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Jayhawks give Allen his title - 1952
By Joe Gergen
For Sporting News
In the hierarchy of basketball, a direct line of succession ran from Dr. James Naismith to Forrest C. "Phog" Allen. The latter was the foremost pupil of the sport's inventor. He took a game and turned it into a profession.
Naismith was first and foremost a teacher. It was only as a professor of physical education that he consented to coach the Kansas basketball team. As a student at Kansas, Allen decided the appeal of the sport went beyond mere recreation. He determined to devote his life to coaching.
"And so I told Naismith that I was going to be a coach," Allen recalled many years later, "and he said, 'Forrest, you don't coach this game, you just play it.' "
It was advice that Allen ignored, much to the greater glory of Kansas.
Allen actually assumed the coaching duties at Kansas from Naismith while attending school on the Lawrence campus in 1908. Before graduation, he added similar positions at the Haskell Institute (also in Lawrence) and at nearby Baker University and, amazingly, coached all three teams in one season.
It wasn't until the 1920 season, after completing seven years as coach at Central Missouri State, that Allen became full-time director of Kansas' basketball program.
His 1922 and 1923 teams -- which included a player named Adolph Rupp -- were designated national champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation. He lobbied successfully for the inclusion of basketball in the 1936 Olympic Games. He played a significant role in the creation and development of the NCAA Tournament. He spoke in medical jargon (befitting a graduate of the Kansas City College of Osteopathy), using such words as pronation and supination.
And to generations of players he stressed, "Pass at angles, run in curves."
Phog Allen, six years older than the sport itself, was a legendary basketball figure by the time he came to call on Clyde Lovellette in 1948.
Lovellette was a high school star in Terre Haute, Ind., whose outstanding physical characteristic was his height. He was 6-foot-9. Allen thought he could do something with such a gift in the middle of his offense. So did many other coaches, at least 50 by Lovellette's estimate.
In fact, the youngster was surrounded by universities seeking his presence. Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame all were interested, and Lovellette spent time on the Indiana campus in Bloomington, only 80 miles from home. It was assumed by many, including coach Branch McCracken, that he would enroll at Indiana in the fall.
"My high school coach worked under Branch," Lovellette said. "But Indiana was such a big school. I just didn't think I wanted to get in classes with 50-60 students. I didn't want to be a number."
The Kansas campus was a smaller community. And Allen was a persuasive man. He told Lovellette he was gathering material for a team capable of sweeping the NCAA championship and the Olympic Games in 1952, and he told him he would be the key recruit.
"It was a beautiful idea," Lovellette decided.
Kansas had just endured only its second losing season under Allen, compiling a 9-15 record in '48. The year before, the coach had suffered a head injury in practice and sat out the second half of the season. Now 63, Allen was running out of time in which to achieve an elusive national title and just maybe an Olympic conquest as well.
While Lovellette spent his freshman year improving his agility and stamina, the Jayhawks struggled through a .500 season. He reported to the varsity the next fall and immediately became the hub of the Kansas attack, averaging 21.8 points per game overall and 23 in Big Seven Conference play.
Kansas finished in a three-way tie for first place with Kansas State and Nebraska, but the Jayhawks lost a playoff for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Only a few years earlier, Allen had decried the presence of big men in the sport. But now he was eager to take advantage of the best big man around. He instructed Lovellette to shoot often.
"He is closer to the basket than anyone else on the floor," the coach explained, "so I'd rather see him go for it than anyone else."
And go for it Lovellette did. In his junior season, the player known as "Man Mountain" and "Cumulus Clyde" raised his season scoring average to 22.8 and the Jayhawks won 16 of 24 games. Still, they did no better than tie for second in the conference behind Kansas State, which went to the NCAA championship game.
Allen's team couldn't have been better positioned for the 1952 season. Including Lovellette, four starters returned from the previous year.
The Jayhawks were experienced and the bench was deep. Among the reserves was a youngster named Dean Smith, whose grasp of the game was such that he would run the scout team that simulated opponents' tactics in practice.
Other than Lovellette and substitute guard Charlie Hoag, the Kansas players all were native Kansans and hailed from small towns. Their similar backgrounds drew them together.
"We kept the nucleus of our team through all four years," Lovellette said. "We were pretty much a family."
