The Denver-Chicago Truckers, an amateur AAU team from Denver, Colorado, sponsored by the Denver-Chicago Trucking Company. They were one of the best teams of the late 1950s and early 1950s, taking the National Industrial Basketball League title in 1959 and taking second in the AAU national tournament championship four times—1958, 1961, 1962, and 1963.
Building a Team, 1956-57 Season
The Denver-Chicago Trucking Company was headed by George Kolowich Jr., who decided to sponsor a team for the 1956-57 season, after Denver Central Bank dropped sponsorship of its team. The D-C Truckers, as the team was usually called, established an executive training program for their basketball recruits. They were each paid 400 dollars a month plus an annual 1,200 dollars to support themselves when playing basketball. The basketball team cost the firm about 100,000 dollars a year, but like most industrial teams, Denver-Chicago felt they got a good return in advertising and public good will.
Kolowich hired Johnny Dee, a coach from the University of Alabama, to coach the team. Dee grew up on the North Side of Chicago, and was a graduate of Loyola Academy in the city. He played basketball at University of Notre Dame. Kolowich saw Dee as the key to reviving amateur basketball in Denver.
In building the team, Dee picked up three players from Denver Central Bank—Dick Eicher, Frankie Kuzara, and Ben Gibson. To play center, Dee recruited 6’9” Terry Rand who came from Milwaukee Allen-Bradley via Marquette University. Other recruits were Jerry Vayda from North Carolina, Joe Capua from Wyoming, Ken Jaksy from DePaul, Bill Logan from Iowa, and Ron Bennink from Washington.
The team did well its first season, defeating the Phillips 66ers at home before 5,600 fans in the Auditorium Arena in March, and finishing the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) in a three-way tie for second place behind Phillips with an 11-9 record. Rand led the league in rebounding and scoring and received rookie of the year honors.
In the AAU tournament, the D-C Truckers were upset by a little known team, the McDonald Scots of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and never made it to the quarterfinals. After the disappointing tournament finish, Dee gave the team international experience by having it tour South America in August and September, winning eight of nine games.
1958 and 1959
Dee dedicated himself to upgrading his team with some aggressive recruiting, notably nabbing All-American forward Harv Schmidt from the University of Illinois, guard Joe Belmont from Duke University, guard Jimmy Ashmore from Mississippi State, Art Bunte from the University of Utah, and Barry Brown from the San Francisco Olympic Club via Stanford University.
In the NIDL season, the D-C Truckers garnered a 16-14 record and finished third in the league standings, and Schmidt won rookie of the year honors. The team was primed for the AAU tournament.
In the opening game of the 1958 tournament, the D-C Truckers defeated the Marion-Kay Extractors of Brownsville, Indiana. The team won its quarterfinal game over the Air Force All-Stars, 74-63, and in the semifinals smashed Fort Leonard Wood, 76-48. The championship game against the Peoria Cats was a barnburner that went into four overtimes, before the Cats prevailed, 74-71, in a heartbreaking loss. Three Truckers were named to the all-star (All-American) team—Harv Schmidt, Barry Brown, and Jimmy Ashmore.
The D-C Truckers significantly changed its lineup for the 1958-59 season, following the retirement of Ken Jaksy, Dick Eicher, and Frankie Kuzara. Dee brought in George Bon Salle from the University of Illinois and Dennis O’Shea from Alabama. The Truckers had a terrific regular season, garnering first place in the NIBL with a 21-9 record. The team was the first in eleven years to claim the exclusive title to the NIBL league other than the Phillips 66ers, which had shared or held the title since 1949. Bon Salle became the third consecutive DC Trucker to win rookie of the year honors.
Going into the AAU tournament, the Truckers champs was considered one of the favorites. However, the team met its demise in the quarterfinals, being upset by the San Francisco Olympic Club, 91-80.
1960 and 1961
The D-C Truckers did not have a successful season in 1960. The team did poorly in the NIBL, finishing eighth in the nine-team circuit with a 12-20 record. The team was upset in the AAU tournament in an early round by the Tuck Tapers, of New Rochelle, NY, the last place team in the NIBL that season that had a 7-25 record.
In the 1960-61 season, the NIBL was divided into two divisions, and the DC Truckers won the Western Division with a respectable 22-12 record. In the NIBL title game, however, the Truckers succumbed to the Cleveland Pipers, 136-100.
In the AAU tournament, the Truckers had to struggle in their opening game to defeat the University of Dayton Freshmen. Things got better in the quarterfinals, as the Truckers destroyed the Buchan Bakers, 107-81. In the semifinals, the Denver team got their revenge of the San Francisco Olympic Club from their defeat in the tournament two years earlier, easily beating them 101-86. The championship game was against their nemesis in the NIBL, the Cleveland Pipers. The result proved to be the same as well, with the Pipers winning 107-96.
1962 and 1963
The DC Truckers had a good year in 1962. The NIBL was no more, but the AAU tournament was still vital. The Truckers crushed their opponent in the quarterfinal game, the Al Maroone Bachelor Arms of Buffalo, 83-55, and in the semifinals beat the U.S. Marines, 83-70. Once again the Truckers were in the championship game, and once again they lost, to the Phillips 66ers, 70-59. Three Truckers were selected for the all-star team—Dennis Boone, Mike Moran, and Joe Belmont.
The Denver-Chicago Trucking Company dropped sponsorship of the team at the end fo the season, and there was no new firm to take its place. Amateur basketball was in decline. Johnny Dee left to coach in American Basketball League, only to see it collapse.
While there was no Denver-Chicago team during the regular 1962-63 season, just before the AAU tournament, Les Lane organized a team, which the Denver-Chicago Trucking Company sponsored just for the tournament. The team featured veterans Dennis Boone, Joe Capua, At Tate, Carney Crisler, and Wilky Gilmore. New recruit were All-Americans Bill Green, from Colorado State, and Ken Charlton, from the University of Colorado.
The Truckers had almost identical tournament success in 1963, with another second-place finish in the AAU tournament. The team won its quarterfinal over Prince Electric, of Enid, Oklahoma, 72-63, and beat the venerable Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, 72-62, in the semifinal. The final was a replay from the year before, with the Phillips 66ers prevailing easily, 100-70, a disappointing finish and their third consecutive championship loss. Trucker all-stars in 1963 were Carney Crisler, Dennis Boone, and Bill Green.
This was the last hurrah for the Denver-Chicago Truckers, never a bride and always a bridesmaid.