Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Greatest KU games No. 3: ‘It wasn’t such a big deal’

KU’s 1952 title-winners recall Lovellette, Dean Smith’s smoking


Editor’s note: This is the eighth story in the Journal-World’s series of the top 10 games in Kansas University hoops history. Introducing No. 3:

Three members of the 1952 national championship basketball team who reside in Lawrence gathered for coffee on a recent morning and looked back one more time on Kansas University’s first NCAA Tournament title.

Bill Lienhard laughed about how “ornery” the team’s superstar, Clyde Lovellette, was back then, forever teasing teammate B.H. Born.

Al Kelley talked about how nervous he was that the cigarette smoking of his roommate, reserve Dean Smith, in hotel rooms would get them into trouble.

Bill Hougland remembered how little hype there was about the title game against St. John’s, said it couldn’t come close to matching that surrounding tonight’s Big 12 game between Kansas and Kansas State.

All three men talked about how well the coaches — head coach Phog Allen, the motivator, and assistant Dick Harp, the brains behind the offensive and defensive strategies — complemented each other.

As for the title game, an 80-63 victory against St. John’s in Seattle, not a great deal stood out.

What, Hougland was asked, did he remember about the game?

“Really, not a lot,” Hougland said. “It wasn’t such a big deal.”

At least not until the team returned to Lawrence late at night, boarded a fire truck and came across the bridge from North Lawrence.

“There were 10,000 people past midnight on Mass. Street,” Lienhard said. “The students and the people of Lawrence really rose to the occasion.”

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Read the original LJW story: Matchless Jayhawkers subdue powerful St. John’s of Brooklyn

As for the game that triggered that celebration, Kelley said, “It wasn’t ever a close game.”

St. John’s, coached by Frank McGuire, faced a tough decision. Sag the entire defense onto Lovellette, KU’s 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, and make the rest of the players beat you, or pay special attention to Lovellette but still try to cover the rest of the players?

By Lienhard’s recollection, McGuire tried the first approach, daring the supporting cast to win the game, in the first half, the second in the second half. Neither worked.

“I did all my scoring in the first half, and (Bob) Kenney did about the same thing,” Lienhard said. “Because they were laying clear off us all the shots were what would be three-point shots in today’s game.”

Lienhard and Kenney each had 12-point games.

“Leaving everybody else open and collapsing on Clyde lasted about a half,” Lienhard said. “They opened it up, and Clyde got a bunch of points.”

To be exact, Lovellette finished with 33 points, hitting 12 of 25 shots from the field. He remains the only player to lead the nation in scoring and win a national title in the same season. He also led the nation in rebounding.

Lovellette was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tourney. He scored 141 points in the four games. Only TCU, losing 68-64 in the first round in Kansas City, came close to the Jayhawks, who slaughtered St. Louis and Santa Clara by identical 74-55 scores.

Lovellette’s skill and rugged style of play were too much for any team to handle.

Lienhard remembered a particularly physical practice in which Lovellette didn’t make it to the finish.

“Old Robinson Gym had swinging doors,” Lienhard said. “B.H. blocked his shot, and Clyde hit him with his elbow and knocked him clear out in the hall through those doors. And Doc said, ‘Clyde, to the dressing room. You’re through for the day.’”

Lovellette, who now resides in Munising, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, returned to lead Kansas to the national title, and he did it on short sleep.

“Clyde had been invited to come out on a dinner cruise,” Lienhard remembered with a laugh. “The fog rolled in at night, and the boat had trouble getting back. Clyde didn’t get back until 1 or 2 in the morning.”

No matter. To hear Lovellette’s old teammates tell the story, the opposing coaches could have stayed up all night trying to devise a strategy to stop KU’s center, and he still would have dominated the game.


100 10 years, 3 months ago

A great team. Lovellete was one of a kind as was Born.

Amazing too that these guys practiced in the Original Robinson (designed and lobbied for & funding acquired from State by Naismith himself) & played regular season games in Hoch before it was burnt down & rebuilt.

