Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
The mandatory NCAA ban of freshmen participating in varsity intercollegiate athletics may have worked to Clyde Lovellette’s advantage in the short term. But, in the long term, it deprived him of several career statistical marks.
When the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team embarked on the 1949-50 season against Rockhurst College at Kansas City on Dec. 3, 1949, Lovellette, now with an impressive hook shot, played like a seasoned veteran.
Clyde scored 545 points in 25 games (21.8 ppg.) that first season as the Jayhawks tied for first place in the Big Seven Conference. They were ranked as high as 19th in the nation by the Associated Press. Clyde led the conference in scoring and rebounding (7.7 rpg.) and was named to several All-America teams, a rarity for a sophomore.
Kansas, coached by Forrest “Phog” Allen, was matched against Bradley in the post-season with the victor earning one of the eight berths in the 1950 NCAA tournament. Bradley won, 59-57, advancing to the title game against City College of New York, already the National Invitational Tournament champ. CCNY was victorious, 71-68 but, 11 months later, seven team members and key players for Long Island University, New York University, Manhattan and Bradley were charged with accepting money from gamblers to shave points or lose games.
Three integral members of Kentucky’s 1949 NCAA champions – Alex Groza, Ralph Beard and Dale Barnstable – also were indicted for shaving points a year earlier. The scandals threatened the integrity of college basketball.
Lovellette was more dominant as a junior in 1950-51. The Jayhawks had a 16-8 record but finished in a tie for second place in the conference. Scoring 548 points in 24 games (22.8 ppg.) and averaging 8.8 rebounds, Clyde was a consensus All-American.
By the end of his junior season the 6-feet-9, 235-pound Lovellette had more nicknames than any athlete in America: “Man Mountain,” “Cumulus Clyde,” “The Prolific Pachyderm” and “Cloudburst Clyde,” among others.
In 1951-52, Allen’s Jayhawks returned four senior starters: Bob Kenney, Bill Hougland, Bill Lienhard and Lovellette.
“It seemed like from the first time we stepped on the court that year, good things were going to happen,” Clyde recalled recently. “We had been up and down for two years but we still liked each other. Phog was still a ball of fire and Dick Harp was a very good practice and bench coach. It just all came together.”
Ranked in the Top 10 most of the season, Kansas won the Big Seven and manhandled three of its four NCAA tournament opponents. As pointed out in an earlier installment, Clyde rewrote the tournament record book by scoring 141 points in four games, 58 points more than the prior record. He also averaged 35.3 ppg., more than the previous single game record, corralled 69 rebounds including 18 in the final game and tallied a record 53 tournament field goals and 35 free throws. He also set tourney single game marks for points (44), field goals (16) and free throws (12). Thanks to the official NCAA statistician, erroneous statistics for Clyde, published in a contest at www.NCAA.com/
75-moments, now have been corrected. Unlimited voting for the top NCAA tournament players, teams and moments continues until April 9. In 1951-52, Lovellette led the nation in scoring with 886 total points, a 28.6 ppg. average, and still is the only person to win the national scoring title and the NCAA crown in the same year. He pulled down 14.6 rebounds a game that season. Those totals elevated his career statistics to 24.7 ppg. and 10.2 rpg., a double-double.
And those marks were compiled before a shot clock or the 3-point shot.
A consensus All-American once again, Lovellette was named the Most Valuable Player in the NCAA tournament and 1952 Helms Foundation National Player of the Year. Coach Allen made his feelings known. “I consider Clyde Lovellette the greatest player the game has ever produced,” he asserted. It was one of the few statements Allen made during his long coaching career that no one tried to refute.
After spending the 1952-53 season as an amateur with the U.S. Olympic team and the National Industrial Basketball League champion Phillips 66ers, Lovellette joined the world champion Minneapolis Lakers, which had drafted him in the first round in 1952. During his rookie NBA season, Clyde was the understudy to the great George Mikan. It was a learning year. Clyde averaged 8.2 points per game while Mikan taught him how to use his body to play the bruising defense required on the pro game.
The Lakers won the 1954 title, making Clyde the first player to win NCAA and NBA crowns and an Olympic gold medal. Perhaps fearing how the 24-second clock, introduced in the 1954-55 NBA season, would affect the role of big men, Mikan retired and took a job in the Lakers front office. Lovellette was expected to assume Mikan’s role. For the next eight years the Terre Haute product with a devastating hook shot was an elite NBA player. He added an outside one hand shot to his repertoire to consistently finish among the league’s top scorers and rebounders with the Lakers, Cincinnati Royals and St. Louis Hawks. He was chosen an NBA All-Star in 1956, 1957, 1960 and 1961.
In June 1962, the Boston Celtics acquired Lovellette from the Hawks and he spent the final two seasons as a backup to Bill Russell. The experience brought him two more championship rings but significantly lowered his career scoring and rebounding averages. Over his NBA career Clyde scored 11,947 points and grabbed 6,663 rebounds in 704 regular season games for 17.0 ppg and 9.5 rpg. averages. Returning to Terre Haute after retiring as a pro, Clyde was a radio sports announcer and car salesman before being elected Vigo County Sheriff in 1966. Later, he thrived for many years as a teacher, counselor, director of vocational rehabilitation and coach at White’s Institute, a school for troubled youngsters in Wabash, Ind.
After residing in Munising, Mich. for several years Clyde and his wife Judy now live in North Manchester, Ind.
Lovellette has been enshrined by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle (1982); University of Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame in Lawrence (1988); Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita (1975); Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. (1988); and the new National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo. (2006). His jersey (No. 16) was retired by his alma mater on Feb. 15, 1992.