal (Sydney Wiese), she’s a lot of fun to watch. I love women’s basketball. They play the game as it was designed because they don’t have the athleticism. I watch UConn play — (the Huskies) take your breath away. When we had pro teams in town (the Fire and the Power), I’d go on occasion. I like the fundamentals of the way they play.”

    Counts says he has been to several OSU women’s home games in recent seasons.

    “I love the way they play,” says Counts, 74. “I love their coach (Scott Rueck). He has done a great job. There’s a lot of pride and excitement in Beaver Nation with that team.

    “It’s huge to be in the Final Four. Schools go forever and don’t get there. It’s quite a tribute to his coaching and the players. They’re a gritty bunch. They’re just as enjoyable to watch as the boys games. (Men’s coach Wayne) Tinkle is another great one. We have a real coach and teacher in both of our programs.”

    Pauly says he has watched many of the OSU women’s games on TV this season.

    “I like to watch them play,” says Pauly, 75. “They play good ball, and great defense.”

    Jarvis has become a big fan of the OSU women.

    “A couple of years ago, I ran into Rueck before a football game and said, ‘Coach, you have me streaming women’s basketball on my computer at home,’” says Jarvis, 73.

    Jarvis relates a story about Jamie Weisner, the OSU guard who earned Pac-12 player of the year honors this season. Weisner is from Clarkston, Wash., about six miles from Jarvis’ home in Eastern Washington.

    “After she signed (with OSU as a high school senior), I was in Colfax when they played a game there,” Jarvis says. “The players were on the team bus and I asked if I could talk to Jamie. She got off, and I told her I’d played ball at Oregon State. I said, ‘I think you’re really going to like our coach. He’s doing a great job and the players seem to love him.’ I barely got the words out of my mouth when she said, ‘He is the reason I’m going there.’ That’s a pretty strong statement.”

  • The 1962-63 Beavers started slowly, in part because Baker remained with the football team, scoring the Liberty Bowl’s only touchdown on a 99-yard run in a 6-0 victory over Villanova. He joined the basketball team in time for the Kentucky Invitational just before Christmas, and his presence helped OSU win 20 of 24 games leading into the postseason.

    “Terry was the piece we were missing,” Counts says. “He filled the void, and we took off from there.”

    “We caught everybody off guard,” Peters says. “Terry came to us late, and it took Jarvis awhile to figure things out. We had seven losses going into the (NCAA) tournament, but when Terry came in, our team jelled. We were pretty good, and no big men could shoot like Mel Counts.”

    The Beavers, coached by the legendary Slats Gill, were in a four-year stretch in which they played as independents (1959-63), between dropping out of the Pacific Coast Conference and becoming a member of what was then called the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU). The Beavers gained an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, beating Seattle and San Francisco in their first two games.

    The third game, in the West regional final at Provo, Utah, was against fourth-ranked Arizona State, led by All-American “Jumpin’ Joe” Caldwell. Counts collected 26 points and 13 rebounds, but the star was Pauly, who had 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting and six rebounds and harassed Caldwell into a 6-for-19 shooting night. The Beavers routed the Sun Devils 83-65.

    “We peaked at the right time,” Pauly says. “We played good team defense, which was important. We played well in the regionals in Provo, especially against Arizona State, which had killed UCLA the night before.”

    “Steve did a fantastic defensive job on Caldwell,” Jarvis says. “And we were on our way to the Final Four.”

  • It wasn’t called the “Final Four” in those days. The Beavers were headed to what was referred to as the “national semifinals,” and the draw wasn’t easy. The opponent was two-time defending NCAA champion Cincinnati, 24-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Bearcats were led by 6-8 George Wilson and All-American guard Tom Thacker, both of whom went on to lengthy NBA careers.

    There was little of the fanfare that is associated with the men’s Final Four today.

    “There wasn’t the national TV stuff that there is now,” Jarvis says. “That’s all changed.”

    “I didn’t sign one autograph during our entire time (in Louisville),” Peters recalls. “The only reporter who talked to me was (Oregon Journal sports editor) George Pasero, who ran into me when we both got on an elevator at the team hotel. We were on the 18th floor and I pushed all the buttons down to the lobby. We talked on the way down, and he wrote a column on me.”

    Every player on the four teams was given four tickets to each game.

    “None of our players wanted them,” Peters says. “I wound up buying 32 tickets and selling them. I think I got about $50 a ticket. (Trainer) Bill Robertson sold them for me. I bought a ring with the money and got married.”

    Peters has another memory of the Beavers’ time at the team hotel.

    “This guy drives up in front of the hotel in a cherry red Cadillac, talking loud and fast,” he says. “We thought he was funny. His name was Cassius Clay. He lived in Louisville.”

    A few years later, Peters ran into Clay, who became boxing legend Muhammad Ali, in a movie theater in Reno.

    “There were three people in the theater to watch a Bruce Lee movie, including (Ali) and myself,” Peters says. “I introduced myself and said, ‘Champ, I met you awhile back in Louisville.’ During the movie, there was a reference to Cassius Clay. He stood up and yelled, ‘Nope, I changed my name.’”

  • The Beavers ventured to Louisville with a plan to extend their season by upsetting Cincinnati and advancing to play for the national championship.

    “At the time, it was, ‘OK, we got here,’” says Counts, who went on to a 14-year NBA career, winning titles his first two seasons as the backup to Bill Russell with the Boston Celtics. “As I look back, it’s a big deal. I only have two regrets at OSU — not winning a national championship, and only beating the Ducks 17 of 20 times (including his time on the freshman team).”

    Counts grew up in Eastside, a berg of 400 outside of Coos Bay.

