The United States entered World War II the first week in December of 1941. Overall, the 1941-42 professional basketball season was only marginally affected by the war. As the season unfolded, players entered the service, but not in the numbers that would come in subsequent years. In the America League, Moe Frankel, Mickey Kupperberg, Phil Rabin and Moe Dublier were among the early enlistees, while Bob Carpenter, Bob Calihan and Bill Hapac were the first National Leaguers to sign up.
In the American Basketball League, longtime owner-coach John Donlin retired. Donlin, whose Visitation teams had been a fixture in Brooklyn for nearly two decades, had moved his club to Baltimore two years ago, but had found little success there. The team with new ownership, transferred for the new season to Trenton, New Jersey. Last year’s Brooklyn entry, which had reached the playoff finals, relocated to Wilmington, Delaware.
The Wilmington Blue Bombers, strengthened by the acquisition of National Leaguers Ed Sadowski and Jerry Bush, dominated the new season. The Bombers accomplished the unprecedented feat of winning both halves of the ABL split-season format. Coach Barney Sedran combined, Sadowki, a former Seton Hall star and Bush, an ex-St.John’s All-American with holdovers Bernie Fliegel, Chick Reiser and Sam Kaplan. Sadowski was particularly intimidating when he parked his 6’5″, 245-pound frame under the basket and demolished anyone foolhardy enough to venture near his favorite spot. In addition, Sedran added 19-year old shooting prodigy Dutch Hoefer to the backcourt and at midseason acquired veteran ABL star Moe Spahn, who proved to be the final piece of the mosaic that when completed made the Bombers virtually unbeatable.
Early in the season, the Philadelphia Sphas seemed capable of challenging Wilmington for the top spot. Brilliant Long Island University rookie Ossie Schectman teamed with his former college teammate Irv Torgoff to provide the Sphas with a potent offensive duo. Weak rebounding and a porous defense, however, quickly stymied any serious hopes Philadelphia had to finish at the top of the standings. Washington plodded through a dull season, posting an identical 5-6 mark in both halves of the season. Panzer College rookie Herm Knupple was a big disappointment. Knupple had led his small New Jersey college to success, but the 6’8″, 260-pounder exerted little impact in the pro game.
The Trenton Tigers returned to the ABL after an eight-year absence. The Tigers first season back brought modest results financially and in the standings. Trenton advanced to second place in the second-half of the season after signing the best of the talent from the minor-league Tri-Counties League that had shut down in late December of 1941. Matt Guokas and Bill Zubic provided immediate dividends for the Tigers frontcourt with their height and rebounding. The venerable New York Jewels dropped out after losing six of their first seven games. Player-coach Mac Kinsbrunner was the only reminder of the one-time glorious “Wonder Team”.
The National Bsketball League lost three franchises in the off-season: the two-time champion Akron Firestones, the Detroit Eagles and the Hammond Ciesar All-Americans. Three teams that had operated as independents last season were signed as replacements: the Indianapolis Kautskys, Toledo Jim White Chevrolet and the Fort Wayne Pistons.
The veteran Oshkosh All-Stars easily won first place with 20 victories in 24 games. The All-Stars were not the league’s tallest or fastest squad, but they were without question the strongest. They relied on bulk to muscle opponents into submission. Herm Witasek, a 215-pound guard, led the defense while Leroy Edwards and Charlie Shipp were the offensive mainstays. With starting forward Bob Carpenter in the service, the All-Stars signed jumping jack Gene Englund of Wisconsin as his replacement. Sharp-shooting Notre Dame rookie Eddie Riska filled in well for Witasek when he entered the service late in the season.
The Akron Goodyears signed the league’s best first-year man, George Glamack, a 6’6″ rookie star from North Carolina State. He combined with veteran Ben Stephens, to help the tire company team to finish in a tie for second place with the new entry in Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Pistons started veteran pro star Bobby McDermott and four talented rookies: Herm Schaefer and Curley Armstrong from Indiana, Blackie Towery from Western Kentucky, and Elmer Gainer from DePaul. Late in the season, the Pistons signed Paul Birch, a mid-thirties Duquesne All-American who had toured with McDermott as a member of the Original Celtics.
Indianapolis captured fourth place and the final playoff spot behind the play of veterans Jewel Young and Johnny Townsend. Sheboygan mysteriously slipped from second place in the 1940-41 season to fifth place with virtually identical personnel. Sixth-place Chicago had some slick scorers including Wibs Kautz and Ralph Vaughan, but lacked a cohesive defense. Toledo featured Chuck Chuckovits, the league’s leading scorer with 18.5 points per game, but lacked any other recognizable talent and finished buried in the cellar.
In the best-of-three game playoffs, Oshkosh quickly brushed aside Indianapolis in two straight games, while Fort Wayne squeezed past Goodyear in the other semi-final by taking the deciding third game 49-43. In the championship series, Fort Wayne’s rookie centers Blackie Towery and Elmer Gainer were no match for Oshkosh’s veteran star Leroy Edwards who scored 57 points while the teams split the first two games of the series. In the deciding third game, Fort Wayne double and tripled teamed Edwards throughout the contest, effectively eliminating him as a factor in the game. The tactic, however, left other Oshkosh placers with too many open shots. Edwards scored only one point, but his teammates still prevailed 52-46 to win their second consecutive NBL title.
Oshkosh continued its strong play in the Chicago World Pro Tournament. The All-Stars defeated the Harlem Globetrotters in the semi-finals to reach the championship game for the second consecutive year. The Grumman Aircraft Company of Long Island, New York, featuring a combination of ABL stars and New York Rens, was the most impressive team in the other half of the draw. They met the defending champion Detroit Eagles in the other semi-final. Grumman led 36-31 late in the second-half, but let the game slip away in overtime.
In the finals, the Eagles fell behind again, trailing Oshkosh 20-10 at the intermission, before rallying to take a one-point lead late in the second-half of the game. Buddy Jeannette paced Detroit with fourteen points while Gene Englund countered with seventeen points for Oshkosh, but it was the inspirational play of veteran Leroy Edwards that the tipped the final balance in favor of the All-Stars. Edwards, handicapped by an injured knee, played sparingly and was scoreless until he hobbled off the bench late in the game and scored five quick points to lead the All-Stars to a 43-41 victory.