This year, the early rounds of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament served up even more upsets than usual, or so it seemed. Consequently, the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 featured too many uninspiring matchups and, frankly, mediocre games. The main exception was the Kansas-Duke clash — a game for the ages.
Fortunately, a good Final Four field has emerged. It features Villanova (second place in the Big East regular season and champion of its tournament); Kansas (the Big Twelve regular season and tournament champ); Loyola of Chicago (the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament champ); and Michigan (fourth place in the Big Ten but winner of its tournament). Villanova and Kansas are number one seeds and Michigan is a three. Loyola was seeded eleven, but should have been considerably higher.
As importantly, the Final Four doesn’t include Florida State (ninth place in the ACC and losers of 12 games) or Kansas State (fourth place in the Big Eight and losers of 12 games). Both of these teams fell in the Elite Eight.
I’m fired up enough about this Final Four to revive my practice of naming all-time all-star teams for each participant. I’ll start with Loyola.
The first NCAA tournament game I remember watching was Loyola’s overtime win over Cincinnati in the 1963 championship game. It was exciting enough to start me on the way to becoming a college basketball fan for life.
Until this March, Loyola hadn’t accomplished much of note since that championship season. There was a Sweet Sixteen appearance the following year and one in 1985, the least year the Ramblers made the NCAA tournament.
Accordingly, it was pretty easy to pick a first team of all-time Loyola stars. But to pick five more all stars, I had to rely heavily on this list by Andrew Doughty. Here is the result:
Darius Clemons (1978-82)
He’s the Ramblers all-time leader in assists and ranks seventh on the all-time scoring list. As a junior, he averaged 21.9 points and 7.8 assists, good enough to earn him conference player of the year.
Alfrederick Hughes (1982-86)
A world-class gunner, Hughes could shoot Loyola to victory or shoot them out of any game. Early in his career, he did enough of the latter that some Loyola fans wore “Shoot Alfrederick Hughes” t-shirts. But as a senior he shot Loyola into the Sweet Sixteen and became a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
For his career, Hughes averaged 24.3 points per game and was a two-time conference player of the year.
Jerry Harkness (1960-63)
He was the star of the 1963 championship team, earning first team All-America honors for the second straight year. His shot with time winding down in regulation sent the championship game into overtime. Harkness averaged at least 21 points per game in all three of his college seasons. He went on to play in the NBA for one season and in the ABA for two.
Harkness appears in a famous photograph shaking hands at mid-court with Joe Don Gold of Mississippi State just before the NCAA national semi-final game. The Mississippi State team had defied segregationist governor Ross Barnett to play against a Loyola team with four black starters. And Gold defied the culture of his state by shaking hands with Harkness.
The two went on to be lifelong friends. In 2011, Harkness attended Gold’s funeral.
Les Hunter (1961-64)
Harkness’ co-star on the championship team, he made most of the big plays down the stretch of the title game. As a senior, with Harkness gone, Hunter averaged 21.4 points and 15.3 rebounds per game. He went on to play one season in the NBA and eight in the ABA.
LaRue Martin (1969-72)
Martin is best remembered for having been the first player in the 1972 NBA draft. Portland selected him ahead of Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving. The pick was inspired by a game in which Martin outplayed the great Bill Walton. It has been said that this game was the extent of Portland’s scouting of Martin, but this may be a myth.
There was plenty more than one game to love about Martin’s college career. He was a two-time All-American and averaged 15.9 rebounds for his three-year college career. Martin was a bust as a pro, however, averaging just 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds over a four-year NBA career.
Clayton Custer (2016-present)
The junior point guard is the star of the present team, having transferred from Iowa State. Custer leads the team in scoring and assists. He shoots .527 percent from the floor and .454 percent on his three-pointers. His shot with only three seconds left carried the Ramblers past Tennessee and into the Sweet Sixteen.
Wibs Kautz (1936-39)
He was a two-time All-American and star guard on the 1938-39 team that went 21-1. Kautz played professionally for Chicago and Grand Rapids, but had his career interrupted by World War II.
Charlie “Feed” Murphy (1926-1930)
Another two-time All-American, Murphy went on to play professionally for Chicago and Oshkosh. That’s all I know about him.
Wayne Sabbelton (1978-82)
A native of Jamaica, Sabbelton was a rebounding machine. Twice he finished second in the nation in boards. As a senior Sabbelton averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds per game, gaining conference player of the year honors. He had a very brief NBA career with the New Jersey Nets.
Mike Novak (1936-39)
Yet another two-time All-American, Novak starred with Kautz on the 21-1 1938-39 team. At 6-9, he was one of the great early “big men” of basketball, and enjoyed a very successful professional career that didn’t end until 1954, with the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers).
Honorable mention goes to those on Andrew Doughty’s list who didn’t make my top ten:
Blake Schilb (2003-2007)
Andre Moore (1984-87)
Jack Kerris (1945-49)
Carl Golston (1982-86)
Andre Battle (1981-85)
Keith Gailes 1988-91)
Milton Doyle (2013-17)