Remembering Bennie Oosterbaan and Ron Kramer

A reader and friend informs me of an omission from my list of all-time great University of Michigan basketball players. The omitted Wolverine is Bennie Oosterbaan. I don’t know whether Oosterbaan rates among Michigan’s twenty best basketball players, but he’s arguably the school’s best athlete ever.

Oosterbaan earned All-American recognition five times; twice in basketball (1927 and 1928) and three times in football (1925, 1926, and 1927). He earned nine varsity letters at Michigan in basketball, football, and baseball.

This history of University of Michigan athletics states:

Oosterbaan played on Michigan’s first great teams. He played forward on coach E.J. Mather’s consecutive conference champions in 1925-26 and 1926-27. In 1928 Oosterbaan led the conference in scoring with 178 points and a 11.25 average en route to winning his second All-American honor.

A true student-athlete, Oosterbaan was awarded the Western Conference Medal for proficiency in scholarship and athletics. Foregoing opportunities to play both professional football and baseball, Oosterbaan joined the Michigan football and basketball coaching staffs immediately after graduation. He served as head basketball coach 1939-1946, compiling a 81-72 overall record. He succeeded Fritz Crisler as head football coach in 1948, winning a national championship in his first season.

Oosterbaan died in 1990.

Ron Kramer played football for coach Oosterbaan. In his first season, his sophomore year, Kramer, an end, earned all-Big Ten honors. In his second season, he was a first team all-American. He repeated that feat as a senior.

Kramer also handled place kicking and punting duties for the Wolverines. Oosterbaan said of his star:

To top off his marvelous physical gifts of size and speed and strength, plus an uncanny coordination, Kramer was one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen. Nothing was impossible for him — the impossible was only a challenge.

Like Oosterbaan, Kramer earned nine varsity letters, three in each of the major team sports. On the basketball court, he twice made second team all-Big Ten. A center, he averaged 20.4 points per game in his best season. Kramer held the University of Michigan career scoring record from 1957 until John Tidwell, a member of my all-time Michigan third team, broke it 1961.

Kramer’s college basketball career overlapped with that of Jumping Johnny Green of Michigan State. Years later, folks from Michigan were still talking about their head-to-head match-up.

Green went on to have a fine NBA career. Kramer was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, but opted for a football career with the Green Bay Packers, who selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 1957 draft.

Early on, Kramer clashed with Vince Lombardi. However, Lombardi eventually got through to him and he became a Pro-Bowl and all-Pro tight end on two championship teams. Kramer was the leading receiver in the 1961 NFL Championship Game. He caught four passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

Kramer was also a terrific blocker. Thus, he became an integral part of the famed “Packer sweep.”

Kramer finished out his ten year pro career with the Detroit Lions. He passed away in 2010.

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