Larry and Bucky
Clark Kent would emerge from a phone booth as Superman.
Bruce Wayne would slip into the bat cave and come out as the Caped Crusader.
For Bucky Bockhorn ’58 and Larry Hansgen, the transformation into the Dayton Flyers’ Dynamic Duo happened in an old, dark storeroom that once overlooked the upper reaches of UD Arena.
It was a month before the start of the 1983-84 men’s basketball season and University of Dayton athletics director Tom Frericks needed a new play-by-play announcer to team with Bockhorn, who had followed his Hall of Fame career at UD and seven solid seasons in the NBA with color commentary on Flyer radio broadcasts since 1969.
Bockhorn’s partner, Chris Harris ’55, another Hall of Famer, had moved on; and some early considerations for a replacement hadn’t worked out.
That’s when Hansgen volunteered. He was only four years out of college and had joined WHIO radio two years before, previously having broadcast prep games for a station in Bryan, Ohio.
“At first Tom Frericks said, ‘Hell no!’” Hansgen smiled. “He thought I was too young and too inexperienced. He put value on the product and thought I wasn’t worthy.
“But when their search didn’t land anyone, he said, ‘All right, I want to hear you and Bucky together.’ And that’s what amazes me to this day. Bucky agreed to give me a chance.”
Bockhorn laughed as he remembered Hansgen back then. “When we first met,” Bockhorn said, “I immediately liked him even though, man, he was a nerd.
“He had a big Afro and didn’t know crap about basketball, but there was something about him. He was a good guy and you could tell he was smart. We just hit it off.”
Hansgen described the auditions: “We went up to that dusty storeroom and we put a tape recorder on top of some cardboard boxes and sat on bar stools. When the team scrimmaged, we watched through the little window up there and called the action.”
After two tapes he said Frericks told him, “OK, you’re in.”
In November Hansgen and Bockhorn will begin their 36th season together, an on-air partnership that’s tied for the third-longest in college basketball.
And Bockhorn — a beloved local fixture about to start his 50th season with the Flyers — has the longest one-team tenure in the nation.
The duo has covered six head coaches, hundreds of players, 636 victories, 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament, two runs to the Elite Eight, an NIT crown, the dismal early 1990s when three seasons produced 17 wins, and the tragic losses of Flyers’ big men Chris Daniels and Steve McElvene, both of whom died of heart defects.
As they’ve taken Flyer fans along on the journey, they’ve done it with a deep passion for the program, unvarnished insight, a healthy dose of laughter and a sincere appreciation of each other.
“There’s no jealousy in this broadcast,” Bockhorn said.
“I think he respects the hell out of me, and I respect him.” —Bucky Bockhron
That bond is equaled by the one they have with the Flyers’ fans.
“I was at Lowe’s and a guy there didn’t know my face, but he still knew who I was,” Bockhorn said. “He goes, ‘Aren’t you Bucky?’ When I said I was, he said, ‘Man, we all know your voice anyplace. I’ve been listening to you my whole life.’”
A decade ago, Hansgen was reminded they often are serving up more than just plays and scores to listeners.
“Back in 2009,” he said, “when we did Brian Gregory’s coach’s show at Buffalo Wild Wings, I remember a guy named Steve getting up to talk to BG. He said. ‘I lost my job this year. It’s been a really tough time, but the one thing that got me through it was Dayton basketball.
“‘I want to thank you for that.’”
Growing up one of 10 kids on a hardscrabble farm in southern Illinois, Bockhorn said he learned to work — and more — at an early age.
“We’d work late on the farm and then we’d drive our tractors into this little town, Louisville, about two miles away,” Bockhorn said.
He said his dad would tell a local tavern owner there, “My boys work like men, so treat ’em like men. If they want a drink, let them drink.”
The memory made Bockhorn laugh. “So there I was,” he said, “sitting at a bar when I was 13 years old, drinking Falstaff.”
Soon, though, it was with hoops, not hops, that Bockhorn made his statement.
After high school, he had a stellar career — interrupted by two years in the Army — at UD and then was drafted in 1958 by the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals where, as a take-no-guff, 6-foot-4 guard, he eventually was teamed with Oscar Robertson in the backcourt.
After his pro career, Bockhorn said Frericks convinced him to take a job doing color commentary on TV broadcasts of Mid-American Conference games.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Bockhorn said. “Sportswriters and radio guys used to come up for an interview when I played and I was scared to death. I hated it. … I was really shy.”
Hansgen said he still is: “He’s more of an introvert than people think.”
Some 23 years younger than Bockhorn, Hansgen knew little of the Flyers before he took the job.
