Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best Basketball Book of the Season

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 11:03 AM

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The people who produce and write about college basketball wisely mix in a dose of nostalgia from time to time. This is pleasing to old fans who remember short pants and set shots and enlightening to young ones who think the game began with Michael Jordan. This season's offering comes from Kyle Veazey, sports writer for The Commercial Appeal and author of Champions For Change.

The book is about the 1962-63 Mississippi State team that defied segregationists and boarded a plane to East Lansing, Michigan to play Loyola of Chicago, which had several black players, in the NCAA Tournament. It's a good tale well told by Veazey, and arguably as important, as sporting events go, as the 1966 NCAA Final between all-white Kentucky and all-black Texas Western, subject of the 2006 movie "Glory Road."

Two things stand out in my memory of that season’s tournament.

First, the games were on the radio instead of television. This made the finals, which went into overtime, even more suspenseful, partly because the radio signal kept fading in and out and partly because announcer Red Rush (“It’s GOOD, good as Gonnella Bread”) was one of the all-time greats.

Second, the core of the Loyola team was two players from Nashville Pearl High School, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter. They were the “big men” on the team and on the floor, for that matter, although they were 6’7”, the size of forwards in high school these days. My first job was in Nashville, and one of my colleagues, Tarver Smith, had played on a Pearl team, no small feat for a man under six feet tall. There was a simple way of making cuts: If you couldn’t dunk you couldn’t play.

Loyola and Mississippi State were undersized by today’s standard, but not as much as the 1964 NCAA champion, UCLA, whose center, Keith Erickson, was only 6’5”. Even two years later, when Kentucky was in the finals against Texas Western, 6’4” Pat Riley jumped center for the Wildcats. The tipping point for big men came in 1967 when Kareem Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, started for UCLA.

Memphis fans have a chance to jump in on the nostalgia action. This is the 40th anniversary of the “Memphis State” team with Larry Finch and Larry Kenon that lost in the 1973 finals to Bill Walton and UCLA.

I look forward to replays of the 1963 and 1973 championship games in this boom year for college basketball nostalgia.

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