Basketball Short Stories - 1
Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Great Moments in Basketball History, Stephanie Peters (2009)

James A. Naismith was a physical education instructor at theInternational Young Men’s Christian Association Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. Chief among his duties was to lead classes through daily indoor exercise routines. Those routines included marching, calisthenics, and games like leapfrog.

Many students didn't want to do these boring and childish activities, however. They were used to competitive sports like baseball and football –activities that challenged them physically and mentally and were exciting, too. They found jumping jacks and somersaults to be poor substitutes and demanded a new indoor activity.

So Naismith tried to adapt existing sports to the indoor arena instead. His attempts failed miserably. "We tried to play football indoors, but that broke the arms and legs of the players," Naismith recalled. "We then tried soccer, but broke all the windows. Then we tried lacrosse, and broke up the apparatus."

Naismith tried to figure out why the sports hadn't worked indoors. Football had failed, he decided, because players were hurt when they were tackled while running with the ball. If players weren't allowed to run with the ball, then they wouldn't get hurt.

So how was a player to move the ball if he couldn’t run with it? His indoor soccer experiment had proved that kicking the ball wouldn't work. Arming players with sticks like those used in lacrosse or hockey struck him as too dangerous.

What if the ball was passed from teammate to teammate? Tackling would be illegal, but a player could bat the ball away in midflight and capture it for himself. Injuries would be much less likely to occur if the defense focused on the ball and not the player.

Next Naismith turned his attention to how points should be scored. Withthe exception of baseball, most sports featured two goals set up at opposite ends of a playing field. They all used the same general scoring method: power an object past a goalkeeper with as much speed and force as possible to earn a point.

Naismith liked the idea of opposing goals, but in his opinion – and recent experience – power, force, and speed were too dangerous for confined, indoor play. So instead of players hurling the ball laterally toward a goal protected by a player at ground level, he decided they would toss it vertically toward an untended goal mounted up high. Skill and accuracy, not power, wouldearn points, and no one player would be responsible for preventing goals.

From these starting points, Naismith came up with thirteen generalrules for his new game. He posted those rules on the YMCA's gymnasium door in late December of 1891. He nailed a peach basket – the first hoops – at each end of a railing that circled the gym floor. The railing was ten feet above the floor, and to this day, that is the height at which basketball hoops are hung.

Geneva College Basketball Team 1891
Geneva College (Beaver Falls PA) basketball team 1891
Basketball was an immediate hit with Naismith’s students. Soon other local YMCAs adopted the sport and formed teams that played against one another. Slowly, but surely, basketball spread to colleges and universities, where it was played by both men and women. Communities rented out their dance halls and barns to those looking for a place to play. While the heart of the sport beat mostpowerfully in the Northeast, traveling teams, called barnstormers, introduced the game to far-flung corners of the country – and beyond.

Talk Is Cheap

The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game, Oscar Robertson (2003)

It is 1956 and Oscar Robertson has just led Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis to its second straight state championship.

Oscar cuts down the nets after state championship.
Oscar Robertson
After winning the state title, we had one more tournament to play: the Indiana-Kentucky se­ries. I can't adequately relate how important this series is to the basketball fans in each state. Both states claim the game of basketball as their own and follow high school and college games with a fanaticism that borders on religious. In 1940, they started playing a series, matching the best Indiana high school seniors against Kentucky's finest, with all revenues going to the Blind Fund. During the first fourteen years, they played just one game a year, in the Butler Field­house. Indiana won all but one, and of course Kentucky fans raised holy hell, citing a home­court advantage as the cause of the lopsided record. To this day the series is still going, one game played in each state, and each contest is sold out and played before a totally partisan audience. As it happens, in 1955, the same year the series went to two games, Kentucky also started naming black players to the squad.
King Kelly Coleman
Kelly Coleman
In 1956, my senior year, the series was being billed by reporters as a battle between oppo­sites - me and "King" Kelly Coleman, a bragga­docious white boy from the Kentucky hills. Cole­man had broken all Kentucky state scoring rec­ords, and he told reporters that the real contest might not be between him and me, but whether he'd score fifty in each game. He wasn't shy about telling them that he had averaged more than forty-six a game during his senior year ..., and he was certain that a bunch of Indiana players could not guard him. When he showed up late for practice, he told reporters, "I didn't think I needed any practice against Indiana."

I didn't say anything to the press, but certainly read his comments. Before the first game, which was in Indiana, our team had steaks at a restaurant called the 500 Club and discussed strategy. ... When [coach] asked who wanted to guard Coleman, about half the team raised their hands. Angus looked at all of them, then at me. "Oscar, you've got him."

Butler Fieldhouse was again packed for the first game. The papers say it was humid in the arena, and I knew from memory that when the place was packed like that, it didn't take much for your shirt to stick to your back. Coleman and I both wore the traditional number one, which is awarded to each state's Mr. Basketball. Before the opening tap, I shook hands with him. "Talk is cheap," I said.

