Mayer: Phog belongs in Hall
Alleged masterminds-that-be selected five guys for the initial class to be enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City’s Sprint Center – James Naismith, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, John Wooden and Dean Smith. Let’s hope some savior adds a sixth icon, Forrest C. Allen, before the formal induction Nov. 19.
Phog belongs in there, right now, as much as the others, probably more than at least two. How the hell could they overlook Doc in favor of a kid he tutored?
No. 1 has to be Naismith, who in 1891 invented the game in Springfield, Mass. He joined the Kansas University faculty in 1898, was KU’s first coach and director of physical education and a beloved spiritual leader, retiring from active teaching in 1937. He died in 1939, at 78, and is buried here.
One of his pupils, Phog Allen, was the father of basketball coaching even though Naismith told him, “You don’t coach basketball, you just play it.” Doc set the stage for people like Wooden and Smith and created a tournament that allowed Russell, Robertson, Wooden and Smith to showcase their skills and talents to the maximum. Anybody ever hear of the NCAA extravaganza?
After incessant goading by Allen, and help from friends like Dutch Lonborg, also a Jayhawk, the NCAA began court championships in 1939. Oregon beat Ohio State at Evanston, Ill., and each team took home $100, though the NCAA lost money.
Inventive Phog convinced the NCAA to hold its coaches convention in Kansas City in 1940, to rekindle interest, never dreaming his Kansas Jayhawks would play Indiana in the title game. All the bills were paid; each team got $750 mainly because of KU as a big gate attraction. World War II caused considerable fits and starts, but Allen, Lonborg and Co. kept the faith and ultimately got great help from Walter Byers and Wayne Duke. These NCAA stalwarts saw the potential and helped set the stage for the 1957 Kansas-North Carolina title game. It created the greatest media turnout in the 18-year meet’s history. There followed the March Madness that produces billions of bucks.
San Francisco’s Bill Russell began his incredible assembly of major titles in 1955 in Kansas City, where Phog had helped set the stage for national focus. UCLA’s John Wooden worked for Allen during the 1921 building of Memorial Stadium and adopted lots of KU tactics. John won his first NCAA title in 1964 – on the Kansas City court Phog had helped hallow. Wooden benefitted richly from the game Naismith invented and Allen refined as the first major coach. With 10 NCAA crowns, Wooden belongs in the No. 1 hall of fame lineup.
Cincinnati’s Robertson played in Allen Fieldhouse in an NCAA Regional and did wondrous things as a collegian and pro. He’s in Russell’s class, but far less titled.
But Dean Smith ahead of Phog? What Tar Heel shill shoved that down some committee’s throat? Smith played at KU under Phog, not a lot, then was a short-term assistant for Doc before Air Force service and UNC assistantship under Frank McGuire. At one time Smith had won more college games than anyone. But Dean ahead of Phog? Great guy, legendary coach, even if he finagled to steal Roy Williams from here – but not before Doc, please!
Maybe they wanted to honor a living Dean Smith rather than a departed Phog Allen? Bullcarp! Up in heaven, Old Doc must feel the same pain as baseballer Buck O’Neil. Both got short-sheeted.