Russell “Sox” Walseth spent most of his basketball career at the University of Colorado, Boulder, first as a player (1945-48), then five years as an assistant coach under Forrest “Frosty” Cox and H.B. “Bebe” Lee. He followed with twenty years as head coach of the men’s team (1956-76) and three years as the Lady Buff’s coach (1981-83).
He coached the Buffs to three Big Eight conference championships and was named Big Eight Coach-of-the-Year six times (1957-his first year as head coach, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1969 and 1973). “We had the talent: Ken Charlton, Wilkie Gilmore, Jim Davis, Cliff Meely, Gordon Tope, Gerry Schroeder, Fred McDonald, Charlie Gardner, Pat Frink, Scott Wedman, Dave Logan, Jim Creighton and many others. It certainly was a thrill to be honored in a conference that included Phog Allen, Tex Winter, Hank Iba, Norm Stewart and other great coaches.”
Ten of his twenty teams finished in the Big Eight first division, but equally satisfying was the play of his other teams. “They were all over-achievers. The kids always played their hearts out.” In all, he compiled a 260-246 record.
Walseth, a native of Pierre, South Dakota, was an all-state guard in 1944. He entered Navy’s V-5 and V-12 programs for two years, during which he enrolled at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. The Navy moved him to the University of Colorado in 1945, and he was Cox’s regular “playmaker” for three years (1945-48).
He coached at Arvin High School in Bakersfield, California, then returned to his native South Dakota to coach South Dakota State at Brookings. In his first season, Walseth’s team went 14-11, and then improved the record to 17-7 in his second year.
“I was wet behind the ears, 29, when I succeeded Bebe Lee in 1956. We had great kids and in 1962 we won the Big Eight Championship (13-1) with a come-from-behind- victory, 63-59, over Kansas in the last game of the Big Eight season. Kansas had a 7 or 8 point lead with about five minutes to play, and we came alive and beat them.” CU then beat Texas Tech 67-60, and lost to Cincinnati, 73-46, in the NCAA playoffs.
The Buffs in 1962-63, tied Kansas State for first in the conference with an 11-3 record. The Buff’s beat the Wildcats 70-53, at home. Then, “it was the last game of the season and they had a one game lead on us. And we beat them out here (Boulder), so if we hadn’t won the game at K-State, we’d end up in a (Big Eight) tie – but by winning both games, we went to the NCAA playoffs.” CU “played like gangbusters” and beat K-State 69-56.
The Buffs beat Oklahoma City, 78-72, and then lost to Cincinnati again, 67-60, in the NCAA playoffs. Both years, CU went 19-7 overall, equaling the 1955 school record for victories in a season. CU returned to the regional NCAA playoffs in 1969, compiling a 21-7 record. The Buffs lost their first game, 64-56, to Colorado State University, and then beat Texas A&M, 97-82, for third place.
From 1976-81, Walseth was an athletic department administrator and “waiting to retire.” He was appointed CU Lady Buffs basketball coach, where he compiled a 77-21 record and never lost a home game, 47 straight. The women won two Intermountain conference titles and made two AIAW appearances. He led the Lady Buff’s into the “unofficial” Big Eight Conference in 1982-83. Official play began the following year.
In 1996, the basketball floor at the Coors Events/Conference Center in Boulder was named in his honor.
"Sox" passed away in 2004.
Paul F. Moloney, The Greeley Tribune, Retired