I wrote a history of Catholic college basketball that starts with Naismith and ends with the 2020 tournament being canceled. The book opens with an interview of Sister Jean on the day after her 100th birthday in 2019, back when we still did such things in person. It’s my first book, it’s called Miracles on the Hardwood, and it comes out today.
You might be saying, “But my team isn’t Gonzaga, and it’s not a non-UConn or -Butler Big East team, and in fact it’s not any other Catholic team either.”
Well, me too. I’m a graduate of a huge public land grant university, and I live and die with every bounce of the ball for its basketball team. But in the course of writing a book about the 12 percent of Division I that’s Catholic, I learned a great deal about the sport I love.
I learned why men’s college basketball in the United States is played in halves, while most of the rest of the world — amateur and professional, men’s and women’s — uses quarters.
I learned that in the 1960s John Thompson ran a 4-H program in Washington, D.C., and told the Washington Post, “Our kids don’t need to know how to make Indian headbands, they need to know how to survive in the city.”
Speaking of Thompson, the 15 coaches selected as finalists in recruiting Patrick Ewing arrived at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in September 1980 in alphabetical order according to their school names.
When the three-point line was introduced in 1986, Bob Knight told the press, “I don’t like the damn rule.”
After Tennessee’s players voted in 1946 not to take the floor against a Black player (Duquesne’s Chuck Cooper), Volunteers athletic director and head football coach Robert Neyland said he stood behind the decision “100 percent.”
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said, “The wind got sucked out of the whole place,” in 2002 when the Bulldogs hosted a Selection Sunday party for 1,200 fans in a hotel ballroom in Spokane only to learn that a 29-3 team ranked No. 6 in the nation had been seeded on the No. 6 line by the NCAA.
Houston coach Guy Lewis responded to talk that he was an outstanding recruiter who just “rolls the ball out” by telling the press at the 1984 Final Four, “I’ve become a lot better, I try to roll them out now with both the left and the right hands, I’ve really improved.”
St. Bonaventure was undefeated at home from 1948 to 1961.
At the 1989 Final Four, Michigan’s Mark Hughes was asked about Seton Hall and responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t even know what conference they’re in, they’re from New York or Jersey somewhere, right?”
When Notre Dame took a timeout during a home game against Kentucky in 1948, Adolph Rupp was shocked to see Fighting Irish head coach Moose Krause conferring with his players during the timeout as part of an experimental rule change.
Mark Few was not impressed the first time he made a recruiting visit and saw Adam Morrison play.
After an incident at old Madison Square Garden in 1946 where the opposing head coaches nearly came to blows, Wyoming coach Everett Shelton apologized to the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association by saying, “What I said about Jews had nothing to do with religion or anything else, the word ‘Jew’ was merely descriptive.”
Dave Gavitt’s first job out of college was with AT&T, and he would later say, “I didn’t like it very much, and I wasn’t very good at it.”
Possibly the greatest player in Dayton history and Reggie Miller’s choice as the greatest player in the history of the Indiana Pacers franchise never played D-I varsity basketball.
Philadelphia native Hank Gathers played at USC as a freshman, and when he was told the area around the campus was viewed as distressed by locals he said, “In Philadelphia this would be a suburb.”
When Bill Russell scored on a slam dunk at the 1956 Olympic Games, the referee, who had never seen a player dunk before, was so stunned he disallowed the basket even though he couldn’t say which rule had been violated.
As Rollie Massimino was leaving to replace Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV in 1992, Villanova students chanted “Na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” just seven years after a national title.
Al McGuire was an even more amazing character than I had previously understood.
A year ago, I’m speaking at a big affair in Milwaukee. I’m at the head table. This guy comes along, putting one pat of butter on every plate. I got this big baked potato there, and I want more.
I say, “Hey, I’d like more butter.” The guy says no.
So I say, “Hey, I’m Al McGuire. I’m the basketball coach at Marquette. I’m the main speaker here today.”
So this guy looks at me and says: “Hey, you know who I am? I’m the guy who passes out the butter here today. One pat!”
Digger Phelps mailed a letter to Notre Dame when he was a 24-year-old high school coach in Pennsylvania saying that his dream was to one day be the coach at Notre Dame.
After shouting, “Being perfectly blunt, Billy Packer can kiss my ass!” to a roaring crowd of Saint Joseph’s fans in 2004, Phil Martelli went on ESPN and explained away an online poll showing national skepticism of the top-seeded Hawks’ chances by saying, “You know what the problem is? Most of the people in Philadelphia don’t know how to use a computer, so they couldn’t vote.”
Life magazine ran a photo in 1953 of an unconscious Seton Hall player sprawled on the court when fans came down out of the stands and rioted after a game at Louisville.
Jay Wright recruited Speedy Claxton to Hofstra by mailing him hand-written notes.
Dean Smith grew tired of reporters repeatedly asking him about his friendship with John Thompson at the 1982 Final Four and finally said, “It’s not going to be Dean Smith vs. John Thompson, it’s players against players, if we were playing he’d take me inside and kill me.”
Long before the Associated Press named him the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century, George Mikan had wanted to quit basketball and enter the priesthood.
Dartmouth coach Doggie Julian scheduled an experimental game in 1961 where every made basket from anywhere on the court counted as three points.
The state of Louisiana reacted to Brown vs. Board of Education by passing a law in 1956 that banned all interracial sports competitions, including and especially interracial college basketball and football games.
St. John’s hosted fast-paced Loyola Marymount in 1987, and, when Lou Carnesecca was asked after the game if his players had been interfering with the ball after their own made baskets in an attempt to slow down the Lions, he replied, “I wish I could be that smart, maybe the Jesuits would think of that, we’re just poor little Vincentians.”
Manhattan’s Junius Kellogg was cooperating with authorities and wearing a wire in 1951 when gamblers asked him to shave points, “throw hook shots over the basket” and “miss rebounds occasionally.”
Among the few schools to recruit Dwyane Wade out of Chicago was DePaul, which enlisted the help of Quentin Richardson only to lose out to Tom Crean and Marquette.
When UCLA was bracketed with San Francisco in a 1956 regional semifinal, Santa Clara coach Bob Feerick justified his prediction that the Dons would win by pointing out that John Wooden had never won an NCAA tournament game.
It’s fair to guess that if you’ve landed on the WordPress site of some ESPN.com guy, you may love college basketball. On that basis, you might enjoy the book. Read the first four thousand words and/or part of the chapter on Loyola Marymount in 1990, and see what you think.