PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball program and department of athletics was saddened to learn of the death of Joe Sturgis C’56 L’59 on Tuesday, Aug. 13. The former hoops standout is a member of both the Penn Athletics and Philadelphia Big 5 Halls of Fame.
“I was very sad to hear about Joe’s passing,” said Steven J. Bilsky W’71, the University’s Director of Athletics. “Joe was obviously one of the all-time great players in our men’s basketball program, the numbers bear that out. In addition, he was a loyal friend of the program throughout his life.
“We were able to induct Joe into the Hall of Fame just over a year ago, and I’m glad we were able to get him in there before he passed away. His career was more than worthy of induction.”
Nearly 60 years after his graduation from Penn, Sturgis remains 17th on Penn’s all-time scoring list with 1,292 points. (Keep in mind he reached that number in three seasons!) At the time of his graduation, Sturgis was third on the program’s all-time list, behind only Ernie Beck and Herb Lyon. Perhaps more impressive, Sturgis’ 17.5 points-per-game average for his career remains fifth all-time. In addition, Sturgis is still second all-time with 628 career free-throw attempts, third with 426 career free throws made, and third with 924 career rebounds.
Sturgis made quite a splash as a sophomore, averaging a team-high 16.1 points per game and grabbing 244 rebounds. That included a 25-rebound performance against Yale on January 2, a figure that remains sixth in Penn’s single-game record book. Sturgis also took 197 free throws that season, a number that sits 10th on the Quakers’ single-season chart.
His junior year, Sturgis helped Penn to a share of the Eastern Intercollegiate League (EIL) championship -- the Quakers went 10-4 in league play to tie Princeton and Columbia. He grabbed 309 rebounds that season (a total that is still ninth on Penn’s single-season list), took 233 free throws (third), and made 156 of them (fourth). On Dec. 17 of that season, he hit 17 free throws in Penn’s 87-75 win over Iowa, a single-game record that has been matched four other times in program history but never surpassed.
Sturgis was a co-captain of the 1955-56 squad along with Francis Mulroy. He once again led the Red and Blue in scoring, averaging 18.6 ppg, grabbed a team-high 371 rebounds (still fifth on Penn’s single-season list), and took 198 foul shots (ninth).
Sturgis’ career coincided with the beginning of both the Ivy League and the Philadelphia Big 5. His senior year, he was honored as a first-team selection by both organizations. He also received The Food Fair Award that year, awarded to one Big 5 player annually for leadership, scholarship and sportsmanship.