Everyone who went to SI in the 1940s knows the name Kevin O’Shea. The great basketball player, who died in 2003, made the All-City Team in his junior and senior years, helped SI earn a number-one ranking in California and led SI to a 1-point victory over Lowell for the AAA title in his senior year.
His classmate Val Molkenbuhr, student body president then, was part of the sold-out crowd that night at Kezar. When O’Shea sank the winning basket in the last second, Molkenbuhr rushed to the locker room and took a shower with the team. “My tears flowed like the shower water,” he said.
Looking at the headlines from the Chronicle and Examiner in those days, you would think O’Shea was the only player on the team. “Wildcats Plus O’Shea Bubble Past Bewildered Bears 36–9,” “O’Shea Does It—Ignatians Win!” and “O’Shea Shines in Wildcat Triumph,” read a few of the headlines from the 1942–43 season.
For the game against Lowell, sports writer Bob Brachman proclaimed that “Irish Kevin O’Shea is one of the great athletes to enter San Francisco High School portals. The brilliant SI cager proved this last night before 5,000 fans in Kezar Pavilion when, with 10 seconds remaining, he stole the ball from a pileup, dribbled 50 feet through a host of Lowell Indians and tanked a field goal that gave the Ignatians a 23-22 triumph. When the gun sounded signaling the Wildcats’ fourth straight victory and the first defeat for Lowell, St. Ignatius rooters lifted coach Alex Schwartz to their shoulders, hoisted O’Shea with him, and triumphantly paraded them to the dressing quarters.” That win gave SI its first city crown in 16 years.
After leaving SI, O’Shea went to Notre Dame briefly, and then left to serve in the Coast Guard during the war. He returned to Notre Dame in 1948 where he played until 1950, earning All-American honors in each of his three years there.
In an obituary published by the San Francisco Chronicle, former USF player and coach Ross Guidice called O’Shea a “great defensive ballplayer [who was] really quick. And he had an unusual shot — he kind of just spun the ball up there.”
After Notre Dame, O’Shea played three years in the NBA for the Minneapolis Lakers, the Milwaukee Hawks and the Baltimore Bullets. Despite being only 6-feet, 1-inch, he was able to score against taller players from inside the key according to John “Joe” McNamee ’44, who played with O’Shea on the Bullets. (McNamee also played for the Rochester Royals in the 1950–51 season.)
In his Chronicle obituary, O’Shea’s son Brian ’69 said his father’s proudest moment “was the night when he and four other Baltimore Bullets, including Bay Area legend Don Barksdale, played an entire game [which they won] without a substitute, the first and only time that has happened in the NBA.”
After leaving basketball in 1953, he entered the insurance business. He made a brief return to basketball in the early 1960s when he became general manager of the short-lived San Francisco Saints in the American Basketball League and coached Examiner basketball camps.
In 1966, he made a foray into politics when Mayor John F. Shelley appointed him to the Board of Supervisors. He lost in his 1968 election bid after initially being declared the winner. “He was too nice a guy to be good in politics,” said McNamee in the Chronicle story.
His wife, Jeanne O’Shea, said that her husband was “always proud of his association with St. Ignatius High School and St. Ignatius College Prep. One of his favorite stories is that he learned how to study at SI, although his grades did not always indicate that. He liked to say that the basic foundation he received at SI prepared him for Notre Dame and the business world.” O’Shea and his wife had five children — Mary Anne, Brian ’69, Timothy ’71, Kevin ’76 and Catherine Franceschi.
In addition to O’Shea and McNamee, two other Wildcats played professional basketball. Fred LaCour ’56, who played with the St. Louis Hawks from 1960–62 and the Warriors the following year, tied an AAA record in his junior year at SI against Galileo, scoring 29 points. Also, Bob Portman ’65, a first-round draft pick from Creighton, played with the Warriors between 1969 and 1973. (More on these two players later in the book.)