What a fun time it was to watch 'em play in Hoch, lots of curved walls & tight spaces --the out of bounds corners practically ran into the wall.

It used to drive Hank Iba nuts & that was worth every penny!!!!!!!

Chris Shaw 10 years, 3 months ago

Maybe Frank McGuire learned a lot from this 1952 loss at St. Johns? He did the exact same approach in 1957 and got the win in Triple OT at UNC against Wilt the Stilt. Obviously, I was nowhere to be alive in 1957, but I sure wish KU would be on the other end of that game and had a 1 point victory.

Michael Leiker 10 years, 3 months ago

Seems like I remember a few teams practicing towards the end of the season in Robinson as well when Allen was being used late 90s, early 00s.

Turk 10 years, 3 months ago

I used to watch KS. practice in Robinson Gym. It was a particular hot summer day before the 1952 Olympics and every window and door was open. They had to stop practice often to let the players catch their breath. Coach Alllen had a tie on but loosen at the collar. I was fascinated how he motivated He loved to bring Hogue into a game and spark the team u p. This particular day Charlie was not up to par throwing the ball away and letting Al Kelley steal it from him. Coach Allen called time out and said, "Charlie that is ##### y basketball." You could have heard a pin drop. The players loved Phog.

Steve Brown 10 years, 3 months ago

we need a field of dreams movie with Doc coming out of a wheat field to dribble/pass w. an inner city kid having trouble w. his game...

Tom Richmond 10 years, 3 months ago

Will always remember the night we won the '52 Championship. Every student was glued to the radio (no TV in '52) and the moment we won (it was after mid-night) everyone erupted from dorms and fraternitysorority houses, jumped into cars and drove all over the campus with horns blaring. "All over" was the key word - we drove on the sidewalks and the lawns - I believe the campus police were hiding. No one had ever seen anything like it. I remember driving up on the Theta front lawn followed by three other cars and all the sisters came roaring out and jumped into our cars and off we went to Mass. Ave. to join the parade and welcome the team home. Can still see Clyde riding on the firetruck with the fire chief's hat on. A memorable night for KU hoops.

NotWiller 10 years, 3 months ago

Thanks very much to 100, Turk, and medievalhawk for these memories. I'd love to hear many, many more. We can only know who we are when we know where we came from. I love being a part of today's program, but that comes w/ the responsibility of understanding all the work over all the years by all the coaches, players, AND fans. Thanks for sharing.

100 10 years, 3 months ago


I know it's funny, all of us have been taken for a ride with all the athletic gyms named Robinson over the years; to me it really shows the sadness of KU's fans & administrators when Naismith's shrine to KU's campus was torn down in the 60's.

Structurally it was the smartest thing to do. But it should have been replaced with an exact replica, just twice as big for academic purposes. Naismith meant so much more to KU than basketball, & Wescoe (where the Original beautiful Robinson was is really just like taking a large shart on Naismith's grave).

It's the only truly ugly structure on Jayhawk boulevard & we had to put it right in place of Naismith's beautiful structure?

I digress: so there are still to my knowledge two (more Robinson buildings on the campus). One is termed "Old Robinson" although this is not the original which was torn down in the 60's.

Then behind it is "New Robinson". Both are athletic structures for students. One still has Naismith's picture up near the swimming pool (not the same swimming pool that they used to use). But it's significant: Naismith made sure McClendon could pass the swim test & get his degree by some trickery essentially breaking more color lines at KU.

And now there's even another brand new athletic facility for students beyond those two Robinsons...

But make no mistake -- the most amazing athletic structure we've ever had (for the time), was the original Robinson gymnasium, a close 2nd being Allen Fieldhouse which is pretty remarkable considering many publications consider Allen the best athletic venue to watch a game in any sport/ any level, pro or college!

Tim Orel 10 years, 3 months ago

I might be missing it, but why isn't there a link to the rest of the series?

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