Kentucky continued the tradition of teams getting off to comically fast starts against me. Their squad came out onto our home court and scored the first seven points. We regrouped enough to tie the score at 10, then took a 12-10 lead. Throughout, I worked pretty hard on defense, crowding Cole­man and denying him the ball. He ended with three points in the first half, and we stretched our lead. During the second half, whenever Kentucky threatened, I either drove and hit someone for an assist, nailed a jump shot, or finished a play myself. We took the first game going away, 92-78. I ended up with thirty-four points, breaking the single-game scoring record by six. Coleman finished with seventeen, most of them coming during the fourth quarter.

The second game was more of the same, only this time it was played in Louisville, Kentucky. We scored thirty points in the third quarter and blew their doors off, 102-77. This time, Coleman ended up with all of four points, from one of nine shooting. I broke my new record, scoring my fortieth and forty-first points, when our coach reinserted me into the game with seconds left, for a shot at the buzzer.

After the second game, Coleman said he was out of shape and had a bad leg and, considering his condition, would never have made those kinds of predictions. But the coach for the Kentucky all-star team thought Coleman's performance had less to do with his leg than with me. He told reporters that I was "a pro playing with a bunch of high school boys. He's the best high school basketball player I ever saw." Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Collins wrote, "If there's anyone who doubts now that Oscar Robertson is the best high school player in the world, he's speaking in very faint tones." Most of his colleagues agreed. Of the 108 sportswriters voting for the Star of Stars in 1956, 106 voted for me.

The Tragedy of Maurice Stokes
The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball,
John Taylor (2005)

Maurice Stokes
Maurice Stokes joined the Cincinnati Royals in 1955, a year before Bill Russell came to the NBA, and in doing so became basketball's first black superstar. Stokes was six feet seven, which was little more than average height in the league at the time, but he weighed more than 250 pounds, with massive shoulders, and was also unusually graceful and quick for a man of his stature - so quick that he could rebound the ball and then, insted of passing out, take it down the court himself in a fast break. He became Rookie of the Year in 1956, and in his second season, the year Russell joined the Celtics, he was the league's leading rebounder. Faster than anyone who was bigger than him and bigger than anyone who was faster, he was poised to become one of the greatest bsketball players ever.

Then, in a game against Minneapolis at the end of his third season, Stokes had his feet kicked out from under him, fell to the floor, and hit his head on the hardwood. It briefly knocked him out, but he regained consciousness within a minute, and seemed none the worse for the fall. Three days later, however, in a playoff game in Detroit, he inexplicably felt so weak that he seemed ill, and he played badly. ... as soon as the plane took off on the flight home from Detroit, Stokes began sweating heavily and moaning incoherently, and then he passed out. The captain radioed ahead for an ambulance, which met the team at the Cincinnati airport.

Apparently, the concussion three days earlier in the game against Minneapolis had caused Stokes's head to swell, and then the changing air pressure in the cabin as the airplane took off stimulated an attack of encephalitis. Stokes was in a coma by the time the plane touched down. Early the following morning, sur­geons operated on his brain but were unable to reverse the effects of the attack. Afterward, Stokes regained consciousness, but the stroke had seriously damaged his motor nerves, and for the rest of his life he would be virtually unable to move or talk.

Stokes's paralysis stunned the entire league. He was twenty-five at the time, he had been hurt on the last day of the regular season, and, like all players then, he had only a one-year contract, which meant that he was without any income. He also had no medical insurance, no disability insurance, and no pension, and he could not be moved back to his family in Pittsburgh. His medical bills were rapidly exhausting his savings. Stokes's white teammate Jack Twyman came up with the idea of raising money for his injured player by holding a benefit game at Milt Kutsher's Catskills resort, where Stokes, like [Wilt] Chamberlain, had worked as a bellhop. (Twyman spent much of the next twelve years of his life looking after and raising money for Stokes, who finally died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-seven.)
Maurice Stokes in action
Stokes blocking a shot; Twyman is #10.
Kutsher invited the league's top players. He also invited Wilt Chamberlain, who drove up from Philadelphia in his Eldorado. Chamberlain had known and liked Stokes, but he wanted to play in the game for another reason as well. His NBA debut was a few short months away. He had played at the college level and on the Globetrotters, but he had never yet taken the court with a full contingent of hardened professional basketball players, and he wondered how he would meas­ure up. All of the players who came up to Kutsher's had of course heard about Chamberlain, and a number of them had seen him play. But while they all expect­ed him to be good, they were surprised by just how good he was. To begin with, he was in better shape than most of them. And many of them were astonished by his moves. At one point, he single-handedly broke up a three-man fast break by Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey, and Guy Sparrow, blocking Ramsey's shot when Cousy passed off to him, and then blocking Sparrow's shot when he retrieved the ball. Cousy thought Chamberlain was better than his own teammate Bill Russell. And Chamberlain, when the game was over, felt pretty good about his performance as well. It was time, he decided, to take on the NBA.
NBA Players at Kutsher's for Maurice Stokes Game
NBA players gathered for Maurice Stokes Benefit Game
[Postscript: The Maurice Stokes game was held for more than 40 years, with players traveling to Kutsher's at their own expense, and benefited other retired NBA players after Stokes died in 1970.]
Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman
Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman
Combat Pay in Syracuse
Tall Tales: The Glory Years of the NBA, in the Words of the Men
Who Played, Coached, and Built Pro Basketball
, Terry Pluto (1992)

Players, coaches, and officials from the 1950s reminisce about playing in Syracuse.