The family won the Big Seven title in 1952, losing only one league game. Lovellette, whose weight soared well above his listed figure of 230 pounds, was a bigger force than ever. He scored 28.6 points per game that season and averaged more than 13 rebounds a game as the Jayhawks won their last nine league games to clinch the conference championship (Kansas State finished one game behind) and a berth in the NCAA West Regional.
At the outset of the tournament, which for the first time produced a true Final Four with two separate playoffs held within both the West and East regionals, Kansas was not the favorite.
The balance of power lay in the Eastern portion of the draw. Defending national champion Kentucky, ranked No. 1 in the wire-service polls, headed the field for the Eastern competition scheduled at Raleigh, N.C., and Big Ten Conference titlist Illinois, No. 2 in the ratings, appeared to be the class of the Eastern get-together in Chicago. Few reckoned on St. John's causing much interference.
Although the New York school had been ranked first nationally early in the season, St. John's was humiliated by Kentucky at Lexington, 81-40, in mid-December and largely overlooked thereafter. But the Redmen, stung by La Salle in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament, rose up in the NCAA Tournament and defeated North Carolina State on its home court in Raleigh, 60-49, and then stunned Kentucky, 64-57, to win their half of the East Regional.
In the latter game, with his Redmen leading by six points at halftime, coach Frank McGuire began his instructions only to be interrupted by Adolph Rupp's shouting in the adjoining locker room.
"I thought the walls were coming down," McGuire said. "I never did give my halftime talk. We just listened to Rupp screaming at his players."
While the Kentucky team had thought to charter a flight to Seattle (the Final Four site) in advance of the East Regional, St. John's wasn't quite as prepared.
"Know what I thought of our chances of getting to Seattle?" McGuire said. "I only brought two pair of socks and two pair of drawers. I had to go out and buy underwear."
Illinois won two games in impressive fashion in Chicago, qualifying to meet St. John's for the East championship and advancing to the first Final Four in NCAA Tournament history. At last, the West and East crowns and the national title would be decided at the same site.
The flight carrying the St. John's team to the West Coast touched down in Chicago and the Illinois squad boarded.
"I took one look at them," McGuire said of the rangy Illini, "and I thought, 'How can we beat those guys?' "
After struggling past Texas Christian, 68-64, Kansas emphatically won its half of the Western Regional at Kansas City by trouncing Saint Louis, 74-55, as Lovellette set a single-game tournament record with 44 points.
The Jayhawks would be matched in the Western title game against Santa Clara, which had upset UCLA and Wyoming in Corvallis, Ore.
The national semifinals, consolation game and NCAA title game were staged at Washington's Edmundson Pavilion. The competition provided one final upset in a tournament of surprises. St. John's, led by 6-foot-7 Bob "Zeke" Zawoluk, cut down taller Illinois, featuring 6-9 sophomore center John Kerr, 61-59.
In the other semifinal game, Kansas overpowered Santa Clara by the same one-sided margin it had posted in its previous game, 74-55.
So the championship game pitted the country boys against what they perceived as the city slickers.
"It amazed me how fast they talked and the inflection in their voices," Lovellette said. "And I'm sure to them we sounded like hillbillies."
But what counted was the manner in which the Jayhawks played.
St. John's had no answer for Lovellette and the Kansas offense. Zawoluk scored 20 points and Jack McMahon added 13, but Lovellette equaled their total by himself.
Lovellett's 33 points represented a championship-game record, and with senior forwards Bob Kenney and Bill Lienhard adding 12 points apiece, the Jayhawks romped to an 80-63 triumph. Big Clyde and his teammates had realized the first of Allen's goals.
Three nights later, Kansas began participation in the eight-team Olympic Trials. The Jayhawks hammered NAIA champion Southwest Missouri State in Kansas City, then defeated NIT champ La Salle at Madison Square Garden.
Had the Jayhawks beaten the AAU champion Peoria Cats in the Garden final, Allen would have been appointed Olympic head coach. But with the score tied at 60-60 in the closing seconds, Lovellette rushed a wide-open shot on a fast break, missed the basket and Peoria converted a long pass into the game-winning held goal.
There was a consolation prize. For his team's second-place finish in the Trials, Allen gained the position of assistant coach. And seven of his players, led by Lovellette, were chosen for the U.S. team that won the gold medal at Helsinki, Finland, with victories in all eight games, including two triumphs over the Soviet Union in the United States' first meetings with the Russians in Olympic basketball competition.
A group of country boys had transformed Allen's beautiful idea into gratifying reality.
© 2006 SportingNews.com