by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Those who follow college hoops closely were probably aware of the historical significance of Mississippi State’s recent trek to the Windy City to do battle with Loyola-Chicago. While hardly the featured game on the December 15 slate, the matchup nonetheless received a good deal of coverage because it brought together two schools who faced off in a landmark NCAA Tournament game almost 50 years earlier in March of 1963.

Those who have been reading TGS Hoops for the past couple of years might recall an extensive two-part editorial feature on these pages which detailed the specifics of that year’s Mississippi State team and its never-to-be-forgotten journey into the ‘63 Big Dance, and in particular its Sweet Sixteen game at East Lansing against Loyola. In fact, that two-part story can still be accessed in the archive portion from January 2011 on our webpage at www.goldsheet.com. (“And A Story You Ought To Hear,” Parts I & II). Of course, that game was mired in the sort of controversy which cannot be fathomed in this day and age, as the Bulldogs, and in particular their nervy and brave school president Dean Colvard, decided to break with the school’s policy of not competing against integrated teams by accepting an invitation (as SEC champions) to that year’s NCAA Tournament, an invite which MSU had rejected in two previous seasons. The societal implications, especially in the Deep South, were almost incalculable. Meanwhile, the specifics of the political firestorm that ensued, including the hard-to-believe cloak-and-dagger “escape” by the Bulldog team from Starkville to avoid a late-filed court injunction to prevent the hoopsters from traveling to East Lansing to participate in the Big Dance, provided a startling retrospective on sport and race in American history from a different era which is still within the lifetime of this writer and many of our readers. And, as well, the life span of TGS. It was perhaps the best-received editorial piece we have ever run on the pages of TGS; we welcome any reader who hasn’t seen that two-part story to seek it from our aforementioned website archive page.

While Mississippi State’s journey to that eventful night in East Lansing has been well-chronicled, we have always thought a more fascinating tale might have been written by that year’s Loyola Ramblers, who have been the subject of other stories on these pages, including a March, 2009 three-part tale from their journey through the NCAA Tournament and their dramatic win over Cincinnati in the 1963 NCAA title game. It’s all part of our book project entitled Ramblers and Bearcats, which has finally proceeded to the final stages of prep work before its hopeful publish date later this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of Loyola’s Big Dance crown. And that’s still the only NCAA Hoops title ever won by a team from the state of Illinois and part of a big 1963 year in Windy City sports that also featured the NFL Bears winning the championship that December.

Of course, the reason that Mississippi State-Loyola game had such social undertones and remains a landmark game in American sports history is the fact that those Ramblers fielded what at the time was a unique lineup featuring four black starters, which was almost unheard of in that era. During the All-College Holiday tournament in Oklahoma City in December of the 1962-63 season, the Ramblers employed perhaps the first all-black lineup in major college hoops (although which team was actually first remains the source of much conjecture, we know for a fact that Loyola did so in December of ‘62). All before Don Haskins’ more-romanticized Texas Western Miners a few years later. Credit was due to forward-thinking HC George Ireland, who simply wanted to find athletes who wanted a quality education at Chicago’s Jesuit university and could also play some basketball. While sensitive to the social issues of the day, Ireland could also not have cared less about the color of his players; as long as they went to class, behaved themselves as gentlemen, and could help him win games on the basketball court, it wouldn’t matter if they were purple or blue. Ireland would find a place for them on his team.

The societal climate, however, was much different a half-century ago. As was the college sports landscape of the ’50s and early ’60s, with Jim Crow laws still present in some regions. Segregation was still a fact of life in many parts of the country, especially in the South. Indeed, the “color line” would not be broken in several major conferences until the late ’60s; it wasn’t until 1967 that Vanderbilt hoopster Perry Wallace broke the color barrier in the SEC, but even then, change was slow to develop. Many SEC, ACC, and Southwest Conference schools took several more years before they would break the color barrier.

The byproduct was that young black athletes from the South had two choices in those days; either stay nearer home and attend one of the historical black colleges, or head elsewhere, likely to the Midwest or East, where the color barriers had mostly (although in some cases not completely) been broken down in previous decades. It is well-documented how several Big Ten schools would recruit from Texas and the South in those days, and on the football side few were more active than Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty and Minnesota’s Murray Warmath, who routinely plumbed the region for top-flight back talent that couldn’t find a place at an SEC or Southwest Conference school in those days. That’s one reason the Gophers and Spartans excelled on the gridiron for much of the ‘60s. Among the memorable black gridiron stars of the era lured from the region to those Big Ten outposts were Michigan State’s Bubba Smith (from Beaumont, Texas) and George Webster (from Spartanburg, South Carolina) and Minnesota’s Bobby Bell (from Shelby, North Carolina) and Carl Eller (from Winston-Salem, North Carolina). And there were many more black athletes who trekked far away from the South to fulfill their major college sports dreams.

