Walt Sahm, a member of Notre Dame Men’s Basketball All-Century Team and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer, passed away January 5, 2021, due to complications from COVID-19.
Still atop the all-time Notre Dame career rebounding chart with a 16.9 average, Sahm is one of just two Irish players to finish their careers averaging over 15 points and 15 rebounds per game.
An Indiana high school basketball star, Sahm was one of 25 players named to Notre Dame’s All-Century Team during the 2004-05 season. To honor the Irish legend, here is the full feature to accompany his All-Century Team honor from 2004:
When it came to acing college boards, Walt Sahm passed with flying colors.
What Austin Carr was to scoring at Notre Dame, Walt Sahm was to rebounding.
Just as Carr’s marks in career scoring (34.6), single-season scoring (38.1) and single-game production (61) will likely never be eclipsed, neither will Sahm’s career standard in rebounds (16.9 per contest) and boards in one contest (30).
The only player with a better single-season rebounding record at Notre Dame is Ron Reed (17.7), who enrolled with Sahm in 1961.
Since Sahm’s graduation in 1965, the closest any Irish player has come to the 16.9 career standard is Bob Whitmore at 12.4, and the highest one-season average was 13.1 in 1971 by Collis Jones (whom Sham refers to as “the most unsung player in Notre Dame basketball history”).
Sahm was often overlooked, too, because of his blue-collar forte.
“Very few players today take pride in rebounding and it’s something few want to do,” said Sahm, who has his own insurance agency in Boca Raton, Florida. “The opportunities are not as many today with the way the game has changed. Rebounding is hard work and something you have to commit yourself to totally.”
It wasn’t until 1956-57, after Bill Russell led the San Francisco Dons to consecutive national titles with his defensive prowess and control of the backboards, that rebounding statistics were regularly kept. The competitive and cerebral Russell was the player Sahm strove to emulate.
“I studied everything Bill Russell said about rebounding,” Sahm said. “For example, 75 to 80 percent of all shots at one side of the basket would come out on the other side. I anticipated and worked to get to the spot first, and I was coached very well in high school in the rebounding aspect.”
“I studied everything Bill Russell said about rebounding. For example, 75 to 80 percent of all shots at one side of the basket would come out on the other side. I anticipated and worked to get to the spot first, and I was coached very well in high school in the rebounding aspect.”
After a stellar career at Indianapolis Cathedral High, the 6-9 Sham was recruited nationally and nearly fell to the lure of temptation.
“I passed up a lot of money from a lot of schools,” Sahm said. “To receive $700 a month in 1961 was a lot, I don’t think my dad made that kind of money. But I went to Notre Dame based on principles and religious aspects.”
Enrolling with Sahm were Reed and Larry Sheffield, the first recruiting haul at Notre Dame with three players that would surpass 1,000 points in their careers. A fourth classmate, the late Jay Miller, scored 988 and had the longest stint among them in the NBA.
The Irish made the 25- and 23-team NCAA Tournament in two of their three varsity seasons (1963 and 1965). Among Sahm’s favorite memories was Creighton’s Paul Silas – one of the premier rebounding forwards in NBA history – lauding the Irish big man for outplaying him in a head-to-head duel.
Sham averaged double-doubles all three seasons and he and Tom Hawkins are the lone Notre Dame players who averaged at least 15 points and 15 rebounds per game during their careers.
In the two seasons prior to Sahm’s first season of varsity eligibility in 1962, Notre Dame finished 12-14 and 7-16. The year after Sham and his classmates graduated, the Irish were 5-21.
With Sahm in the lineup from 1962-65, though, Notre Dame was truly on the rebound.