Syracuse F Dolph Schayes
Dolph Schayes

Referee Norm Drucker
Norm Drucker

Syracuse owner Danny Biasone
Danny Biasone

Referee Earl Strom
Earl Strom

Syracuse C Johnny Kerr
Johnny Kerr

Syracuse Coach Al Cervi
Al Cervi

Syracuse G Al Bianchi
Al Bianchi

Celtics G Frank Ramsey
Frank Ramsey

Celtics C Gene Conley
Gene Conley

Knicks G Al McGuire
Al McGuire

Syracuse star Dolph Schayes: Syracuse had a wonderful small-town feel to it. When you played for the Nats, the whole town embraced you, like Green Bay does with the Packers or Portland with the Blazers. We thought of ourselves as the underdog, the little guy taking on the big city. Our arena had only 6,400 seats and the fans were righton top of you.

Referee Norm Drucker: You'd go to Syracuse and the fans knew you were there ... You'd be having bacon and eggs in the hotel coffee shop and some guy would stop by and say, "You're Drucker, right? You screwed us last time, don't do it again." Then you'd step on the court and look at the Syracuse bench and there was Danny Biasone. Young officials would point to him and say, "Who's that guy?" I'd say, "He owns the team." Then I could see a lump in the official's throat. He was thinking, "I better not mess up or this guy will be on the phone to my boss."

Referee Sid Borgia: People tell me that [Danny] was good because he didn't say much on the bench. In that building, he didn't have to. Officials deserved combat pay for working in Syracuse. Those fans were so crazy and they never believed their team did anything wrong.

Syracuse C Johnny Kerr: Another reason that Danny didn't have to say anything was that [coach] Al Cervi could work the crowd. When a call went against us, he'd turn his back to the court, face the fans, raise his hands to the heavens as if to say, "Why is God punishing us with these officials?" Then the crowd would take over and shower the court with popcorn boxes and orange juice cartons.

Referee Earl Strom: Their public address announcer was the worst. I'd work a Syracuse-Philly game. I'm from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, which is not a suburb of Philadelphia. But in Syracuse, they'd introduce me as "Earl Strom from Philadelphia." Right away, the crowd is on my butt. ... Syracuse would commit their sixth foul of the period and the guy would say, "For Syracuse, that's six team fouls. Philadelphia has only one." Again, the house would come down on you. ...

Referee John Vanak: Syracuse knew that it was tough to call fouls on them at home. They had guys like Al Bianchi, who just loved to flatten people. Al would knock a player on his ass and almost dare you to call a foul on him and take the heat from the crowd. Back then, there were no flagrant fouls. A guy could drive the lane, Al could hammer him, they would have to call an ambulance and it would still be only two shots.

Syracuse G Al Bianchi: Against the good teams, our games were wars. Boston ... boy, we always had great fights with them.

Vanak: There was a game where Jim Loscutoff grabbed Dolph Schayes by the throat with about two minutes left. They both fell down, and the next thing I knew fans were spilling out of the stands. We had a riot on our hands and it took a good half hour before we got the floor cleared and finished the game.

Celtics G Frank Ramsey: The Syracuse fans were out of control. They'd throw cups full of Coke, programs, even batteries at you. That place was a hockey arena with sideboards. On the night of the big fight between Dolph and Loscutoff, the fans knocked over those hockey boards to get on the court and some of the fans were hurt when they ended up under the boards. It was like a stampede.

Bianchi: There was a night when the Syracuse fans tried to storm the Boston dressing room. The players slammed the doors on a few hands, breaking their fingers. Another time, the Celtics were walking off the court after a game with a police escort. A fan dumped a beer on a Boston player.
The Celtic said to the cop: "Did you see that?"
The cop said, "Yeah, and you deserved it."

Vanak: The same kind of thing happened to Joe Gushue. He was leaving the court and a fan whacked him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.
Joe told the cop: "Did you see that?"
The cop said, "The way you called the game, no one saw anything."

Boston C Gene Conley: Oh, their fans ... you'd stand at the foul line and they'd throw candy bars at you. The guys on the bench got bombarded the most.

Ramsey: There was a night the stuff being thrown at us was so bad that the officials told all of our subs to leave the bench and stay in the dressing room - for our own safety. The coach was out there alone. When Red Auerbach wanted to make a substitution, he had to stop the game. He'd send the player who was coming out into the dressing roo with the message of who Red wanted as a replacement.

Conley: Poor Frank Ramsey. To get off the court, you had to walk through a tunnel that went through the stands. The fans were all over us and one of them grabbed Frank around the neck and was strangling him. I punched the guy or Frank would have choked.

