When 504 basketball coaches arrived in Kansas City last week for their annual convention and the game's national championship they were not really surprised to learn that everything, as the song goes, was up to date. Gone was the lurid and lively Kansas City of the '20s and '30s when Tom Pendergast ran the town. Then gambling joints were conveniently located in the downtown business district, saloon doors didn't have locks because they never closed, and in nightclubs naked (that's right, naked) waitresses served the patrons their beer and spiced shrimp.
The Municipal Auditorium, where Cincinnati, Utah, St. Joseph's and "unbeatable" Ohio State were to play for the championship, was constructed in those days. With its massive walls and vaulted roof it contains the highest percentage of concrete of any building in the world. Tom Pendergast owned the Ready-Mixed Concrete Company.
The modern Kansas City, the coaches found, has been ventilated. Its citizens sedately boast of their art gallery and university, their symphony and their sirloins. Which makes it altogether fitting that the biggest thrill Kansas City had' to offer last Saturday night was not supplied by a spicy shrimp, but rather by the most memorable basketball double-header ever played in a national championship.
It began at 7 p.m., and by the time it ended nearly five hours later the 10,700 limp patrons in Tom's concrete vault not only had seen a consolation round first game that went to four overtimes, but had witnessed a nervy bunch of underdogs from Cincinnati outfight, outplay and eventually outscore that nonpareil of college teams, Ohio State.
The Ohio State team, as unemotional as a machine, came to Kansas City unbeaten in 31 consecutive games played over the past two years. Winner of last year's title, the Buckeyes' greatest strength was their composure. They always took the floor as if the thought of losing had never occurred to them.
In Jerry Lucas the team had the best basketball player of the era. When opponents attempted to double-or triple-team Lucas, Larry Siegfried, the captain, and Mel Nowell would shoot from outside where they averaged nearly 50% of their field-goal attempts. On defense Ohio State had John Havlicek, a onetime high school quarterback who was as smooth as Johnny Unitas and as tough as Bobby Layne. He always guarded the opposition's toughest man and usually stopped him cold.
The only exception to the Buckeyes' peaceful aplomb was Siegfried. "He's a bit of a role player," Ohio State Coach Fred Taylor has said. Siegfried often would wave his arms, telling the team what the defense was and moving men around. The team had already recognized the defense, but Siegfried was showing he was captain. When Lucas began putting inner soles in his shoes so did Siegfried. Lucas wore his sweat pants when introduced before a game. So did Siegfried. When Richie Hoyt, a forward, got a corset for an arthritic condition that hampered his movement, Siegfried asked for a special hip pad. But if Siegfried was a bit of an actor, he was also a superb basketball player.
Taylor, of course, was responsible for his team's workmanlike attitude. Only 34, he was named Coach of the Year last season and was given the honor again last week. A year of having every opponent point for his team had left him tired and tense, but had not marred the color of his speech. "A real barn-burner," he said when his team beat Louisville by a single point. He took his players back to Columbus for three days of furious and exhausting practice. "Now they're head hunting again," he reported Friday.
The first available head belonged to St. Joseph's, the team Ohio State played in the first semifinal game Friday night. A surprise champion in the East, St. Joseph's is a small school that had never before gone so far in the NCAA tournament. When it won at Charlotte its balding, insomniac coach, Jack Ramsay, forgot his limited budget and promised his team new basketball shoes for Kansas City. Then, carried away, he bought them all hats too. In the small dark hours of Friday morning he had a nightmare that he was standing on the bench shouting for time out, but nobody would stop the game. That's about the way it turned out against Ohio State Friday night. St. Joe played poorly, and the Buckeyes won 95-69.
Oscar brought no championship