COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's fans showered a half a century of cheers on the 1960 Buckeyes.
Led by stars Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek -- along with substitute Bob Knight, who would become the winningest college coach ever -- the school's only national championship basketball team received a warm and emotional welcome home Sunday.
Grayer, more stooped and heavier in their dotage, the 1960 Buckeyes received a lengthy standing ovation as they were introduced -- a spotlight pinpointing each player as they walked slowly and deliberately to midcourt -- during halftime of the current Buckeyes' game with Minnesota.
The Buckeyes beat the Golden Gophers 85-63, attributing the victory to not wanting to disappoint the honorees.
Knight then honored the man who brought them all together originally, late coach Fred Taylor. A banner was unfurled from the rafters celebrating Taylor's 18 seasons as head coach, which included seven Big Ten titles, four trips to the Final Four and that 1960 title.
There was a delay as the banner was revealed, prompting Knight, a winner of 902 games at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, to crack: "I thought we had a referee involved for a minute."
A capacity crowd roared.
The players, now in their 70s or close to it, returned to Ohio State for what turned into an emotional tribute to one of the few members of that team who wasn't on hand at Value City Arena.
Taylor, the coach who assembled a disparate group of indivuals into a close-knit, 25-3 squad, died in 2002. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he was an innovator and team builder who went 297-158 and wasn't even 50 years old when he resigned in 1976.
After the players were introduced one by one, Knight gave a moving elegy for his old coach and friend.
"You deserve a great painting because there's a great painter," Knight said. "You deserve a great building because there's a great architect. When there's a great basketball team, there's been a great coach."
Knight has seldom made appearances at his alma mater over the years. But he made an exception to be with his former teammates -- perhaps for the final time.
After introducing the last surviving member of Taylor's coaching staff, Frank Truitt, Knight added, "No team won a national championship with a better head coach than Fred Taylor."
Several hundred people attended a reception and ceremony on Saturday night at St. John Arena, where the 1960 Buckeyes actually played their games. Each player received replicas of the national championship trophy.
They also had a chance to renew old acqaintances and remember their college days.
"It was a great group of people," said Lucas, a two-time national player of the year who averaged 26.3 points and 16 rebounds a game as a sophomore on the title team. "Fred had to blend guys who were stars on their teams for years and make them into a cohesive unit.
Havlicek, who went on to win eight NBA titles with the Boston Celtics, said it was a rare mix of personalities.
"The chemistry came from winning traditions," he said. "[Celtics coach] Red [Auerbach] did it at Boston and Fred did it here at Ohio State. Red had a theory that it's not what stats you have that measures your value to the team. Everyone wants to score 25 or 30 points a game and grab 15 or 20 rebounds. But you had to work together to be successful."
Four members of the team are in the Hall of Fame, with Taylor and Knight in the coaches wing, with Lucas and Havlicek -- both of whom were selected as one of the NBA's greatest 50 players ever in 1997 -- joining them as players. All five starters, including Larry Siegfried, Joe Roberts and Mel Nowell, played in the NBA.
The Buckeyes hit 84 percent of their shots from the field to build a 37-19 lead over Cal in the national title game at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. They coasted to a 75-55 victory. The underclassmen also made it to the championship game the next two seasons, but lost each time to in-state rival Cincinnati.
One teammate became a doctor, others went into education, two picked up their Ph.D.s and others left a lasting imprint in business.
"We went different directions, but we're all pretty good friends," Knight said.
All came back to remember that one, special season.
"It was a great group of people," Lucas said. "Great citizens, great players, great people. A real love affair [with fans] began then and it continues to this day."