Drucker: They had a fan called the Strangler. He was about 5-foot-6, maybe 220 pounds with a tremendous chest and arms. He'd run up and down the sidelines during the game and stand next to a player, screaming, "You SOB, you stink."

Strom: If I had to guess, it probably was the Strangler who grabbed Ramsey. That fan got his name when he picked up [official] Charley Eckman at halftime and had poor Charley hanging by the neck. Gene Conley hated that guy. One night, we were walking off the court and Gene saw the Strangler. Gene said, "When we get near that guy, duck." We got close. The Strangler reached down from the stands to grab me, I ducked and Conley drilled the guy, knocking his lights out with one punch.

Drucker: The Strangler loved to run up to the Celtics' huddle and yell things. One night, I saw him there. Then I saw the huddle open, he disappeared inside and the huddle closed around him. When he came out, his mouth was bleeding. The Celtics worked him over.

Borgia: Some of my scariest moments were in Syracuse. There was a game where Syracuse was down by three points with 15 seconds left. Dolph Schayes drove the lane, dipped his shoulder, ran smack into Sweetwater Clifton, and in the same motion, he threw in a shot. All the fans thought the basket was good and Schayes would be going to the foul line for a three-point play. John Nucatola was working the game with me, and he called a charge - no basket, New York ball.
Al Cervi was coaching Syracuse and he went nuts. The guy called five straight time-outs to bitch at us and let the fans throw things.
Al McGuire was with the Knicks and he came up to me, put an arm around my shoulder and said, "Way to go, Sid."All that did was incite the fans even more.
When the game ended, we couldn't get into the officials' dressing room. The fans had blocked the door and were waiting for us. We went into the Knicks' dressing room. We had a friend on the police force and after a couple of hours he got us out of the arena and back to our hotel. But before we could get more than a step into the lobby, the hotel manager said, "You can't stay here tonight. People are looking for you guys and I won't be responsible if something happens."
The manager sent someone to our rooms to gather up our stuff and we caught the 1 A.M. train out of town.

Duke's First Star
Tales from the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood, Jim Sumner (2005)
Duke had several basketball All-Americans before the 1950s, but Dick Groat was the school's first consensus All-American. The Pennsylvania native came to Duke to play baseball for Jack Coombs. He was a standout shortstop and led Duke to the 1952 College World Series. He went on to a 14-year major league career, which included winning the 1960 National League Most Valuable Player Award.

But Gerry Gerard and Howard Bradley were delighted to have Groat spend his winters on the basketball court. Barely six feet tall, Groat lacked exceptional quickness, strength, or leaping ability, but his intelligence, skills, and competitiveness made him a standout on the hardcourt.

Groat's father would have preferred that his talented son stick to baseball. Remember that there was a lot more money in professional baseball than professional basketball in the 1950s. ...

Several of Groat's individual efforts stand out. On January 6, 1951, hoops fans eagerly awaited the matchup between Groat and North Carolina State's Sammy Ranzino, each of whom was ranked among the nation's top 10 scorers. Groat won the individual duel 36 to 32, but State won the game 77-71 in overtime. Duke led 67-59 with six minutes left but could not score the rest of regulation. Helping temporarily shut down Groat was State defensive stopper Vic Bubas, the future Duke coach. Groat's 36 points established a school single-game scoring record. It lasted only three weeks. On January 29 Groat set a school record with 37 points in a 90-68 win over Davidson. Groat went 17-17 from the foul line in that game. Groat ended the season averaging 25.2 points per game, fourth in the nation. He was named National Player of the Year by UPI and by the Helms Athletic Foundation.

If anything Groat was even better in 1952. He averaged 26 points per game, still the second-best mark in Duke history. In his final home game, on February 29, 1952, Groat scored a stunning 48 points to lead Duke to a 94-64 rout over North Carolina. He hit 19 field goals and 10 free throws and threw in a dozen assists for good measure. ... Duke finished the 1952 season ranked 12th in the AP poll, the first time Duke had ever ended a season nationally ranked. Groat was on all of the All-America teams and repeated as Southern Conference Player of the Year. His 26 points and 7.6 assists per game were both second in the nation. Later that spring Groat led the Duke baseball team to the College World Series. On May 1, 1952, Duke retired his number 12. He was the first Duke athlete to have his number retired. ...

Fred Shabel was a sophomore reserve in 1952. His parents came down to Durham from New Jersey at the end of the 1952 season to see their first college basketball game. This was the game against North Carolina when Dick Groat scored 48 points. Coach Howard Bradley took Groat out with seconds left and replaced him with Shabel. Naturally, Groat received a prolonged standing ovation.

After the game Shabel's parents were beaming. "Freddie, did you see how much they like you?" they told their son. "Everybody stood and cheered when you went into the game." Shabel never did tell his parents that the cheers were for Groat, not him.

Duke G Dick Groat
Dick Groat, Duke

Pirates SS Dick Groat
Dick Groat, Pirates

Cardinals SS Dick Groat

Watch Out! Hagan Has His Pants On!

Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association as Told by the Players, Coaches, and Movers and Shakers Who Made It Happen, Terry Pluto (1990)

This story concerns Cliff Hagan, legendary Kentucky F who also played for the St. Louis Hawks. As this story begins, he is the coach of the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA.

Cliff Hagan

Cliff Hagan's locker room lectures were legenda­ry. He'd get his players in the room and yell at them forever. The guys all talk about how Cliff burned their ears. To hear Cliff in the dressing room, you'd never believe it was the same guy you saw at the Baptist church ... He was so foul-mouthed that it was truly something to behold. I asked him about it and Cliff said, "I had eight coaches in the pros. I liked six of them and hated the other two. The only guys we won with were the guys I hated." Well, Cliff managed to get the players to hate him. They respected him as a player and a person, but they hated him as a coach. ...

The one incident that shook up some people was when we had a Kids' Day game on a Sunday af­ternoon at home. We were playing Minnesota with Mel Daniels and Les Hunter and they were one of the best teams in the league. We had our biggest crowd of the season, about 7,000, and most of them were kids. Early in the game, Hunter elbowed Cliff, they had words, and I figured Cliff told him don't try it again. Anyway, next time down the floor, Hunter elbowed Hagan again. Without a word, Hagan turned, faced Hunter and bam, bam, bam. It was an unbelievable right-left-right combination and Cliff just flattened Hunter.

Mel Daniels went crazy and he grabbed Hagan. I can still see the big bloody steak on Hagan's face - Daniels got him with a fingernail. The officials stepped in and threw everybody out of the game and that was the end of it, but it was pretty scary, because it wasn't your usual basketball fight where guys just push each other around - there was a real streak of violence in it. I ran into Hunter a few years later in a hotel bar and we talked about that fight. He told me, "I'm telling you, I never knew what hit me. I never saw it coming and I've never been hit that hard in my life." ...

The Dallas owners were just horrified. These were gentlemen and they came to a nice Sunday afternoon basketball game with their kids. The own­ers never heard a coach curse like Hagan and they never saw a fight like that on the court before. So the owners were unhappy about that, and they were unhappy because we lost our coach and our best player after 30 seconds and that was a good way to lose the game.

 Dallas Chaparrals LogoMel Daniels, Minnesota
Mel Daniels
Max Williams, Dallas GM: After Kids' Day, Bob Folsom was really upset and he said that we had to do something to calm Hagan down. One way to get to him was through his wallet, so we told Cliff, "If you get thrown out again, it will cost you $2,500."

Cliff said, "Max, if I can't fight, I can't play."

I said, "If you fight and get thrown out, we have no coach and our best player is gone and then I have to come out of the stands and coach the team. (No one in the early ABA had assistants.) I don't want to coach. I hired you to coach."

I suggested that he coach the team, but not play. Maybe that would keep him out of trouble. So Cliff would dress for the games wearing his jersey and his warm-up pants, but no basketball shorts, just a jockstrap. That way he wouldn't be tempted to put himself in the game and that would keep him from getting in fights.

We went on a West Coast trip with the team and I was at a game in Ana­heim against the Amigos. One of the players said to me, "Hey, Max, tonight Cliff has his shorts on." I started to worry.

But the game went on and on and Cliff didn't put himself in. With 40 sec­onds left, the score was tied and I saw Cliff rip off his warm-ups and put himself into the game. Cliff cut across the lane, caught a pass and made that great hook shot of his. Then one of the Anaheim players jumped on his back and rode Cliff right to the floor. Cliff stood up, looked at the guy and cold-cocked him.

I thought, "He's only been in the game for five seconds and he already punched somebody."

The amazing thing was that neither official saw it. Hagan stayed in the game and saved himself $2,500.

"We have no chance."

Hard Work: A Life on and off the Court, Roy Williams with Tim Crothers (2009)

Roy Williams is coaching at Kansas as this tale begins.

Kansas Coach Roy Williams
We started the 1990-91 season with two losses in the conference, but we bounced back to win our first regular season conference championship. Then we lost to Nebraska in the semifinals of the Big 8 Tour­nament. After that game I thought my team needed a pep talk. I said, "Guys, we still have the NCAAs, we can still accomplish a lot --"

Mark Randall interrupted me. "Coach, can I say something?"

I nodded and Mark stood up and said, "We're too good to do what we just did today. If everybody in this room would do what this man says and every­body in this room would pull together, we can make a run and we can win the whole thing." Mark wasn't emotional at all. He said it very matter-of-factly.

We beat New Orleans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and beat Pittsburgh in the second round. Then we went to Charlotte to play Indiana and they were ranked No. 3 in the country. Two timeouts into the game, we were ahead 26-6, and the referees stopped the game because a bolt had come loose on the court and it was sticking up about a quarter inch. One of the referees, John Clougherty, called me and Bobby Knight out there, and John said, "I think we should wait a second until we get a maintenance guy to see if we can get this bolt hammered down." Bobby Knight said, "If we're going to do that, can we start the damn game over?"