And for young black hoopsters, schools in the Midwest and East often provided the opportunity closest to home to play major college basketball. The Missouri Valley Conference was a popular destination, as a quick glimpse at the rosters of many Valley teams from the era confirms. Ralph Miller’s Wichita State powerhouse squad in the early ’60s featured a pair of black athletes from what would soon be known as the Metroplex; star F Dave Stallworth hailed from Dallas, while C Nate Bowman came from Fort Worth. Less than a decade later, both of these future New York Knicks would have likely stayed in the state, but in those times, schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, SMU, and TCU were off limits to athletes such as Stallworth and Bowman.

The Lone Star State also produced another of the Valley’s star players of the era, as Houston-bred McCoy McLemore, a slithery forward who would go on to a solid 8-year career in the NBA, decided to go north to Des Moines and Drake University. A few years later, a player of McLemore’s caliber would likely have stayed closer to home, perhaps at the University of Houston. Which itself didn’t begin to recruit black athletes until 1964, when the likes of Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney enlisted with Cougar HC Guy Lewis, who realized it was time for his program to break the color barrier in early 1963, when Loyola-Chicago’s fully-integrated team played a game at Houston on the way to the national title.

Bradley University would also feature a star black performer who came from far away, G Levern Tart, who arrived from South Carolina. And of course, there were the great Cincinnati teams of the era that along with Loyola really re-set the color line in college hoops. Among the African-American Bearcat stars of the era were thick, 6’9 C “Tall” Paul Hogue, a bespectacled behemoth who hailed from Knoxville, Tennessee; do you think future Tennessee Volunteer teams would let an eventual Final Four MVP (as Hogue was in 1962) ever slip away to Cincinnati? Star swingman Tom Thacker was a product of Covington, Kentucky, just on the other side of the Ohio River from Cincy. Thacker, however, wasn’t even recruited by Kentucky HC Adolph Rupp, who steadfastly maintained his color line until late in the decade when finally relenting and signing C Tom Payne. As for the gifted Thacker, his choices came down to nearby Cincinnati and New York University, which was a hoops powerhouse in the day. Of course, the “Big O” himself, Oscar Robertson, had matriculated at Cincy by way of Indianapolis.

But perhaps no one blazed that sort of breaking-the–color barrier trail in the late ‘50s and ‘60s any better than Ireland and his Loyola Ramblers. Ireland was also not averse to recruiting outside (far outside) of the Chicago city limits. Putting together his powerhouse teams from the early ‘60s, Ireland mined other regions, particularly the South, where he lured future stars Vic Rouse and Les Hunter, both from Nashville’s Pearl High, and indeed almost had Willis Reed a few years later before Reed decided to stay near home at Grambling.

Ireland also tapped New York City, where, along with a local scout extraordinaire named Walter November, was able to convince some Big Apple stars to move to Chicago. Including a pair of eventual star performers from the 1962-63 title team, Ron Miller and Jerry Harkness.

Next issue: Part II of When Loyola had Chicago Ramblin’...and some fascinating recollections and insights from the great Jerry Harkness, including never-before published accounts of how he and his Ramblers teammates dealt with some of societal hurdles from a half-century ago!

Speaking of Loyola-Chicago, we begin our updates of various conferences across the country with a look at the Horizon League, where a real dogfight looks certain to develop as entries fight to fill the power vacuum left by Butler’s departure to the Atlantic 10. Straight-up and spread records are included thru January 2.

DETROIT (SUR 8-5, PSR 3-6)...Never mind the modest straight-up and pointspread marks; Detroit has been through a meatgrinder of a pre-Horizon slate, including road games at Big East St. John’s. Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, and covering the number at each of those stops. The Titans have also been forced to travel to Miami-Florida when the Hurricanes were at full strength, and have won at home vs. likely postseason-bound Akron and Canisius. Much the same look as last year’s edition that dumped Valpo in the conference tourney finale and advanced to the Big Dance, where it put up a decent fight in the sub-regional vs. Kansas, and still featuring G Ray McCallum Jr. (18.8 ppg), coach Ray’s son and a unique weapon in the Horizon, given that Lil’ Ray turned down legit scholarship offers from several Big Ten and other higher-profile locales to play for Pop in Motown. Lots of athleticism on the roster, and this season the Titans have available PF Nick Minnerath (12.2 ppg), who missed almost the entirety of last season due to injury. Papa Ray’s lineup also has good balance beyond Lil’ Ray, as all starters are scoring in double digits. This is the one Horizon side that could put a scare into a high-profile opponent in March.