    “To get to play in what became known as the ‘Final Four’ was really something for a small-town kid like me,” he says. “I give a lot of credit to our coaches, Slats and (assistant coach) Paul Valenti. Some of the best four years of my life were spent at Oregon State — not just basketball, but the total college experience.”

    Jarvis, a 6-foot sophomore, began the season as the Beavers’ sixth man.

    “I was really struggling trying to fit into Slats’ (regimented) system,” Jarvis recalls. “I wasn’t like Frank, who would let criticism roll off his back. I’d take it internally. I was conscious of everything I did to make sure I did everything right, and it took away from my game.”

  • The 1963 Final Four was at Freedom Hall, then the home of the Louisville Cardinals. A crowd of 19,153 was on hand to watch the two semifinal games.

    “Biggest crowd I ever played before,” Pauly says.

    Kentucky was tobacco country, and the rules for spectators were much different in that era.

    “Everybody smoked cigars, and there was a big blue haze up the ceiling during the game,” Peters says. “The other thing I remember is, the crowd was not for us. It was a home game for Cincinnati.”

    Jim Kraus, a 6-7 sophomore, began the season as a starter for Oregon State. By the time the postseason came around, Jarvis was in a starting five that was small other than Counts. Pauly, who wound up at power forward, was 6-4. Baker was 6-3 and Peters 6-2.

    That did not bode well against a bigger Cincinnati team that won the rebound battle 44-26 in an 80-46 trouncing of the Beavers.

    The final score isn’t indicative of the competitiveness of the game, at least for a while. Cincinnati led 30-27 at halftime, and when Peters opened the second half with a rebound basket, the margin was only 30-29. The Bearcats outscored OSU 51-16 the rest of the way.

    Wilson scored 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting and had 13 rebounds. Thacker contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Ron Bonham added 14 points for the Bearcats.

    “Bonham knocked me out briefly, but I deserved it,” Peters says. “I was fouling him when no one was looking. He punched me — got me good — and I shot a free throw. In those days, nobody got kicked out.”

    Cincinnati shot .549 from the field and was 24 for 39 at the free-throw line compared to OSU’s 12 for 15 on gift shots. Counts had 20 points on 8-for 14 shooting and nine rebounds before fouling out with almost 10 minutes remaining. The rest of the Beavers combined for 9-for-45 shooting. Jarvis was 1 for 6, Peters 1 for 5, Pauly 2 for 8, Kraus 1 for 6 and Baker — who was averaging 15 points going into the game — was 0 for 9.

    “Terry had the flu, and nobody knew it,” Peters says.

    Cincinnati used Tony Yates to defend Baker, and the Bearcat guard’s quickness reaped dividends. He stripped Baker of the ball a couple of times early in the game and harassed him through the night.

    “Great job by Tony,” Cincinnati coach Ed Jucker said afterward. “We weren’t too worried about Counts. We figured he’d get his usual 20 (points) or so. We were going out there to stop Baker, and we did.”

    “This was not only the worst night that Baker has had this year — it was the worst I’ve ever seen him have in his career,” Gill told reporters. “Maybe Yates was good defensively, I don’t know.

    “Our history has been the same all year. When Counts gets in foul trouble, we are in real trouble.”

    Says Jarvis today: “Here’s the Heisman Trophy winner, my hero, being humbled by (Yates), who is a terrific athlete.”

    The Bearcats, Pauly says, “were the fastest team we’d played. They just put it in another gear that second half.”

    Even with the decisiveness of Cincinnati’s victory, Peters wasn’t convinced of the Bearcats’ superiority.

    “They weren’t any better than us,” he says. “We played them the next year in Corvallis and in Portland and split with them.” (The Bearcats, ranked fourth nationally, beat OSU 57-53 at Memorial Coliseum, but the Beavers whipped them 82-61 the following night at Gill Coliseum during the 1963-64 campaign.)

  • The semifinal loss left Oregon State to play in the third-place game against Duke, which had been upset by Loyola of Chicago 94-75 in the other semi. The Blue Devils, ranked No. 2 nationally and with a 26-3 record coming in, were led by All-Americans Art Heyman and Jeff Mullins.

    Heyman scored 22 points, and Mullins contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds in Duke’s 85-63 victory. The Blue Devils shot .492 from the field. The Beavers managed only .287 shooting, and though Counts finished with 25 points and 18 rebounds, he made only 9 of 30 attempts. Pauly had 12 points and 11 boards, but Baker was 3 for 11 and Jarvis 3 for 12 from the field.

    “It’s great they got rid of the consolation game,” Jarvis says. “Who really wanted to play when you’d gotten beat for a chance to win the national championship?”

    In the championship game, Loyola upset Cincinnati 60-58.

  • Baker and Pauly were seniors, but the Beavers returned Counts, Peters and Jarvis and added sophomore Scott Eaton the following season.

    “We thought we had a better team that next year and would have a chance to get back and win the national championship,” Jarvis says.

    Oregon State was 25-3 and carried a 12-game win streak into its first-round NCAA Tournament matchup with Seattle in Eugene. Gill had announced the 1963-64 season would be his last, and the game against the Chieftains would have been his 600th career victory.

    It was not to be. The Beavers surrendered a 10-point lead with five minutes to go, were outscored 16-2 down the stretch and lost 61-57.

    “The biggest disappointment of my athletic career,” Jarvis says.

    Even with the losses to Cincinnati and Duke, the OSU players look back at their Final Four experience with fondness.

    “It was fun to represent the school and the state,” Counts says. “As I get older, it becomes a bigger deal. I won two NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal, but getting to the Final Four is something I treasure as much as anything.”

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