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A most conventional win for the Thorobreds
Sandy Treadwell
March 22, 1971
Downtown Kansas City swells and shifts with the passing of conventions. Last fall it was the Shriners riding motorcycles through the go-go parlors on 12th Street. In February it was the 8,000 chicken pluckers of the American Poultry Association attending lectures on the latest methods of butchering and packaging fowl. Last week representatives from 200 Indian tribes gathered at the Continental Hotel to hear a speech by Spiro Agnew, and just a block away, at the Muehlebach Hotel, Minnesota Fats shot pool and Rona Barrett spread Hollywood gossip before a group of movie-theater owners. But attracting far greater interest than any of these was a week-long program at the Municipal Auditorium. It was a frantic happening, college basketball's oldest, most grueling event—the NAIA tournament. For six days 72,500 people watched a field of 32 district winners eliminate each other until there was one. The process consumed some 50 hours of playing time and included three days when it was possible to watch games, nonstop, from 9:30 a.m. to midnight.
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March 22, 1971

A Most Conventional Win For The Thorobreds

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Pete Newell, the San Diego general manager, watched the constant flow of players during the opening two rounds. "After a couple of days it begins to look like the same two teams leave, change uniforms and come back," Newell said. "I'm starting to go stir crazy." On Thursday, when Kentucky State beat Grambling 93-81, the tournament sorted itself out. It was apparent that the Thorobreds would repeat as NAIA champions. "Nobody can touch us," Coach Lucias Mitchell said after the game. "We've got Elmore Smith, and all the scouts know how fantastic he is. Travis Grant has to be the best shooter in college. Has to be. And then there's Graham who's sooo quick, and sooo underrated. They are the best frontcourt in college basketball. When we finish we're hoping for a bid from the NIT." The bid, alas, never came.

Early in the week Kentucky State players, along with most of the others in the tournament, spent their free time socializing at the Bellerive Hotel with 1,700 students from Eau Claire State. The Wisconsin students established themselves as the most enthusiastic group to arrive in town since 20 hitchhikers from Cedarville College in Ohio marched off to a commercial blood bank in 1964 to give enough pints to pay for their tickets. Eau Claire's partisans just drank beer, enough to fill the Bellerive to the scuppers with beer cans. "After a while the hotel manager gave up on us," said head cheerleader Bill Bolden. "The athletic director won't admit it, but we're a party school. That's why the other teams here hate to see us lose."

On Friday night, with beaten Eau Claire departed, Travis (Machine) Grant scored 39 points and Smith blocked seven shots to send the Thorobreds past Elizabeth City 104-91 and into the finals. The auditorium turned soul on Saturday. As 200 State enthusiasts sang spirituals laced with chants ("Don't be so mean, Machine" and "Big E, bad as you want to be") Grant responded with 43 more points and Smith managed 15 rebounds. When the 'Breds put Eastern Michigan and the tournament away 102-82 their followers danced on the court.

And then it was time for another Kansas City show. Out went the basketball players, out went the Indians and theater owners. And in came the dogs. Lots of them. They were already barking at the Municipal Auditorium. Heart of America Dog Show, you know.

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