John Kotz ’43 was only a college sophomore when he led the University of Wisconsin–Madison men’s basketball team to a national championship at the Big Dance in 1941. It’s an accomplishment that the Badgers have been chasing ever since.
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Named the tournament’s outstanding player, the Oneida County native had been capturing the attention of fans since his days at Rhinelander High School. As a senior, Kotz used his one-handed push shot to lead his team to the Class A state title. The Wisconsin State Journal named him the “individual star of all time” and called the Rhinelander Hodags the state’s greatest team ever. Decades later, a State Journal sports columnist included Kotz on the roster for his second all-century high school team.
Kotz gave basketball fans the one-handed push shot — and a special victory to cheer about.
Kotz continued to wow as a Badger, earning All-Big Ten honors in 1941 and 1942 and All-American honors in 1942 and 1943. But 1940–41 was the standout season for the six-foot, three-inch forward, who helped the UW win 15 games in a row and secure its only NCAA championship: a 39–34 win over Washington State in Kansas City. When the team members returned to Madison in the wee hours of the morning, they were greeted by thousands of fans — including female students whose housemothers had granted special permission to stay up late.
Named team captain his senior year, Kotz finished his college career as the Badgers’ scoring leader with 841 points.
Kotz played professionally for the Sheboygan Redskins of the National Basketball League for one season. He died at age 80.
Thank you, Oneida County, for John Kotz — and for those who inspire us to shoot for success.