Unknowns made 1966 Beavers a surprise to many
RYAN GARDNER/Gazette-Times
Oregon State's Jason Cooley, left, earned a 3-2 victory over Oregon's Eric Webb. Despite Cooley's win, the Beavers fell 18-14.

During the early 1920s, a new sports slogan began to emerge on the Oregon Agricultural College campus among students, faculty and alumni.

Freshmen would write it on the sides of their beanies. Football fans would shout it out on their way to the gridiron. Campus editors of student newspapers and alumni magazines would frequently have it show up in their stories.

The slogan was "60 Minutes of Fight," and to that generation of Beaver Believers, it meant exactly what it said: If you were the visiting team, you were in for a rough time (it was hoped), no slacking off, no sympathy.

The Beavers were going to be in your face every second of every game.

Today "60 Minutes of Fight" is an almost forgotten piece of OSU history, like rook lids, the Old Whalebone and the Iron Lady. By the late '20s, it had disappeared from regular usage, but the spirit of it, many older fans will tell you, has never left.

At no time in the last 50 years was this more evident in men's basketball than the season of 1966, coach Paul Valenti's second at OSU.

Valenti was no stranger to OSU, having played for the Beavers from 1940-42 before entering to Navy to do his part to help win World War II. Returning to Corvallis in 1946, Valenti became Slats Gill's assistant with the team until 1965, when he took over the job of coaching basketball for his alma mater from his longtime mentor.

Gill, today a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, coached at OSU, where he was an All-America selection in 1924, from 1929-64. He compiled the most basketball victories in school history (599), a record highlighted by Final Four appearances, eight consecutive Far West Classic titles and numerous All-Americans, from Ed Lewis to Swede Halbrook to Terry Baker and Mel Counts.

In reality, then, Valenti in '66 was in his second year of following a legend, never easy at any school in any sport. His assistants were all OSU alums: Jimmy Anderson, who had played in the late 1950s and would one day follow a legend (Ralph Miller) as the head coach; freshman coach Bill Harper, a Beaver star from 1949-51; and graduate assistant Jim Jarvis, who made several All-American in '65.

If, to the fans, the names of the coaches were all too familiar, many of the 12 players who made the roster that year were not: Ray Carlile, Scott Eaton, Dave Fox, Bob Franz, Ed Fredenburg, Larry Fench, Harry Gunner, Karl Weide, Rick Whelan, Charlie White and Gary Wilken.

To the longtime follower of Beaver basketball, these names just didn't have the same ring as say a Lew Beck or a Swede Halbrook or a Terry Baker or Red Rocha or a Mel Counts or Don Durdan or Dave Gambee - or any of the other great stars from the past 20 years who had brought some considerable national recognition to the Orange and Black.

Few outside the state had ever heard of Valenti's players either, or if they had, they were not that impressed. Preseason polls had OSU picked to finish anywhere from sixth place to last in the conference.

Of course, if the "experts" were always right, there would be no Las Vegas or Reno or Atlantic City or off-track betting. There would be no reason to play the games.

Maybe more than at any other time in OSU's storied basketball history, Valenti's 1966 squad demonstrated time and again just why underdogs bother to suit up.

Call it chemistry, call it destiny, call it whatever you like, OSU in 1966 shocked both the conference and the nation. The Beavers did so with little more than one All-American candidate and a bunch of overachievers who not only knew the meaning of the word "fight," but took it to the court every night.

Their accomplishments that year are impressive. And historic. Overachieving or not, this team, this one year, was a great one, if greatness is measured by success, which it surely is.

Picked low in the conference, known that year as the Athletic Association of Western Universities or AAWU (a year later the name would be changed to the Pac-8), they finished first with a 21-7 record

, the bulk of their losses coming at the beginning of the season.

When it was over, they were NCAA Western Regional runners-up after losing to Utah by four points in the championship game. A victory would have sent them to the Final Four and a shot at the biggest prize of all.

Not having the talent or the big names of the California schools, OSU led the conference and the nation in defense. Since 1951, no Beaver team has done better than their stingy 54.5 points a game.

They won the Far West Classic title, extending OSU's string of trophies for Portland's most important college basketball event to 11 in a row.

Captain Charles White was named a Converse All-American, on a team that included future NBA all-star Rick Barry, father of future OSU star Brent Barry. White also was the first African-American in OSU history to hold a full scholarship to play basketball.

From Oakland, Calif., where he is manager of the Oakland office for Guards Mark Inc., White shared in a recent interview why that team turned out to be so special.

"We really didn't have what is called today a 'go-to' guy, a superstar," White said. "It was a team concept totally, and that was instilled in us by Paul and Jimmy. We were all good athletes who could run and jump. But we were a team first.

"We screened, picked, talked to one another during the game, and we got along well off the court. We didn't really do a lot of socializing away from the court but we all liked one another and all felt like Paul was our leader. Paul was tough, but we took it pretty well."

