Basketball Snapshots - 5

Baron's First Black Player

Tom Payne was a 7'1" All-State senior at Louisville's Shawnee High School. A lanky, easy-going kid, Tom told reporters he loved to block shots. He wanted badly to play for the major power in the state, the Kentucky Wildcats. Only one problem. The year was 1968. Tom was African-American. UK's coach was 70-year-old Adolph Rupp. And in his 40 years in Lexington, "The Baron" had never had a black player on his team. However, he recruited Tom to be his first.

Payne's parents paid his $2,000 tuition to attend Kentucky his freshman year (1969-70) so that he could become academically eligible to earn a basketball scholarship. The university had been integrated for some time. In fact, black players had participated in football and track. With a wife and infant daughter, Tom made the grades to play his sophomore year.

Considered a racist in many quarters and known to be very difficult on all his players, Rupp did his best to shield Payne. Vanderbilt had already graduated an African-American player, and three other SEC schools had black players. Nevertheless, the young giant faced tremendous pressure. He endured vicious racial epithets during games at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Alabama. Even at home games, his family overheard slurs from the Wildcat fans. Despite the distractions, Payne had a good year, averaging 16.9 ppg as UK won another SEC championship during a 22-6 year. Tom scored 34 against Georgia and 39 against LSU. His future looked bright.
Tom Payne

But behind the scenes, the picture was not so rosy. He had nine hours of incomplete course work that would have to be made up to keep him eligible. And in the summer of 1971, he was stopped for speeding in his new Cadillac. Having been drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, Payne decided to turn pro.

On the morning he was to leave for Atlanta, police arrived at his home in Louisville. A rape victim had identified him as her assailant after seeing his picture in the newspaper. However, since the police report listed her attacker as 6'3" and not 7'2," he was allowed to play the 1971-2 season for the Hawks, where he averaged only 4.1 points in 29 games.

While still in Georgia, he was arrested, convicted, and served five years on rape charges. Then Kentucky authorities brought him back and prosecuted him of the original rape charge. He served five years until paroled in 1983. He tried basketball again, then boxing, before moving to California to become an actor. In 1986 LAPD caught him raping a woman. He was convicted and sent to prison. Upon release in 2000, he was sent back to Kentucky, where he returned to prison for 15 years for violating his parole.

"The Greatest Upset Never Seen"


Ralph Sampson vs Tony Randolph
Ralph Sampson and Tony Randolph

Ralph Sampson and Ernest Pettway
Sampson defends Ernest Pettway

Chaminade vs Virginia 1982
Virginia-Chaminade action

Chaminade rejoices.
Chaminade rejoices!

Something akin to Appalachian State beating Michigan in football happened in basketball on December 23, 1982. The game didn't achieve the instant notoriety of the Big House upset because it ended at 3 am Eastern Time in faraway Hawaii. Rather than an audience of 108,000, the game was seen by fewer than 4,000.

The Virginia Cavaliers, led by 7'4" Ralph Sampson, were ranked #1.

  • Partly as a ploy to convince Sampson to return for another year, Virginia scheduled a game in Japan against #2 Houston, known as "Phi Slamma Jamma."
  • On the return trip, the Cavs would stop in Hawaii to play Chaminade, an NAIA college run by the Marianist Brothers with an enrollment of 900.

Before the game in Japan, UVa met Georgetown.

  • The clash was billed as "The Game of Decade" because of the matchup between Sampson and Patrick Ewing.
  • Ralph scored 23 with 16 boards and 7 blocks to spark the victory.

Then it was off to Japan for the three-team Suntory Ball.

  • Jet lag plagued the Cavs as they prepared to meet Houston, led by Akeem Olajuwon, the other member of the triumvirate of fantastic big men in college basketball that year.
  • To make matters worse, Sampson was not only dehydrated from the Georgetown game but also suffered from an intestinal virus. Even without him, the Cavs beat Houston and then Utah to move to 8-0 for the season.

One player recalled the team attitude at that point as "Oh yeah, there's this little game in Hawaii, then we get home."

  • The Chaminade Silverswords had defeated Hawaii, the Division I team in the state, but also had just lost at home to Wayland Baptist, an NAIA team with a 5-9 record.
  • Furthermore, Chaminade had been clobbered by Virginia each of the previous two seasons. And, most important of all, Sampson would play in the game.
  • Silverswords Coach Merv Lopes felt that, if we lost by anything less than 20 points to them, I would be happy.

Even though the shot clock had not been implemented yet, the Silverswords did not hold the ball.