We dominated the game inside, including 15 offensive rebounds in the first half, and we won 83-65. Then we played Arkansas, which was ranked No. 2 in the country. [Assistant Coach] Kevin Stallings prepared the scouting report for that game, and at our staff meeting, I said, "All right, give me a quick thought about Arkansas that I can share with the team."

Kevin said, "We have no chance. Their top seven guys are better at every position than we are. We have no chance."
"Kevin, don't say that. We can win the game."
"Coach, we have no chance."
"All right. I'm going to tell the team we're going to win the frickin' game."
"Coach, you know, that's worked in the past, but that isn't working this time."
"You just keep that to yourself."

And so we went to the team meeting that night, and I said, "Guys, we're in a great situation. We've already beaten the No. 3 team in the country, and now we're playing the No. 2 team, and we're going to win the game."

The players left and Kevin Stallings said, "You're crazy. We have no chance."

 Mark Randall, KansasKevin StallingsIndiana Coach Bob Knight
L-R: Mark Randall, Kevin Stallings, Bob Knight
We played two days later, and with five minutes to go in the first half, the score was tied. Then Arkansas scored the next 13 points and we wound up trailing by 12 at the half. At halftime I was talking to the staff outside our locker room, and I told Kevin, "You don't say a word, because we're still going to win this frickin' game."

I told the players, "This is what's going to happen. It's our ball to start the half. Let's get a great shot and knock it in and then we need one stop. Then let's get another great shot and get another stop. I'm only asking for two stops. Then let's come down and let's make sure we get a good look again and let's knock that in, and by then the lead falls from 12 to six and they'll probably call a timeout and then we'll see them bickering at each other."

We came out, moved the ball around and Terry Brown got a layup. Then we went down and got a stop. We came back down and Terry hit another layup. We went down and got that second stop, and then we came down and Mark Randall got fouled and made one of two free throws. We got a third stop and Alonzo Jamison hit a three-pointer to cut the lead down to four. Their coach, Nolan Richardson, called a timeout. As they were walking off the court, two of their guys, Roy Huery and Oliver Miller, were yapping at each other, and I grabbed one of our players and said, "See?"

We outscored Arkansas by 24 in the second half. It was a great win and we were going to the Final Four. The neatest part of the game came after­ward. My son, Scott, sneaked down on the court, came running up to me, and said, "Dad, you've got to let me go to the Final Four."

I said, "The whole family will go to the Final Four."

Clash of Cultures

The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds
That Changed Basketball
, Gene Wojciechowski (2012)

It's the 1991-2 basketball season.
700 miles away [from Durham NC] in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a team like no other ever assembled counted the days until it faced the Blue Devils in a mid-December game at Crisler Arena. The Fab Five and its University of Michigan teammates didn't marvel at Duke. Instead, the five heralded freshmen - Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson - all but sneered at the Duke hype.

"They won a national championship," says Jimmy King. "They hadn't seen us yet. It's a new time. It's our time."

Michigan's Fab Five
The Fab Five: King, Webber, Howard, Rose, Jackson
Grant Hill
Grant Hill guarded by Jalen Rose.


It wasn't that the Fab Five hated Duke. On the contrary, Webber had seriously considered signing with the Blue Devils before committing to the Wolverines. ... Duke recruited Web­ber hard, and with good reason. He was phenomenally gifted, a 6'9" for­ward who immediately made his way into the Wolverine starting lineup ... Webber and Grant Hill [of Duke] were friends from the AAU basketball circuit. Their families were friends with each other. Webber had even spent a weekend at Grant's house in Virginia when they were in high school. ...

Rose, who was never on Duke's re­cruiting list, also played AAU ball with Grant and was friends with Hill and his family. "To be honest, I wanted a lot of the things that he had," says Rose.

Rose's estranged father was, like Grant's dad [Calvin, a RB for the Cow­boys], a pro athlete, the former NBA star Jimmy Walker. Rose had a mother he adored, who worked as a key puncher tracking auto parts at a Chrysler plant. Grant had a comfortable, well-to-do life. Rose, well, didn't. "I wasn't envious at all, because I actually liked [Grant]," says Rose. ...

The Michigan freshmen actually preferred the nickname "Five Times" rather than the Fab Five name they made famous. Whatever they were called, they had definitely caught the attention of the Blue Devils. The Duke play­ers were aware of the hype, of their longer, baggier game shorts ..., of their growing popularity, and their swagger, which some of the Blue Devils thought was undeserved. After all, they had played only a few regular-sea­son games against mediocre opposition.

"It was like the anti-culture from what our culture was," says Krzyzewski. "We looked at it as two different worlds ... and I think the public looked at it that way, too. Whether they liked them or liked us, it was a huge game."