Hansgen grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and followed Ohio State before going to Bowling Green and then studying a year in Salzburg, Germany.
“Back when we started, I dominated the broadcast, but Larry was a quick learner and he’s become a real star now,” Bockhorn said. “And we still do everything together.”
These days Hansgen looks out for Bockhorn when they travel.
“I came in wide-eyed and naïve, and he didn’t let me get hung out to dry,” he said. “Bucky looked after me, so now I’m paying back.”
The UD players’ affinity for Bockhorn is seen before every game when each of them comes over to the broadcast table during warmups and exchanges a fist bump with him.
“Outside the coaching staff, he is one of the first people a player gets to meet when he gets to Dayton,” Hansgen said.
They respect him not only because he’s a former UD and NBA player, but because they can tell he cares about them.
He attends almost every practice.
“I’d venture to say, Bucky spends more time at practice in a year than Tony Stanley ever did in his career,” a smiling Hansgen said in reference to the Flyers’ former “wild child” star, as Bockhorn called him.
While Hansgen and Bockhorn say they won’t hesitate to criticize a player on air for lack of effort, they don’t make it personal.
“I would never maliciously hurt one of those kids,” Bockhorn said. “I played the game. I know.”
Bockhorn’s farm boy work ethic carries over to his preparation before broadcasts.
“He’s the hardest working person I ever met,” Hansgen said.
Bockhorn gets copious pregame notes from UD sports information director Doug Hauschild and a scouting report from Flyer coaches. He boils all that down onto a chart he keeps in front of him on the broadcast table.
Also, there are a caffeine pill and a small Snickers candy bar, both of which he ingests at halftime for “energy,” though he admits it’s more psychological.
Hansgen is more of a natural on the microphone and not just because he’s a professional broadcaster. He’s also a budding stand-up comedian who regularly plays local comedy clubs.
The pair has plenty of stories from covering the Flyers.
Hansgen told of the night they were waiting to talk to a seething Don Donoher after a disappointing loss, only to have the tension dissolve into laughter when the UD coach — furiously chomping on a glass of ice — suddenly spit out a tooth.
He also mentioned the game where he developed his special appreciation for one of his many favorite players, Flyers’ workhorse Ryan Perryman.
“He was a freshman on a terrible team,” Hansgen said, “and they were playing Delaware State whose center was shoving people around and not getting called for it. Finally, Perryman tells Oliver (Purnell), ‘Coach, I got this!’
“After the time out, Dayton misses a shot, Delaware State gets the rebound and heads down the floor … with just four guys. The center was on all fours, not moving.
“Later, I asked Oliver what happened. He shows me the tape and when the ball went up, everybody was looking at it. That’s when Perryman hit the guy with a karate chop in the Adam’s apple. After that, the guy’s dirty play stopped.”
When it comes to the Flyer coaches, Hansgen and Bockhorn have had unique relationships with each. Bockhorn and Donoher were both Flyer players in the 1950s and have been friends since.
When Archie Miller took over the job, one of his first calls was to Bockhorn, who said he immediately gave the young coach a good-natured needling and then grumbled, “Why the hell you calling me?
“And he says, ‘Bob Huggins told me to call because you know where all the bodies lie.’ We got off to a good start right away.”
The Flyer coach who holds a special place with both of them is Brian Gregory.
“BG is a friend to this day,” Hansgen said. “I get a card from him every birthday, every Christmas. He never misses. He’s a good man.”
Bockhorn agreed. “I became very close to him,” he said. “And two years ago when my son (Dave) died, he showed up at the wake. It absolutely blew my mind.”
He and Hansgen both have a soft spot for Anthony Grant, whom they first knew as an earnest UD player and now see the same traits in him as the Flyers’ new coach.
Hansgen said Grant could have won more games during his inaugural 14-17 season last year had he played a couple of the disgruntled players who have since left, but “he’s a man of principle, and he’s developing a culture here.”
Bockhorn said, “He’s one hell of a man, morally, physically, and he’s pretty damned smart, too. He’s going to turn this around. I just hope I’m here to see it all. I mean, I’m 85.
“But truthfully, what I can’t get in my mind is that Larry’s 61 years old. I still think he’s 25 or 30." Bockhorn said.
“One thing I do know, I wouldn’t have lasted this long with anyone else.” —Bucky Bockhorn
Hansgen feels the same.
“I’ve been with Bucky longer than I’ve been with my wife,” he said. “He’s my best friend, my mentor, a father figure, my brother. It’s turned into quite a partnership.”
One that began in an old, dark storeroom high atop UD Arena 36 seasons ago.