Oscar Robertson, known as "The Big O," was an all-time great guard, one who was arguably before his time as a 6-5 ball-handler who had a versatile skill set that allowed him to put up big scoring, rebounding and assist numbers.
Here's everything you need to know about Oscar Robertson's college career.
Oscar Robertson's college basketball stats, vitals
Weight: 205 pounds
Years active: 1957-60
NCAA tournament record: 7-3
Career averages: 33.8 points per game, 15.2 rebounds per game, 7.1 assists per game, 53.5% field goal shooting
What was Oscar Robertson's record in college?
In three years with Oscar Robertson playing varsity, Cincinnati went 79-9, a winning percentage of .897. The Bearcats went 13-1 in Missouri Valley Conference play each season, while peaking at No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP poll.
How many national championships did Oscar Robertson win in college?
While Cincinnati came close to winning a national championship with Oscar Robertson, losing in the national semifinal in 1959 and 1960, the Bearcats didn't win a national title with Robertson. They went on to win the 1961 and 1962 national championships, however.
What kind of prospect was Oscar Robertson in high school?
Roberts attended Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, where he rewrote a significant portion of the Indiana high school record book. He set the single-game scoring record with 62 points and a record 39 points in a state tournament game. He held three-year scoring records for total points including the state tournament (1,780 points) and excluding the tournament (1,231 points). Crispus Attucks won back-to-back state titles and 45 games in a row in a basketball-crazy state. Some suggested it was the best high school basketball team ever.
"Record-eclipsing and precedent-setting Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, spurred by the unparalleled Oscar (The Great) Robertson, made history for the second year in a row here Saturday night and 15,000 Hoosier high school basketball fans gasped in unbelieving awe," wrote Cy McBride of the Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana, later continuing, "Robertson, 6-foot-4-inch tower of strength, wowed the crowd with a shooting demonstration never before seen in this greatest of all high school tournaments, setting a final game record of 39 points and a record of 106 points for the final four games."
"All of the individual records broken went to the incomparable Oscar Robertson, generally regarded in most corners the finest player in all-time Hoosier high school basketball," wrote Bob Williams of The Indianapolis Star.
Here's a look at some of the records set by Robertson in high school, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star:
What was Oscar Robertson's game like?
When you read about Robertson's game, he in many ways sounds like he's a modern basketball star. He's big, he's versatile and he plays extremely well on both ends of the floor.
Robertson, 6-5, was a masterful dribbler with both hands and he had a wide array of shots in his arsenal. "He gets (Cincinnati) from any place and with any method," wrote Jimmy Breslin of the Newspaper Enterprise Association. "A two-hand set (shot) from the outside, a fall-away jump, a straight up and down jump, from the pivot, long stepping drives – complete with up-setting fakes – for layups."
As a sophomore, Oscar averaged almost as many points as Cincinnati's second, third and fourth-leading scorers combined. Through his first three games as a junior, Robertson was averaging 42.7 points per game and the local Cincinnati Enquirer noted how his average of 36 points per game through seven games was his lowest mark through that point in the season.
Robertson's scoring was so dominant that opposing teams began playing zone and intentionally slowing down the pace of play. One newspaper suggested that Robertson would end his career as the most-fouled basketball player ever.
That's how hard it was to contain him.
What were some of Oscar Robertson's best games?
In his varsity debut, he scored 56 points against Seton Hall inside Madison Square Garden in a 118-54 win. That's right, he personally scored two more points than Seton Hall did as a team. It set the record for the most points by a player in the historic arena – college or pro. Cincinnati's 118 points also set a Madison Square Garden record for the most points scored by a college team. Robertson had 39 before halftime, reportedly winning over the hard-to-impress New York media.
That point total also placed him more than 30 points ahead of Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain for the national lead in 1958.
Robertson later scored 50 points in the decisive Missouri Valley Conference championship against Wichita State, including 33 of the Bearcats' 43 points in the second half and the team's last 12 points as they erased a 10-point, second-half deficit. It was his second game in a row with at least 50 points.
In the 1959 NCAA tournament, Cincinnati played No. 1 Kansas State, which entered the matchup with a 25-1 record and who had eliminated the Bearcats from the tournament in the previous season. Matched up against Kansas State All-American Bob Boozer, Robertson had 24 points, 17 rebounds (to Boozer's 13 despite being three inches shorter) and a Cincinnati-record 13 assists.
In 10 NCAA tournament games, Robertson averaged 32.4 points per game, once scoring 56 points against Arkansas in the 1958 NCAA tournament. He had a 19-point, 19-rebound performance while playing all 40 minutes in a loss to eventual national champion California in 1959, and he had 39 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in the third-place game against Louisville. Robertson put up 43 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas in 1960, then an 18-point, 10-rebound, 10-assists triple-double in another NCAA tournament loss to California. In his final college game, Robertson had 32 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a third-place game victory over NYU.
