At halftime of a 1968 NIT game in which Duke was thrashing Oklahoma City 49-28, Chiefs coach Abe Lemons told half his players to switch from their blue jerseys to white ones. Then, to the amazement of the Madison Square Garden crowd, he had them scrimmage on the court. "Fellas," Lemons said, "all I want you to do is hustle a little, so they don't boo us right out of town."
The ploy was unorthodox (the Chiefs still lost), but then, so was Lemons. In 35 years at Oklahoma City, Texas and Pan American, Lemons—who died on Sept. 2 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease-won 599 games and an NIT title, but he is perhaps better remembered for recruiting a circus giant as a publicity stunt and hiring a magician to enliven pregame pep talks. Often compared to fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers, Lemons espoused a philosophy all his own. "What's an education?" he said in 1985. "It's good for the average guy, but if somebody hands a poor kid $2 million to go around half-naked bouncing a ball, then he'd better take it. Then, if he wants a diploma, he can always buy a college and put his name on it, like Oral Roberts."
Lemons employed two offenses: the GMA, or "general milling around," and the Daylight Offense, as in "the first guy who sees daylight after he crosses midcourt shoots." Nor did he believe in opponent scouting reports. ("They tie knots," he said, assessing the University of Windsor.) But he got results. In the early '70s he won with unheralded Oklahoma City teams that featured several Native Americans, whom Lemons, in his drawl, called "Endins." "I have to remember not to puff my cigar around my Endins," he said. "I might be cussin' in smoke signals."