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First African-American Big Ten basketball coach was part of Fred Taylor’s staff

Ben Waterman – “Coach” to six decades of athletes at area high schools and colleges – died Jan. 19, at his home in Xenia. He was 87.

Waterman used to call everybody “Big Guy,” yet the tag – even though he was just 5-foot-9 – fit him the best. When you consider longevity, social significance and personal impact on players, few people towered the way he did.

As part of Fred Taylor’s basketball staff at Ohio State, he was, as his son Mitch notes, the first African American hoops coach in the Big Ten.

At Dayton Dunbar High in the 1960s, he was the Dayton Public Schools’ lone black basketball coach. He also was the first black enshrined in the Dayton Baseball Hall of Fame.

After a three-sport, hall-of-fame career at Central State University, he coached at Cincinnati Taft, Dunbar, Yellow Springs, Colonel White and Jefferson High, as well as at OSU, Wilberforce and CSU, where he practiced his no-nonsense style until two years ago.

The school honors him with its Ben Waterman Classic, a tournament started in 2002 when Michael Grant was the coach. When he first floated the idea among former players, Grant was overwhelmed by the response.

“Guys wanted to send checks, to do something,” he once said. “They all said Coach Waterman had been special in their lives, and they were glad to hear he was still doing the same with our players. They knew he’d give them lessons that would last a lifetime.”