Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Loyola (MD) Great Andy O'Donnell

February 1st, 2011
In the most recent installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Loyola (MD) great Andy O'Donnell. A guard who helped lead the Greyhounds to three NAIA Tournament appearances, O'Donnell remains just one of two Loyola (MD) alums to have played in the NBA. Mike Morrison (1990) was the other Greyhound to have reached the NBA.

Jon Teitel: Why did you decide to go to Loyola?

Andy O'Donnell: At the time it was very difficult to get into college due to the number of returning soldiers seeking admission via the GI Bill. I served five campaigns in Europe during WWII and landed on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day. I ended up receiving the Purple Heart, and was discharged from the Army in 1945. With the help of a relative I got accepted at Loyola for the 1946 term and walked on to the basketball team. I became a starter during my freshman year, and ended up as the second highest scorer on the team.

JT: What are your memories of the three straight NAIA tourneys you went to (1947-1949)?

AO: I am 85 years old, so I am sorry to say I have some difficulty remembering many of those details. I do recall that for the first two tourneys we had to travel all the way from Baltimore to KC by train.

JT: When you graduated you decided to go pro and join the Baltimore Bullets for the NBA's inaugural season (it was previously known as the BAA). What was the public perception of the NBA at that time, and what did your friends/family think about your career choice?

AO: My first contact with the Bullets came in college, when we scrimmaged against them a number of times. They were very popular, and I received a great welcome and much support from the fans in Baltimore. My family, friends, and teammates were very happy for me.

JT: The early years of the NBA featured several future Hall-of-Famers (George Mikan, Dolph Schayes, Ed Macauley, etc.). Did any of them stand out above the others, and were you convinced that the league would survive thanks to such talented players?

AO: At that time the NBA was loaded with great players, but Mikan stood out as 1 of the most exceptional. Every team had standout players, and I do not recall anyone who was concerned about the league's survival.

JT: Your team was led by player/coach Buddy Jeanette, who was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. What was it like to play for a legend like Buddy, and how did he handle the dual roles of player and coach?

AO: Buddy and I played against each other while I was in college, and after I graduated in 1950 he offered me a contract to play for the Bullets. I believe that Buddy signed me to take his place once his own playing days were over. I was offered a $5,000 contract for the following season, but turned it down for personal reasons, which was a decision I came to regret. Buddy was a great player and an equally great coach. All of our players got along very well and had a real sense of purpose.

JT: You later played for the Reading Rangers in the Eastern Professional Basketball League. How did the EPBL compare to the NBA?

AO: The Eastern League was comprised of many fine players, but in my opinion their teams did not compare to NBA teams.

JT: One of the EPBL's notable accomplishments was its inclusion of African-American players: how big a deal was it at the time, and how did the crowds/cities react to this integration?

AO: I recall that African-American players were readily accepted by the fans in the Eastern League.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?

AO: I would like people to remember me as a great competitor and "floor general". I came from a small high school (18 people in my senior class!) in a small town, but ended up making it to the big time.

O'Donnell is also on Jon's list of best pro players in MAAC history.

Canisius: Johnny McCarthy (1957)
Fairfield: AJ Wynder (1991)
Iona: Richie Guerin (1957)
Loyola (MD): Andy O'Donnell (1950)
Manhattan: Ricky Marsh (1978)
Marist: Rik Smits (1989)
Niagara: Calvin Murphy (1971)
Rider: Jason Thompson (2009)
Saint Peter's: Rich Rinaldi (1972)