  • Defensively they collapsed on big Ralph to help their 6'6" center Tony Randolph but otherwise played straight basketball.
  • In fact, Chaminade took the game to the visitors from the opening tap, jumping to a 19-12 lead as Randolph moved outside to hit jump shots (9 of 12 for the game). This opened the middle for drives.
  • Meanwhile, the travel-weary Cavs were having a difficult time hitting their shots (39% for the game). Nevertheless, they rallied for a 43-43 deadlock at the half.

In the second stanza, Virginia seemed to take control, building a 56-49 lead.

  • However, the plucky Silverswords pulled even again to set up a nip-and-tuck finish.
  • Trailing 74-72 in the final minute, UVa was called for carrying the ball by one of the local officials, the Cavs' 25th turnover.
  • Three FTs later, Chaminade won, 77-72.
  • An ecstatic Lopes after the game: I just told my guys they had nothing to lose, so go out there and play, that is was an honor for a school like Chaminade to play the No. 1 team in the nation.
Chaminade shoots a FT.
A weary Sampson waits for a FT
The result caused confusion when transmitted to East Coast news outlets.
  • Tom Mees on ESPN's SportsCenter refused to read the score until someone confirmed it by telephone.
  • AP clients phoned the New York headquarters asking if there's a misprint: Virginia Commonwealth? Virginia Tech? Virginia Union? Surely not Virginia.
  • Chaminade's name was mispronounced by various anchors. ChamiNADE (to rhyme with lemonade). Even Sha-MAN-da. (Actually, the school had planned to change its name to the University of Honolulu but backed off in light of the newfound fame.)
Shortly after the game, t-shirts were sold on the islands proclaiming YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A CHAMINADE. The shirts were also popular at ACC arenas that Sampson and Company visited that season.
Ralph Sampson at Chaminade team's 2002 reunion
Sampson at 2002 reunion of Chaminade Cinderellas

YouTube presentation on the game
Reference: "The Greatest Upset Never Seen," Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated, 12/31/07

History of the Metro Conference

The Metro Conference was formed in 1975 by six schools that did not belong to any conference. The six charter members were Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Memphis State, Louisville, St. Louis, and Tulane. The name was chosen because all were city (metropolitan) schools. They remained independent in football (with St. Louis not fielding a gridiron team). The primary sport for the new league was basketball because that same year the NCAA expanded its basketball tournament to 32 teams and included at-large teams that were not conference champs for the first time.

Changes in conference makeup started immediately.

  • 1976: Florida State joined but remained independent for football.
  • 1978: Georgia Tech left for the ACC.
  • 1979: Virginia Tech joined.
  • 1982: Southern Mississippi joined. St. Louis left for the Midwest City Conference.
  • 1983: South Carolina joined.
  • 1984-1989: Tulane dropped its basketball program as a result of a point-shaving scandal but remained a conference member in all other sports.
  • 1991: Florida State left for the ACC, South Carolina joined the SEC, and Cincinnati and Memphis transferred to the Great Midwest Conference, another league that emphasized basketball. UNC Charlotte, South Florida, and Virginia Commonwealth joined the Metro.

The conference succeeded in its goal of becoming a force in basketball.

  • Denny Crum's Louisville Cardinals reached five Final Fours in 11 years, with two national championships (1981 and 1986).
  • Memphis made the Final Four in 1985.
  • Basketball attracted lucrative TV contracts and March Madness payoffs.
  • The Metro held a well-attended basketball tournament each season from 1976-1995.

As football revenue began to dominate athletic departments' plans in the early 1990s, the Metro tried to capitalize on the impending changes in the NCAA landscape to expand and add football at the same time. The conference held a two-day meeting with eight possible new members: Boston College, East Carolina, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, and West Virginia. Miami called the Metro a "viable option" that would unite them with their in-state rivals, the Seminoles.

However, two months later Louisville football coach Howard Schnellenberger publicly opposed conference affiliation for his sport, saying it would hamper his ability to play a national schedule. He specifically wanted no part of a conference with such lackluster football schools as Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, and Virginia Tech.

Another blow came in September 1990 when FSU announced it would join the Atlantic Coast Conference for all sports. Then the Big East, one of the Metro's rivals in basketball, announced it would start a football league that would include most of the schools the Metro had targeted for expansion.

In 1995, what was left of the Metro merged with the Great Midwest Conference, another conference that didn't sponsor football, to form Conference-USA. A year later C-USA became a football league also, although a number of members did not participate on the gridiron.

If you followed all the comings and goings listed above, you will notice that the only school that stayed in the Metro all 20 years of its existence was Tulane.



Baron's First Black Player

"The Greatest Upset Never Seen"

History of the Metro Conference


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