In 1985, my high school basketball team was 26 – 0. We were one game away from the state championship. The trouble was the team we would play pressed the entire length of the court on every possession. I had great post players, but my guards struggled to handle the ball.
It was our only weakness, but I feared it would be our downfall. My uncle, Gene Else, had coached basketball most of his life. He played a year at Gonzaga before entering the Navy in World War II. He would give me advice on fundamentals but hardly ever on strategy. That is until the evening after our 26th win.
Gene Else told me to send the guards down court on out of bounds plays. He said to have one of my post players take the ball out of bounds and the other post player to go to half court. The one big would throw it to the other and we would break the press.
We practiced it for 10 minutes the morning of the game. We didn’t have much time because the game was at noon. Despite the lack of practice, it worked like a charm. We ended up winning the state championship by 23 points. I give credit to my uncle’s advice and the fact I wasn’t too stubborn to take his advice.
Crispus Attucks was an African American born in 1723. On March 5, 1770, Attucks, now a sailor, was in Boston. March 5, 1770 was the date of the Boston Massacre. Crispus Attucks was killed that day, the first person to die in the Revolutionary War.
Indianapolis, Indiana opened a school that they hoped would give blacks an equal education with the whites at an all-black school named after the famous American, Crispus Attucks.
Ray Crowe coached basketball at Crispus Attucks in from 1950 – 1957. In 1954, Crispus Attucks’ basketball team was beaten in the quarterfinals of the Indiana State Tournament by a small school. That school was Milan High School, the team depicted in the movie Hoosiers.
A sophomore on that team was Oscar Robinson. That is the Oscar Robinson that is in the NBA Hall of Fame and until last year held the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season. The next season, Crispus Attucks was the state champion, the only all-black school to win a state championship in Indiana.
The next year, led by Robinson and another great player by the name of Al Maxey, Crispus Attucks, became the first undefeated state champ in Indiana history. Robinson went on to play at the University of Cincinnati. Maxey, who graduated a year later, signed to play at the University of Nebraska. He joined another Indianapolis player at Nebraska, Herschell Turner. A Marshall, Missouri Air Force veteran, joined the Nebraska team in 1957-1958. His name was Wilson Fitzpatrick. The three of them became the first blacks to play Nebraska basketball since 1912.
In 1957-1958, Maxey, a freshman, wasn’t allowed to play varsity basketball. It was an NCAA rule. Herschell Turner was a sophomore and Wilson Fitzpatrick was a senior. It was a memorable season in the fact they defeated Kansas and Kansas State in back to back games in February of 1958.
Kansas, led by Wilt Chamberlain, was ranked number one in the nation when the Huskers beat them. About 12 days later, Kansas State, led by Bob Boozer, was defeated by the same Nebraska team. Kansas State had moved into the number one slot with the Kansas loss.
Despite those huge wins, Nebraska finished a disappointing 12 – 13 on the year. The University of Cincinnati was having a great year. They were one of the 24 teams selected to play in the 1958 NCAA National Tournament. They were sent to the Midwest Region that was played in Lawrence, Kansas. The team was led by Crispus Attucks alum, Oscar Robinson.
Turner and Maxey were friends of Maxey. Fitzpatrick knew all about Lawrence, which was only about 30 minutes from Kansas City. It was his stomping grounds that Fitzpatrick knew well. They jumped in Fitzpatrick’s aging car and headed to Kansas to see Oscar’s team play Kansas State.
Oscar had a decent game, scoring 30 points. However, his team lost to Kansas State in overtime. After the game, the trio from Nebraska headed to the locker room to talk to Oscar.
I have no idea how Oscar was released to be with his friends and Fitzpatrick. All four of them crowded into Fitzpatrick’s car and headed to a jazz club in Kansas City.
The second they arrived, they were celebrities. Everyone knew Oscar Robinson and the crowd assumed the other three were his teammates. The spotlight was pointed at their table and they were treated like royalty.
Soon it was time to get Oscar back to Lawrence. As the Indianapolis men were saying their goodbyes, Fitzpatrick waited in the car. As Oscar walked away, Fitzpatrick yelled at him.
He asked Oscar why he passed the ball to players that had no idea what to do with it once they had it. Fitzpatrick was direct with his advice. “Shoot the ball.”
Oscar didn’t say a word and turned to walk away. As Fitzpatrick was getting ready to leave, there was a knock on his window. He rolled it down to find Oscar Robinson starring at him. “If Arkansas beats us tomorrow, it won’t be because I didn’t shoot.”
Back in 1958, a third place game was played in the regions. Cincinnati was to meet Arkansas. Oscar took Wilson Fitzpatrick’s advice. Cincinnati blew out Arkansas. Oscar scored 56 points, a regional record. Sometimes, it’s important to listen to advice no matter how late it’s given.