Minnesotan 'Whitey' Skoog, early adopter of the jump shot and Lakers star, dies
BRAINERD, Minn. - Meyer “Whitey” Skoog is considered to be the first player in the Midwest to shoot a jump shot.
It apparently happened his senior year at Brainerd High School in 1944 and ever since it’s been almost as big of a story as Paul Bunyan.
That story might be told more frequently in the coming days as Skoog died Thursday, April 4, in St. Peter. He was 92.
Skoog played guard-forward for the Brainerd Warriors, University of Minnesota Gophers and Minneapolis Lakers. He was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time Big Ten Medal of Scholarship and Athletic Prowess his senior season at Minnesota.
Skoog helped the Minneapolis Lakers win three NBA championships.
After the NBA, Skoog coached the Gustavus Adolphus College men’s basketball team for 24 seasons. The Gusties won two conference basketball titles in his tenure. He was voted Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 1975. The Gusties advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament twice and to the NCAA Division III tournament in 1958.
He also coached the men’s golf team at Gustavus for 21 years. His teams won 17 conference titles and made 16 appearances in Division III national golf tournament. They were national runners-up three times.
Skoog’s son David said his father’s best memories of growing up in Brainerd were playing basketball and skiing.
“He would walk home after school and get his skis and going down to Boom Lake and ski jumping afterwards,” David Skoog said. “The first time his jump shot was really documented was in the Lowell School during summer vacation. He had been working at it in the driveway at home after sixth grade, maybe 1938 or before that. The high school coach at the time was the guy in charge for the gym for the summer he told my dad, ‘Skoog, you’re some kind of piece of work.’”
“He talked about, with his brothers, going to the local lakes and he skied a lot. They skied everywhere they went in the winter. My grandpa was still skiing when he was 80. Frankly, I couldn’t have beaten him in wrestling when he was 80 and I was 18. He was a true Viking. He was a sturdy man. Dad and his older brother Clinton were two of the most caring men I had ever met.”
Skoog was a charter member of the Brainerd Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985. He was inducted into the University of Minnesota Hall of Fame in 1993.
“He spoke for the hall of famers that night,” said former Brainerd activities director and current Warriors football head coach Ron Stolski. “We inducted a huge class because we wanted to get the hall rolling. So there was quite a few inductees.
“I also had the pleasure, when I was a kid, to watch Whitey Skoog shoot jump shots at the Barn. He was an incredible player.”
In 2009, Skoog joined the Williams Arena decor when his No. 41 was retired by the University of Minnesota.
Skoog played guard for head coach O.B. “Ozzie” Cowles during the 1948-51 seasons. In a news release for the jersey retirement it said, “Known best as one of the foremost pioneers of the jump shot.”
He was also a two-time All-American. He as the No. 10 pick of the 1951 NBA draft and played six seasons for the Lakers.
Skoog earned a bachelor's degree at Minnesota and collected a master's degree in physical education from the university.
During his time in Brainerd, his basketball team teams finished 10-6 and 11-7. Skoog was named to the All-District 24 team both seasons and was the team’s co-captain in 1944.
Back in 1944, it was noted that Skoog had “an outstanding defensive record at center on the Brainerd team as he scored 201 points to the opposing center’s 96 points in 16 games.
After graduating from Brainerd, Skoog joined the Navy and played basketball for the Jacksonville Naval team. That’s where he caught the eye of several college coaches before settling on the University of Minnesota.
“What I remember most about Whitey Skoog was that he was such a humble gentleman,” Stolski said. “He was a quiet, unassuming, humble man. I think that’s the most enduring thought I have of him.”
David Skoog agreed. “Humble is a good term,” he said of his father. “He was extremely Christian. His life was about helping young people grow. You would not have known he played for the Lakers. You would have guessed he was a horse farmer. That’s what he became. Coaching golf and basketball, but he raised horses. He loved that. He was a hunting and fishing and canoeing mad man, which was perfect for me.”
Asked how his father would want to be remembered in his hometown, David Skoog said: “I think his life was not about him, but was enriched by the things he did.”
In his final game as a Gopher, he was given a three-minute ovation by the fans.