What awards did Oscar Robertson win in college?
Here are some of the awards Oscar Robertson won in college:
- 1958 Midwest Regional Team
- 1959 Midwest Regional Team
- 1959 All-Tournament Team
- 1960 Midwest Regional Team
- 1960 All-Tournament Team
- 1950s All-Decade Team
- Named one of the top 15 players in March Madness history
What records did Oscar Robertson set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Here are some of the records Oscar Robertson set in college and where he ranks on all-time statistical lists:
- A member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club
- 1st in the country in scoring average in 1958: 35.1 points per game
- 1st in the country in scoring average in 1959: 32.6 points per game
- 1st in the 1959 NCAA tournament in rebounding average: 15.8 rebounds per game
- 1st in the country in scoring average in 1960: 33.7 points per game
- 1st in the 1960 NCAA tournament in scoring: 122 points
- T-2nd in Final Four history with a two-game total of 24 made free throws
- 3rd in NCAA history in career scoring average (min. 1,400 points): 33.8 points per game
- 3rd in NCAA tournament history in career free throws made: 90 free throws
- 4th in NCAA history in career free throws made: 869 free throws
- 4th in NCAA history in consecutive double-doubles: 33 double-doubles
- 5th, tied for 14th, tied for 20th in NCAA history in free throws made in a season: 316, 280, 273 free throws
- 5th in NCAA tournament history in career points: 324 points
- T-5th in NCAA tournament regional history with 19 made field goals
- T-7th in NCAA history in consecutive double-doubles in a season: 23 double-doubles
- 11th in NCAA history in career scoring: 2,973 points
- T-12th in NCAA history in single-game scoring: 62 points
- T-13th, tied for 18th in NCAA history in double-doubles in a season: 28, 27 double-doubles
- 16th, 21st, 22nd in NCAA history in single-season scoring: 1,011, 984, 978 points
- 23rd in NCAA history in single-season scoring average: 35.1 points per game
- Responsible for three of the five "unofficial" triple-doubles in NCAA tournament history
- Responsible for one of the two "unofficial" triple-doubles in NCAA tournament semifinal history
What did people say about Oscar Robertson?
Crispus Attucks High School coach Ray Crowe: "Oscar is the greatest I've ever seen, but we were no one-man team."
Bob Collins of The Indianapolis Star: "Indianapolis may never see another like him."
An unnamed college coach to The Indianapolis Star: "There is no doubt it was the greatest high school team ever. I sincerely believe there are college teams they could beat. Oscar can do everything and do it better than any high school player I've seen."
Cy McBride of the Palladium-Item: "He did everything ever asked of a basketball player and knew he was doing it."
Former Cincinnati coach George Smith: "I took a seat in the stands to watch both teams, particularly Bill Merriweather, the Attucks' pivot man. But the first time Robertson put his hands on the ball I forgot everything else. I remember it so well I can diagram it for you even now. Robertson came down, then across here from the side on a pick. He made a fake which just lifted me out of the seat. Then he gave Merriweather, here in the pivot, a simple hand-off for a basket. Then Robertson brings the ball down a little later. They pick him up right away. He is dribbling with his right hand. So Oscar changes hands, behind the back stuff, and in one motion flips a left-handed dribble pass, perfect lead to it, and some kid scores easily."
Jimmy Breslin of Newspaper Enterprise Association: "Oscar Robertson, at 19, is the talk of the college basketball world. His scoring for the University of Cincinnati has eclipsed even the fabled Wilt Chamberlain."
Fred De Luca of the International News Service after Robertson broke the Madison Square Garden scoring record: "Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati's fabulous sophomore, perched himself atop the college basketball world today with a historic performance which brought back memories of greatness in the arena that once was the mecca of the nation's hoop sport."
Former Cincinnati teammate Ralph Davis: "Look at THAT guy – was there every anyone greater?"
Look Magazine: "Oscar Robertson is rated the equal of any all-around player in college history. It is unlikely that the college game has ever seen a more brilliant operator."
Oscar Robertson quotes
Robertson on where he played growing up: "The Dust Bowl, that's just a place where we played pick-up games on an outdoor court. The real name of the section is Lockfield. It's a housing project sort of. Played rough games there. You had to take care of yourself."
Robertson on if he models his game after anyone: "I don't know if I ever really copied any player. My brother Bailey – he set the state scoring record at Indiana Central – told me to play it my own way. I watch other players. Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Maurice Stokes. But I play my own way."
Robertson on his recruitment: "I had about 40 schools writing to me, but they never got to bothering me. I was living with my father and nobody knew the address so they couldn't bother me."
Robertson, smiling, after someone asked him about his 50-point performance against Wichita State in the 1958 Missouri Valley championship: "Just a little rough."
Robertson, after being asked to smile while posing with the third-place trophy after the 1960 NCAA tournament: "There's nothing to smile about."