LOYOLA-CHICAGO (SUR 10-3, PSR 8-4)...Perhaps Loyola’s best chance to return to the postseason in any event (NIT, CIT, CBI included...never mind the Big Dance) since the 1984-85 team led by Alfredrick Hughes and Andre Battle advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, where it lost honorably to Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown at Providence. Second-year HC Porter Moser, previously HC at UA-Little Rock and Illinois State and a disciple of Rick Majerus from a stint in 2008-11 as an assistant at Saint Louis, has his Ramblers are indeed playing like a classic Majerus team: prudent shot selection, devilish defense, slow tempo, in control of the way most every game. A big boost has come from Iowa transfer PG Cully Payne, a member of the all-frosh Big Ten team with the Hawkeyes before injuries scuttled his sophomore season and a coaching change (Todd Lickliter out, Fran McCaffery in) prompted a transfer nearer to his hometown of Chicago suburb Schaumburg. The steady Payne is indeed the difference between this and recent Loyola teams which struggled with inconsistencies in the backcourt. Another new backcourt face, spindly 6’4 Houston product Devon Turk (hitting 51% triples), has been a sparkplug off the bench. Most of the offensive sets look to isolate versatile 6’8 F “Bingo” Ben Averkamp (15.7 ppg). A key performer could be oft-injured 6’6 sr. swingman Jordan Hicks, whose erratic performance pattern (he was 4 for 19 from the floor in a recent 3-game stretch) also includes the occasional big effort. Moser’s team also has depth, with nine players averaging 10 or more minutes of floor time. Served notice in pre-league play with near-miss at Michigan State and recent win at the Allstate Arena vs. DePaul. Midweek win at contender Valparaiso is another warning shot to the rest of the league.

VALPARAISO (SUR 10-5, PSR 6-6)...Many regional observers still believe Valpo could be the team to beat in the loop, especially since the mid-December debut of South Florida transfer G LaVonte Dority, who started like gangbusters when scoring 20 in his debut game vs. Missouri State on December 15 and is scoring 13 ppg. Dority, however, has hit a bit of a cold patch, connecting on only 4 of 21 shots in his last two games, including the midweek loss to Loyola. Safe to say that if Dority regains his shooting eye, Bryce Drew’s Crusaders will be tough, as they return a very functional frontline with an international flair, 6-7 Aussie F Ryan Broekhoff (16.6 ppg; taking almost six triples pg and hitting 44% of those shots) and 6-8 Dutch battering ram Kevin Van Wijk, who does all of his work on the blocks and scores nearly 13 ppg. But it’s the transfer G Dority who will be the key man to watch as Valpo moves into conference play.

ILLINOIS-CHICAGO (SUR 10-4, PSR 9-4)...They do “everything Badger” at UIC, where third-year HC Howard Moore is a devoted Bo Ryan disciple, hired from the Wisconsin staff after the Jimmy Collins era fizzled out at the Circle. From Ryan’s “Swing” offense to the physical grab-and-hold defense, this is Wisconsin not-so-lite, featuring an experienced lineup full of former transfers and jucos led by ex-Toledo F Hayden Humes (14 ppg, also the team’s best 3-point shooter at 53%), former juco G Gary Talton (12.3 ppg), and rugged former Oregon and UCF pivot Josh Crittle (10.5 ppg). Much like Wisconsin, everyone (save C Crittle) will take 3s. But Moore’s bench is not especially deep, and therr have been signs of erosion in the past two weeks, as the Flames’ quick break from the gate vs. the number instead began to fizzle with three recent spread losses in a row. Expect UIC to remain in the hunt in the Horizon, but suspect depth makes Moore’s team very vulnerable should injuries arise.

