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February 3, 2013

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Clyde Lovellette: Basketball’s most dominant collegian

TERRE HAUTE — At the time the sixth annual National Basketball Association draft was conducted on April 26, 1952, Clyde Lovellette was destined to remain an amateur so he could compete on the U.S. Olympic team.

There were 10 NBA teams in 1952-53. The defending champion Minneapolis Lakers were assigned the last pick of each of the 10 rounds.

Lovellette was selected by Minneapolis in the first round though it knew it would not have Clyde’s services until 1953, if at all.

Only 23 countries sent teams to the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Ten teams were seeded: The six best teams in the 1948 London Olympics — U.S., France, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile; Argentina, runner-up in the 1950 Pan American Games; Russia and Czechoslovakia, the two best teams in the 1951 European championship; and Finland, the host team.

The remaining 13 national teams were placed in a double elimination tournament conducted between July 14 and July 18 to identify the best six. As a result, Bulgaria, Cuba, The Philippines, Hungary, Egypt and Canada joined the 10 seeded teams in the 16-team Olympic Games tournament.

The field was divided into four pools of four teams each. The winners and runners-up in each pool advanced to the second round.

Younger readers must understand that the shot clock and the three-point shot were not introduced until the 1980s.

The U.S. opened against Hungary and won easily, 66 to 48. Capt. Dan Pippin of the Peoria Caterpillars, a graduate of the University of Missouri, led the team in scoring with 13 points. Czechoslovakia fell on the second day, 72 to 47, as 7-foot Bob Kurland, an Oklahoma State product and a veteran of the 1948 Olympics, scored 14.

Kurland scored 21 points in the third game as the U.S., coached by Warren Womble of the Peoria Caterpillars and assisted by Forrest “Phog” Allen of Kansas, edged a good Uruguay squad, 57 to 44.

Bracketing placed the U.S. and Russia, both undefeated, as opponents in the first game of the second round. Because of ticket demand, the game was relocated from the Tennis Palatsa, which seated 2,000, to the 4000-seat Messuhalli II.

Russia reportedly was undefeated in more than 900 consecutive games. The game was only five minutes old when Otar Korkiia, Russia’s star center, collided with Lovellette and had to be carried from the floor. The U.S. led at halftime, 39 to 22. Korkiia returned to action in the second half but the Americans continued to dominate, winning 86 to 58.

Kurland again led the U.S. with 15 points while Lovellette and Bob Kenney, Kansas teammates, each scored 14.

The Americans were ready for Chile, a team with speed and shooting ability. With Lovellette’s 25 points leading the way, the U.S. set a single-game Olympics scoring record in the 103 to 55 victory.

Brazil gave the Americans a scare in the next game, 57 to 53, with ball-control tactics. The game was close all the way.

Generally acknowledged to be the third-best team in the Games, Argentina had scored 100 points in its victory over Bulgaria but lost an overtime contest to Uruguay, 66 to 65. The U.S. led at halftime, 43 to 39, thanks to Lovellette’s versatility.

Americans Kenney, Kurland, Charlie Hoag, Marc Freiberger, Wayne Glasgow and Howie Williams, a former Purdue star, were ousted in the second half with four personal fouls each, the limit under existing international rules. Clyde finished with 27 points and the U.S. won 85 to 76, to earn a ticket to a rematch with the USSR on Aug. 2.

The Americans had defeated the Soviets once but their second meeting was a winner-take-all gold medal game. Having learned from their loss and witnessing tactics used successfully by Brazil, the Russians were deliberate, focusing on defense and stalling. The U.S. led 4 to 3 after 10 minutes and 17 to 15 at halftime.

The Russians took the lead early in the second half but the U.S. responded. After holding a nine-point margin, the Americans nurtured a stall of their own which incited a Russian player to sit down at midcourt for a minute or so. The U.S. won the game, 36 to 25, with Lovellette leading the offense with nine points.

Uruguay upset Argentina for the bronze medal, 68 to 59.

Although Clyde played in only seven of the Olympic team’s eight games, he scored 23 more total points than Kenney, the team’s second-leading scorer. Lovellette had 39 field goals and 21 of 26 underhand free throws (80.8%) for 99 points.

Upon returning to the U.S. from Helsinki, Lovellette went to work in public relations for the chemical division of Phillips Oil Co. in Bartlesville, Ok. During evenings and on weekends, he played for the Phillips 66ers, one of nine members of the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL).

With Lovellette leading the way, the Phillips 66ers won the 1952-53 NIBL title by one game over the Peoria Cats. Lovellette, Glasgow, one of Clyde’s Olympic teammates, and Chuck Darling, a former Iowa star and the first-round draft choice of the Rochester Royals of the NBA in 1952, were 66ers named All-NIBL All-Stars.

Clyde’s Olympic teammates Pippin, Freiberger and Ron Bontemps, all Peoria Cats, also were 1952 NIBL All-Stars.

The 66ers played only 16 league games in 1952-53, compiling a 13-3 record. But the team played other games against high-quality amateur competition. Lovellette is credited with scoring 944 points that season to lead the team to an overall 50-5 record.

“It was a great time to be with the Phillips 66ers,” Clyde told a reporter for the Bartlesville Examiner Enterprise later last year. “And we had a group of individuals who really loved the game.”

As much as he enjoyed his one season in the NIBL, Lovellette realized that the relatively new National Basketball Association offered new challenges. And the Minneapolis Lakers — the team that had drafted him in 1952 – was the 1953 NBA champion.

Continued to next week

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