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January 27, 2013

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Clyde Lovellette: Basketball’s most dominant collegian (Part I)

TERRE HAUTE — The National Collegiate Athletic Association is having a contest these days to honor the best basketball players to compete in its annual championship tournament.

In order to assist voters, the contest administrator (which turns out to be CBS Sports, not the NCAA) has narrowed the field down to 75 contestants.

The finalists include Larry Bird and another familiar name with extraordinary credentials:

• He is the only player in history to lead the nation in scoring and win the NCAA title in the same season.

• During the NCAA tournament, he averaged more than 35 points per game and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

• He broke the existing NCAA tournament scoring record BY 58 POINTS.

• He established a new NCAA tournament single game record with 44 points.

• He was named an All-American as a sophomore, junior and senior.

• He was selected Helms Foundation College Player of the Year

• He was the leading scorer and Most Valuable Player on the U.S. Olympic team.

• He was the first player in history to win an NCAA title, an NBA title and an Olympic gold medal.

• He is enshrined at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Kan.

With all those qualifications, Clyde Edward Lovellette surely seems to be a cinch to be selected high among the elite group. Right?

Don’t be so certain. Several obstacles stand in his way.

The biggest hurdle is Time.

 It has been 61 years since Lovellette dominated college basketball while playing for the University of Kansas and leading the 1952 U.S. Olympic team to gold at Helsinki, Finland.  

Lovellette retired after 11 seasons in the NBA in 1963. That was 50 years ago.

It was 66 years go when Lovellette, a junior at Terre Haute Garfield, led the first previously undefeated high school team to the championship game of the 1947 single class Indiana basketball tournament.

So, unless you are a basketball junkie with gray hair, you would have to be over 70 to remember Lovellette’s high school or college supremacy. Since there is no age requirement imposed upon voters, anyone can vote online for his or her five favorite players, favorite team and favorite tournament moment.

And only a relatively small percentage of those old enough to remember Clyde are computer literate. Ballots can be accessed at www.ncaa.com/75-

moments.

When the ballot was first placed online, Clyde’s last name was spelled “Lovelette.” That error has been corrected. Mispronunciations of his name on videos of Clyde and the 1952 Kansas national championship team have not yet been fixed.

There are two more errors imprinted on Clyde’s online ballot that make you wonder where CBS found its statistics. On the page expounding “accolades,” or reasons why Lovellette is a honors candidate, his career scoring statistics are listed at 13.5 points per game and his NCAA tournament average is presented at 17.3 ppg.

Freshmen were ineligible in 1948-49 so Clyde played three years of varsity basketball at Kansas. As a soph in 1949-50, he scored 545 points in 25 games or 21.8 ppg. As a junior in 1950-51, he scored 548 points in 24 games or 22.8 ppg. And as a senior in 1951-52, he scored 886 points in 31 games or 28.6 ppg.

That’s 1979 points in 80 games or 24.7 ppg., considerably more than the 13.5 ppg. shown on Clyde’s accolades page.

The discrepancy between the average points scored by Lovellette during the 1952 NCAA tournament and the scoring average reported on Clyde’s online accolades page (17.3 ppg.) is even more erratic.

In four NCAA tournament games, Lovellette scored 31, 44, 33 and 33 points, totaling 141 points or 35.25 ppg. That total eclipsed the existing NCAA tournament record of 83 held by Don Sunderlage of Illinois by 58 points

Clyde’s actual point per game average is more than double the tournament scoring average shown on his online ballot.

Lovellette’s 44 points broke the NCAA tournament single-game scoring record, and his 33 points against St. John’s was the most ever scored in a championship game.

1952 was an Olympic year and, for the first time since 1912, the Soviet Union chose to send selected athletes to Helsinki. With the U.S. engaged in a bitter Cold War with the USSR, a probable confrontation between the two countries on the basketball court was politically important.

The U.S. Olympics basketball committee, chaired by Howard A. Hobson, created a new format for selecting team members from available amateur talent.

The committee invited the NCAA champion (Kansas) and runner-up (St. John’s); the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball champion (Southwest Missouri State); the National Invitational Tournament champion (LaSalle); and the four best teams from the Amateur Athletic Union tourney (Peoria Caterpillar Tractor, Phillips 66 Petroleum, Air Force and Fibber McGee and Molly) to a participate in a tryout tournament at Madison Square Garden and the Kansas City Auditorium between March 29 and April 1.

After the tryouts, 14 players were selected to comprise the 1952 Olympic team, seven college players and seven amateur players.

All seven college players chosen were from Kansas: Lovellette, William Lienhard, Robert Kenney, William Hougland, Dean Kelley, Charles Hoag and John Keller.

Dan Pippin, Frank McCabe, Marcus Freiberger, Ron Bontemps and Howard Williams were selected from the Caterpillars. Bob Kurland and Wayne Glasgow of Phillips 66 also were named to the squad.

Continued to next week

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