Krzyzewski never shied away from scheduling difficult nonconference games. The Michigan game meant a national television audience, more ex­posure for his program, and a chance for potential Midwest recruits (especi­ally in talent-rich Detroit) to see the Blue Devils program. Plus, it was the kind of game that could help Duke months later during the NCAA Tourna­ment.
Christian Laettner
Christian Laettner
[Christian] Laettner and [Brian] Davis almost didn't make it to the game in one piece. The night before, they were at a party near the Michigan campus when several Wolverines football playesr decided it was time to teach the two stars a lesson. Says Da­vis: "They were out front trying to kick our ass." Laettner and Davis escaped, but only after crawling through a backyard, sneaking into a car, and lying on the car floor until the football players abandoned the chase.

Michigan students began lining up outside Crisler [Arena] in the cold and sleet as early as 5 a.m. on game day. It was only December 14, but there was almost a postseason feel to the matchup. The sub­plots (the Webber factor, Duke No. 1, the Fab Five hype, the cockiness of both teams, the preppy image of the Blue Devils, national television) all contributed to the intensity. ...

It was a sometimes chippy, verbal game. After a Webber jam, the freshman glared at Laettner and said, "You just got dunk­ed on, on national TV!" And, according to Webber, when Laet­tner dunked on him, the Duke star said, "That's how you do it, little kid." (Laettner later disputed the quoted, say­ing he ask­ed Webber where the U of M defensive rotation had been on the play.)

Duke led by 10 at halftime, 43-33. But Michigan reversed the numbers in the second half and forced the game into overtime, before the Blue Devils prevailed, 88-85.

Webber fouled out, but not before scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 re­bounds. Laettner also fouled out, with 24 points and 8 rebounds. Michigan blocked 8 shots. Rose, Webber, and King accounted for 60 of the Wolver­ines' 85 points.

Says King: "It's early in the season and nobody really knew us. Then you've got the superpower coming in, and we're just going to bown down and show respect? Nuh, uh. That wasn't our mind-set."

"We should have beaten them by 20," says Davis.

Valvano Saves His Job

Personal Fouls, Peter Golenbock (1989)

Jim Valvano entered the 1977-8 season as coach at Iona University with his job on the line.

Iona Coach Jim Valvano
Jim Valvano

In his third recruiting year, after two so-so seasons, Valvano hit the jackpot. His first big score was in convincing Glenn Vickers, a six-foot-three-inch forward from Babylon, Long Island, rated the best player on the island, to come to Iona. Vickers had led Babylon High to two straight Long Island championships and was being courted by Southern Methodist University, the University of San Francisco, and several school in the Ivy League.

Valvano's tactic was to recruit Vickers' father, William, as hard as he did the son. Valvano promised William Vickers that his son would be the player around whom his entire program would be built. He also convinced the senior Vickers that it would be in the son's best interest to go to college near home. ...

Once Vickers signed up, Valvano was able to recruit a bruising young six-foot-ten center with a body of granite by the name of Jeff Ruland. Ruland, a senior at Sachem High School in Ronkonkoma, Long Island, averaged 29.5 points a game as a senior. Ruland later said that he respected Vickers' game so much that he wanted to play college ball with him.

First, though, Valvano would have to sell him on Iona. One of the ways he did it was to convince the boy that as coach he would be like a surrogate dad. Ruland's own father, Kenneth, once had been a talented baseball player, but the two were never close. The father died of a stroke in 1967, when Jeff was nine. ... He had been let down by someone he was supposed to trust, his father, and he would never forgive him for it. Valvano rushed in to fill that void. In so many words Valvano promised that if Ruland came to Iona he would be the dad Jeff Ruland never had.


Jeff Ruland and his mother

As with Glenn Vickers' dad, Valvano played on the natural parental urges. He convinced Ruland's mom that if her boy went to Iona, close to home, he would be well taken care of, better than if he went to one of the faraway colleges that wanted him: Kentucky, Indiana, Notre Dame, and North Carolina.

Valvano told her, "The scholarship is good, even if he breaks his legs tomorrow." Said Mrs. Ruland Swanson, "Valvano cared about him as a person. You can't con me on Jeffrey."

Ruland, it turned out, was far the greater-impact player than Vickers. By his sophomore year, Ruland was rated by one professional scout as perhaps "the best college center in the country" and a "sure-fire first-round NBA pick."

The two boys' freshman year was a success but still a disappointment, because Ruland seriously hurt his ankle and missed part of the season. Also, some of the upperclassmen rebelled at the special treatment accorded the two star frosh recruits by the coaches. Both started, and it didn't sit too well with the returnees, who also complained that Vickers and Ruland were getting all the publicity.

After Iona lost to Holy Cross in a game marked by bickering among the Iona players, Ruland went home and told his mother, "We're dropping out."

Vickers and Ruland were planning to transfer together to one of the Ivy League schools that had recruited Vickers. It was a serious enough move that Valvano went before the rest of the squad and told them the two were leaving the team.

But that night he was saved by his parental admirers. Mrs. Ruland Swanson and William Vickers met with their sons at her workplace, Ernie's Tavern, named after her fourth husband, and at the meeting, Ruland's mom told her son, "I didn't raise no quitter. Now you two get back to Valvano, or I'll break your legs." Her loyalty may well have saved Valvano's career aspirations from being short-circuited.

