The Young Ohio Athlete
John Havlicek was born in 1940 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The third child of a Czechoslovakian father and a Croatian mother, Havlicek grew up in Lansing Ohio, a mining and steel mill town near the West Virginia border. Denied a bicycle by his parents—the family house was situated on a dangerous curve in the road—when he was around five-years-old Havlicek took to running, not only to keep up with his friends on their bikes, but also because he found he loved the activity. Before long he was running everywhere. Without being aware of it, Havlicek was laying the foundation for the remarkable physical stamina which would enable him for more than a decade to play an average forty minutes in NBA games and to run opponents into the ground.
Havlicek first demonstrated his athletic versatility as a student at Bridgeport High School. He excelled at three sports there, basketball, football and baseball, and was selected for the All-State team in each one. He was a talented quarterback. He could throw eighty-yard passes and he was so skilled at faking handoffs that referees whistled plays dead thinking the ball lay at the bottom of a tackle, although Havlicek still had it looking for a receiver. On the basketball court he was such a dogged runner and scorer that opposing teams tried to stop him by setting up a two man zone under the basket and triple-teaming him man-to-man. Nonetheless Havlicek was not a natural scorer. He worked hard for his points by out-running and out-rebounding opponents. It was in high school when Havlicek received his nickname "Hondo"—a classmate saw a resemblance to John Wayne who had just played a character by the same name.
By the time he graduated from high school, Havlicek received scholarship offers from thirty-five different colleges, in football as well as basketball. He chose Ohio State, where he would play only basketball and baseball, thinking that any more would distract him from his studies. In four years on the baseball team, he played every infield position except catcher. Ohio State's basketball team at the time possessed a number of excellent shooters, most notably Havlicek's college roommate, Jerry Lucas, who went on to be the top NBA draft pick. As a result, Havlicek made up his mind early in his basketball career at the school to make defense the focus of his game. Ohio State's basketball coach Fred Taylor, already an outspoken advocate of defense, came to value Havlicek's defensive play to such a degree that he routinely assigned him to guard the best player on opposing teams. With players of Havlicek's and Lucas's caliber, Ohio State won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in 1960, and made it to the finals in both 1961 and 1962. Havlicek was named an All-Conference player in 1961 and 1962, an All-America and All-Big 10 player in 1962, and Ohio State's 1961 Most Valuable Player (MVP) and its 1962 co-MVP. As a senior, he was the captain of Ohio State's basketball team.