White also gives credit to Valenti's and Anderson's knowledge of the game, and their knowledge of how best to utilize players.

"What happened was I had played small forward the year before, Paul's first as head coach, but had never played guard," White said. "One day I was working out in the gym before the beginning of the season and in walked Paul and Jimmy and it was there they both got the idea that I might be better for the team if I played guard."

This shift would benefit the team and White.

Even so, the start of the season was anything but a success and no one associated with the program could see clearly who was benefiting from what. The Beavers started 1-2.

Valenti, today an associate athletic director emeritus in the OSU athletic department, says that although the start was a little rocky, he wasn't worried:

"We had a 6-7 walk-on center but so what?" he said. "Our guys could play together real well and they could play defense. I noticed all during the pre-season that these guys could take care of the basketball and that their real strength was going to be defense. Playing through them was like running through a meat grinder."

Anderson, today retired in Corvallis home and enjoying life gardening and sometimes fishing on the Oregon coast, agrees that defense was important to this team's success and adds: "The guys always made sure that once they got ahead they made it very difficult for the other guys to catch up. That '66 team pretty much played everybody straight up, nothing fancy, and they gave you no open shots because there was always someone in your face."

Returning home, the Beavers won the Far West Classic. It was an emotional time, and even though it was early in the schedule it was a moment many of the guys still remember.

Ed Frendenberg, a nuclear engineer who lives in Redmond, Wash., remembers it this way:

"OSU had a long string of Far West Classic titles going by 1966 and Paul, being the fighter and competitor he is, did not want to be the coach to break the string," Frendenberg said. "He was following a legend in Slats Gill and you could just see that he was under a lot of pressure not to lose the trophy. And we didn't."

"He showed right there why he was a great coach and why we were so successful that year. You could always count on him being there for you. He always emphasized that he wanted us to work hard and to do our best at everything. That's just the way we played our games that season and the way the guys on the team have lived their lives after graduation. Everyone

has been very successful in life and a lot of this we owe to Paul and Jimmy and the program."

Interviewed at his home in Madras, Loy Peterson, a successful farmer of specialty vegetable crops and chairman of the Central Oregon Electrical Co-op, remembers his teammates as a bunch of "overachievers."

"The coaching staff taught us a lot about discipline," Peterson said. "They stressed to us that they wanted us to pay attention to all phases of the game and not to let the other team penetrate. Paul and Jimmy really get the credit. Jimmy would do the scouting and both of them would watch lots of film of the other teams. They were always well prepared for the next game and we always felt for every game like we would win. The only thing Paul Valenti ever hated was losing. His blood truly runs orange."

If Valenti hated losing, the game after the Far West Classic was his worst nightmare. The Beavers traveled to UCLA and were blown out by one of the worst scores in their history, 79-35.

"We just got took," Valenti said with a laugh. "It was one of those games that you get into sometimes where things just start snowballing on you and you can't stop it. But I knew we would be OK. I think we might have been a little overconfident coming out of the Far West Classic."

Valenti was right.

In the last 18 games, they would lose but three times, including the championship of the NCAA Far West Regional to a Utah team they thought for sure they could beat. This included a 64-51 Feb. 18 drubbing (before 10,307 screaming Beavers) of the same UCLA team that had so embarrassed them back in early January.

One win, in the first game of the regional, was against the team that many thought would win the national championship: Houston, with its great All-American center and future NBA star Elvin Hayes.

At 6-9 and weighing 240 pounds of pure talent and muscle, Hayes was probably the best post in the country. He was averaging 27.6 points and 17 rebounds a game. Houston was the highest scoring team in the country, at 100 points a game.

Valenti remembers muttering to himself as he walked out on the court at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, "What in the hell are we doing here?"

Still, the old axiom "defense wins championships" held true again as the Beavers pulled off one of the greatest upsets in school history, 63-60.

Fredenberg and teammates held Hayes to 14 points, three in the second half, and 14 rebounds. OSU's big gun on offense that day was Ed Whalen, with a game-high 24 points.

White still has vivid memories of that game:

"I think they overlooked us a little bit and after they realized it was not going to be easy to beat us, they got frustrated and started yelling at one another," he said. "When they tried to catch up, it was too late. They had never had anybody play them that tough. Paul told us to take our shots but not worry about hanging around the offensive boards for the rebound if we missed, to get out of there, get back and set up. If we had let them run up and down the court they would have killed us."

Valenti remembers that after the game Houston was in a total state of shock.

"We were out in the parking lot after the game and their coach walked past us and gave us an obscene gesture with a wave of his arm," he said. "He couldn't believe we had beaten his team."

The next day, the shoe fell to the other foot as Utah defeated the Beavers 70-64, knocking them out of a trip to the Final Four.

Valenti still blames himself for the loss, admitting, "I got so excited about beating Houston, I didn't do a good job preparing the guys for Utah."

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