With his two stars back, Valvano acted quickly to heal the schism on the team. With Iona playing an exhibition game against the Australian National Team, Valvano had Vickers and Ruland sit out the game - he told the rest of the squad they were hurt. After Iona was badly beaten, outshot and outrebounded, the other team membes, while still dismayed by the star treatment Ruland and Vickers were getting from the coaching staff - Ruland especially - at least had a fuller appreciation of what their teammates meant to the team's success.

"The rest of the squad realized we couldn't win without Rules and Vick," said Valvano. The end-of-year tally read seventeen victories and ten defeats, and though Iona didn't make any postseason tournaments, Valvano was fortunate to have his team intact for the 1977-78 season.

The following two seasons, the Gaels made the NCAA Tournament, losing in the 1st Round in '79 but moving to the 2nd round in '80. His success at Iona earned Valvano a promotion to North Carolina State, where he led the Wolfpack to a surprising NCAA Championship in 1983.

Rupp's Turds
Blue Yonder: Kentucky - the United State of Basketball, Lonnie Wheeler (2005)
If anything, Adolph Rupp was an equal-opportunity bigot. His character flaw lately perceived as bigotry actually had its roots in something else entirely. For Rupp, discrimination was more a personality trait than a racial attitude; his language disparaged people and players of all walks. The coach routinely referred to his second- and third-string players as "turds," for instance ... Second-line players were second-class citizens in the Kentucky scheme of things and were never allowed to forget it. When a couple of them returned Frank Ramsey's physical play with a few rough moves of their own during a practice session, Rupp roared at them, "Christ, let's don't hurt the All-American. You turds have all year to get well, but I lose an All-American, damn!" The undefeated 1954 team was painted with the same brush when it voted 9-3 to participate in the NCAA tournament after stars Ramsey, Cliff Hagan, and Lou Tsioropoulos were declared ineligible by virtue of having already graduated (Ramsey, Hagan, and Tsioropoulos being the three dissenting votes). Rupp promptly overruled the election, declaring, "We won't allow a group of turds to mar the record established in large measure by our three seniors." So institutionalized was the name "turds" that for one public scrimmage the second-teamers came out with large T's taped to the backs of their shirts. (The newspapers the next day reported that Rupp was already looking ahead to Tennessee.) In general, Rupp's attitude toward players who couldn't perform at high levels was that they were basically in the way. During halftime breaks, when he devised his strategy for the rest of the game, he often told the turds that they might as well just stayout on the floor and shoot some baskets. (Georgia Tech's reserves did the same thing, and one night the two squads started up their own impromptu halftime game until the cheering of the crowd disturbed Rupp's locker room lecture and he ordered an immediate stop to their impudence.) ...
Kentucky coaches Harry Lancaster and Adolph Rupp
Harry Lancaster and Adolph Rupp
Never one to confuse his team with his family, Rupp saved his soft side for home and community ... On the court, however, neither he nor [assistant coach Harry] Lancaster were early advocates of touchy-feely. At Kentucky, the pecking order was not only apparent but colorfully articulated, as well, by the two taskmasters in their khaki uniforms who presided over joyless, practically silent (but famously efficient) practices. The only words they wanted to hear were their own, Lancas­ter's delivered in the assistant's blunt, military manner, Rupp's with cleverly turn­ed, unforgiving humor. The players who could take the double-barreled abuse were stronger for it; the others wilted or left. On occasion, the coaches' insults were calculated to run the player away. One story had Lancaster calling a young man from Tennessee into his office and telling him, "Son, I've tried to embarrass you, to humiliate you. You have no pride. You don't know an insult when you hear one. We can't use you here, so I want you to get your stuff and go somewhere else." The player wasn't easily bullied, however. "Coach," he replied politely, "to­night I'll have a little talk with God and I'll let you know tomorrow whether or not I'm leaving." The next day at practice, the fellow advised Lancaster that he'd had a long talk with God and was staying in school. "Son," said Lancaster, "I've talked with the Lord since you have, and you're leaving."

Rupp's sarcasm is legendary ... He told Milt Ticco, after the latter missed an easy shot that would have tied Ohio State at the end of regulation, that the Buckeyes ought to be awarding him a varsity letter. He told Dickie Parsons ..., "Did you know that I'm writing a book entitled What Not To Do in Basketball? The first two hundred pages are going to be about you." He told C.M. Newton and/or Gayle Rose: "You look like a Shetland Pony in a stud horse parade." He told John Crig­ler, "John Lloyd, a hundred and fifty years from now there will be no university, no fieldhouse. There will have been an atomic war, and it will all be destroyed. Underneath the rubble there will be a monument, on which is the inscription, 'Here lies John Criger, the most stupid basketball player ever at Kentucky, killed by Adolph Rupp.'" He told mountain-boy Ernest Sparkman during the 1944 NIT, "Sparkman, you see that center circle? I want you to go out there and shit. Then you can go back to Carr Creek and tell them at least you did something in Madi­son Square Garden."