WRIGHT STATE (SUR 9-4, PSR 7-3)...Looking for a sleeper in the Horizon? Try Wright State, flying well under the radar for HC Billy Donlon. Indeed, no one has been paying much attention to the Raiders, who were written off by most in the offseason when leading scorer Julius Mays took advantage of NCAA graduation loopholes and skipped town in the summer, landing on John Calipari’s roster at nearby Kentucky instead. But Donlon has convinced his remaining troops to play defense, and the Raiders never seem to lose touch (even in a recent game vs. nearby Big East power Cincinnati) because they’ve allowed under 60 points in 10 of 12 games prior to the Jan. 3 matchup vs. UW-Green Bay. Not sure Donlon has enough firepower to make a challenge at the top of the Horizon table, but just in case, keep an eye on emerging 6-6 juco F Jerran Young, who burst upon the scene in late December and entered conference play scoring 19 ppg in his last three outings.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE (SUR 8-6, PSR 3-6)...The Penguins have been a representative outfit for the DeBartolo’s hometown the past couple of years, finally achieving a winning SU mark for HC Jerry Slocum a year ago. And they opened the season with impressive wins over George Washington and Georgia. Three starters returned from last season, including the hotshot backcourt pair of Kendrick Perry and Blake Allen (combining for nearly 29 ppg). But YSU isn’t big (no starter over 6-7), and the contributions from the bench are spotty. A key for Slocum is for PF Damian Eargle (11.7 ppg & 7 rpg), who does much of the grunt work in the paint, to stay out of foul trouble; Eargle, blocking 3.4 shots pg, is also a defensive force on the baseline. But if Slocum must use his bench extensively, the Penguins could have problems.

CLEVELAND STATE (SUR 8-5, PSR 3-6)...Shrewd HC Gary Waters appeared to have put the pieces together rather quickly for the Vikings after losing four starts from last year’s 22-win side that advanced to the first round of the NIT. The emergence of soph G Charlie Lee (DD scoring in eight of nine games in one early-season stretch) seemed to trigger the Vikings into a similar version as last year’s guard-oriented team. But Lee’s numbers have dipped alarmingly in recent weeks (only 7.8 ppg last five games thru Jan. 2) as he might be trying to overcompensate for the loss of 6-8 soph F Anton Grady (13.7 ppg), who had emerged as a much-needed scoring threat on the blocks but has been on the shelf since late November with a knee injury that will sideline for the rest of the season. CSU’s efforts have been erratic since, and unless Waters finds a suitable frontline replacement for Grady, the Vikes likely wallow mid-table in the Horizon.

GREEN BAY (SUR 6-7, PSR 6-5)...The Fighting Phoenix have been in rather tough in their pre-league slate, but have risen up on occasion and own an upset win over Marquette at the Resch Center in mid-December, arguably the best win for a Horizon team in pre-league play. Third-year HC Brian Wardle (a former Marquette aide) returned four starters from last year’s 15-15 team including one of the true “bigs” in Horizon, 7-1 jr. Alec Brown (11.7 ppg but only 39% from floor). Yet Brown does not do much on the defensive end except take up space, and in fact he doesn’t always mesh with the more-athletic components on the roster including Gs Keifer Sykes (16.6 ppg) & Kam Cerroni. Bigger news in Green Bay involves the return of key F Brennan Cougill (12.7 ppg) from a recent suspension that kept him out of late December action. Green Bay will not be an easy out, but Wardle must settle upon a lineup rotation, and figure out a way to make big Alec Brown more productive (regional sources say there are times the team plays much better without Brown on the floor).

MILWAUKEE (SUR 4-10, PSR 3-9)...We hope that loyal HC Rob Jeter (son of former Green Bay Packer and Iowa Hawkeye star Bob Jeter), who has rejected offers from higher-profile suitors in recent years, doesn’t do too much harm to his career with this season’s version of the Panthers, who look to destined for the foot of the Horizon table. Jeter has struggled to fit machine gun-like juco G Jordan Aaron (15.6 ppg) into his team concept; there are times in which Aaron and holdover G Paris Gulley (15.1 ppg) seem to be in competition with one another to take the most shots. And shot selection continues to be a problem, as Milwaukee is hitting only 37% from the floor and a very poor 29% beyond the arc. Although Milwaukee recorded a shock upset win over Davidson in mid-November, it has been mostly downhill since, as the Panthers’ only wins since that November 17 upset have been vs. lowly Northern Illinois and Ohio Dominican. Jeter continues to juggle with other pieces in and out of his starting lineup, and the recent concussion suffered by steady F Kyle Kelm (7.8 ppg) has not helped matters. Looks like a long winter in Milwaukee.

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