NCAA Division I Sports
NCAA Division I Sports
Hometown: Kenosha, WI
Set Big Eight Conference records for made free throws in a game (19) and made field goals (17).
“The 1958-59 team was the closest group of players I've ever seen. They do everything together,” said Suppelsa. Gene was the captain of that squad and his statement was a tribute to the success of that year's team. Suppelsa contributed more than his share to the team's closeness. From his election as captain at the previous year's basketball banquet through the following season, he was the behind-the-scene holler guy for the club. Not in the public's eye as much as some of his teammates, his role in the development of the squad into a national power was nevertheless an important one.
Suppelsa carried out his role in a variety of ways, much of it unknown, except to team members. some of it was done on the eighth floor of Schroeder Hall, where he roomed with Mike Moran. He was always on the spot to help with problems any member of the team might've had. His “Gonna get hot Saturday Jimmy?” or “Hi Walt, how's the foot?” were words of encouragement that helped develop the quality of closeness which showed up on the court.
He was ready with a good word for all of the players and was never too busy to help in any way he could, to make it a successful year basketball-wise. The very fact that the team voted him to be their captain was a tribute to the popularity of Suppelsa, who never set foot on a basketball floor during his freshman year. That year he was hit with pneumonia, which shelved him for the entire season.
“I probably could've lost my scholarship that year and might have left school, but Coach Nagle just told me to rest and get my strength back. He was very nice about the whole thing and did a lot to help me,” said Suppelsa.
As a player, Suppelsa contributed much to the success of the team on the floor. Playing two positons well, he added much-needed depth to Coach Hickey's bench. he had two good shots, which became his trademark. From a forward post, he liked to shoot a sharp angle jump shot from the side. When he was on the post, he shot what he termed “a very bad hook shot.” Good or bad, he could hit both shots and when in the lineup, he forced the defense to take some of the pressure off the other Warrior big guns.
On road trips, Gene's responsibilities included making sure the team knew what the scedule for practice, meals, free time and check-in time were. Hickey relied on him to keep the team together and made him responsible for their organization.
As a team member, he had some interesting observations about the 1958-59 season. Of the two-game losing streak he said, ”DePaul was just one of those things. They got hot and when Mike got hurt, we ran into trouble. Walt also got banged up a little and we still almost pulled the game out. Against Louisville, we had three of our four starters hurt and they weren't playing as they might have, if they had been in top shape. Walt could hardly jump and Jimmy was having a hard time running with his groin injury. If we hadn't run into some cold shooting on top of it, we probably would've won that one also.“