Loyola celebrates the 1960s

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Loyola celebrates the 1960s

Postby rlee » Mon Dec 17, 2007 2:00 am

Loyola celebrates the 1960s
Praise for a forgotten foe
Harkness: Miss. St. game meant more than final

By Neil Milbert
Chicago Tribune

December 15, 2007

For many years, Jerry Harkness believed winning the 1963 NCAA tournament "was the greatest thing in my life."

As years passed, and he reflected on the express lane he and his Loyola teammates took to the Final Four, he came to see that championship season in a different light.

Now, he looks back on Loyola's 61-51 victory over Mississippi State in the Mideast regional semifinal in Michigan State's old Jennison Fieldhouse and calls it "the greatest thing in my life." And in his rear-view mirror, he sees the losers as winners.

The South still was segregated, and SEC champion Mississippi State was under tremendous pressure to refuse to compete against a team that started four black players: the All-American Harkness, Vic Rouse, Les Hunter and Ron Miller. There was talk of segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett obtaining an injunction to prevent the Bulldogs from leaving the state.

"They sneaked out in the middle of the night and came to play us," Harkness recalled. "Every year someone plays for the national championship and it's an honor to win one. But as you go through life and see what's really important, you realize the historical significance of a school in the Deep South deciding to defy the governor and play against black basketball players for the first time.

"In a game like that you have two winners -- Mississippi State made a statement to the community that broke down some of the barriers, and we played a part in it."

At halftime Saturday night against Northern Illinois in the Gentile Center, Loyola will announce its "All-Decade Team" from the 1960s and there will be a postgame reception for the honorees.

It's no secret that among the honorees will be the starters on the '63 team that came from 15 points behind in the title game to tie two-time defending champion Cincinnati on a Harkness shot at the end of regulation and win 60-58 on Rouse's offensive rebound shot with three seconds left in overtime.

Harkness is coming from Indianapolis. Miller, who resides in Berkeley, Calif., is trying to make arrangements to attend and so is Hunter, who lives in Kansas City. Rouse is deceased and Chicago lawyer John Egan, the only white player in the starting lineup, will be unable to attend after undergoing knee surgery Thursday.

Like DePaul, Marquette and Notre Dame, Loyola was an independent then. Ranked third nationally in the AP and UPI polls, the Ramblers went to the 25-team NCAA tournament as an at-large representative.

Loyola coach George Ireland used a style that was radically different from the norm: full-court pressure defense and an unrelenting go-go offense that unsettled opponents. On the night the Ramblers won the championship, their starters played the entire game and Cincinnati used only one sub.

Loyola averaged 91.8 points per game, while Cincinnati was the nation's best defensive team, allowing opponents an average of 52.9.

"Our whole premise was to get out and run," Hunter said. "We pressed regardless of how far we were ahead or behind. A lot of teams tried to freeze the ball and we stole it -- those were our easiest baskets."

Miller recalled: "Something clicked with us -- the way we played, the personalities on the team. Vic was a ferocious rebounder; he wasn't afraid of anybody. I don't think there was anyone tougher than Jack (Egan). We used to list him at 5 feet 10 inches but he probably was 5-8.

"Les had all that natural ability. Jerry (the only senior) was one year older. You could sense that he would do whatever it took for us to win."

The players recall being almost oblivious to the exhaustive scouting reports that Ireland's only assistant, Jerry Lyne, would bring back.

"We'd go over everything, and then at the last minute Ireland would look at us, rip up the report and say: 'They'll never get into their offense. We'll press 'em and throw everything off,'" Harkness recalled.

"And except for teams like Mississippi State that held their composure, that's what we did."

The recruiting process that produced the five starters was bizarre by today's standards.

"I was a cross-country champion at DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx and didn't play high school basketball until my senior year," Harkness said. "I was playing at the Harlem YMCA and this guy came over and told me: 'You're not bad, you can get a scholarship.' The guy's name was Jackie Robinson. Yes, that Jackie Robinson.

"So I went out for the team and we upset Boys High and won everything [in New York's Public School Athletic League] and still nobody knew me. Then [recruiting guru] Walt November called Ireland, and Ireland said he'd take a chance. ... My grades weren't that good. Ireland said we're going to get you tutors and work with you.

"He introduced me to the dean who said: 'You have to go to your classes and do your homework.' I did that and got a degree."

Egan was the only local, a product of St. Rita High School.

"Egan was on his way to Iowa when he asked if they could do something toward helping him go to law school," Harkness said. "They said no, but Ireland said yes. So John stayed in Chicago and now he's a lawyer."

Hunter and Rouse came from Pearl High in Nashville.

"I had never even heard of Loyola until my senior year when George Ireland came to a national tournament in Nashville that almost all of the Southern black high school champions played in," Hunter said.

"We won the tournament three straight years. Rouse and I were great friends. We knew we could play defense and rebound with the best of them, and if we stayed together we had a shot at winning something.

"I had offers from Massachusetts, Notre Dame and UCLA, but Rouse had a knee operation and they weren't interested. Loyola was the only one that would take us both."

Miller was an undersized center who played with his back to the basket at Columbus High in New York, but November believed he had the potential to play the backcourt and passed the word to Ireland.

"November said I'd be interested in Loyola and I knew Harkness was there, but I wasn't that interested," Miller said. "Ireland came to my house and didn't say more than a few words to me. My mother served him chocolate cake and he talked to her all the time.

"Ireland was the master salesman to my mother. That was the key to me going to Loyola."
rlee
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Postby Bruce Kitts » Mon Dec 17, 2007 5:06 pm

This might have made for a better movie than Glory Road.
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