Al McGuire was a national championship coach at Marquette and a commentator on TV. He was funny, controversial, outrageous and sometimes prophetic. Al often said, “even seconds can be a lifetime in college basketball.”
Old Scruffy wasn’t famous for anything in particular.
But he did remember stuff. And he had a good memory of one specific seven-second span in one sensational basketball game.
The incident happened in 1964, but let’s start out only five years ago.
Scruffy was at an “All Alumni” cocktail party during the Drake Relays in 2009 (they didn’t check gradepoints at the door). Two friends waved him over to join the conversation with a tall fellow.
“Scruff, this is Dave Hanson. He was on the ’63 basketball team.”
Scruffy told Dave that he remembered him well. Dave smiled.
Old Scruff thanked Dave for a memory he had provided 45 years ago. Dave smiled more. Then Scruffy had the audacity to describe the final seven seconds of a game in February of 1964. That was risky.
As he told the story, he knew he was in danger of looking like a donkey in front of Dave and his own friends.
If his memory didn’t match the facts, the guy who lived the moment was there to correct him.
But, Scruffy was relieved to see Dave nod in agreement, voice his accord, and smile even more as the story was told.
After a full half hour of more basketball talk, Scruffy and his buddies left the party to meet up with other friends.
As they rode the elevator to the street, one friend said, “Scruffy, I think you just made Dave’s day.” Maybe. But Dave also had validated what Scruffy assumed to be the truth for all those years.
That day in February of 1964 is like a black-and-white snapshot sitting in a shoebox on Scruffy’s desk.
He dusts if off periodically, smiles, and reminds himself how lucky he’s been to have it on his résumé for (what has since become) 50 years.
Drake vs. Wichita (not Wichita State in those days). The Shockers were ranked in the Top 10 and Drake was knocking at the door. Wichita easily had won the first game, kicking off the Missouri Valley Conference season in December. Scruffy had been on Christmas Break (not Winter Break in those days) and listened to the loss on his transistor radio.
By the time the rematch rolled around in Des Moines, the Bulldogs had given him enough hope to believe they could pull off the upset. He wasn’t the only Drake student who shared that dream.
The campus was alive with basketball fever.
And for Young Scruff, it was something that he barely could believe. He was an 18-year-old kid who loved basketball. His small-town background had only allowed him to read about the big-time college games. Now, he had a ticket for the biggest game in the Valley. Maybe the biggest game in the country that week.
He left for Vet’s Auditorium at 1 p.m. for a 7:30 game. There would be a freshman game first (another reference to “those days”), but the student fans stood in the cold – bitter cold – for nearly 3 hours before the doors opened.
At 4 p.m., the security guards opened the narrow doors and hundreds of the kids jammed the opening without regard for safety or respect for their fellow students.
Scruffy was near the front and was pushed by tons of humanity with one thought: first ones in get the best seats in the student section.
He got to the second row of bleachers, directly across from the Drake bench. He would have the Bulldogs in front of him in the second half.
The students sat for an hour before the freshman game, two more hours for that contest, another half hour during the shoot-around, and then a few more additional minutes during the final warm-ups.
Wichita (like today’s Shockers) was for real. The Missouri Valley was the best conference in the country. Cincinnati recently had won two national championships and lost a third in overtime to Loyola. And now the boys from the state of Kansas were the best team in a conference of powerful teams ... Cincy, Louisville, Bradley, St. Louis, Drake and more.
Wichita had a pair of 6-foot-7 forwards who were of All-American quality.
Nate Bowman and Dave Stallworth. And they had a point guard in Kelly Pete who was very impressive.
Drake also boasted some quality players. McCoy MacLemore was an incredible 6-6 leaper, a big time scorer and rebounder known as “Double Mac”.
The small forward was Gene Bogash (6-5), a raw boned JuCo transfer with an awkward looking jumper that he repeatedly hit from the baseline.
Larry Prinns, a 6-10 space-eater held his own against some of the league’s huge centers such as George Wilson and Joe Allen.
Gene West was a shooting guard from up the road in Ames who played with cerebral poise. And Billy Foster was the local guy who had followed his brother, Jerry, to Drake and become a dynamite point guard. The locals had their own cheering section and always called him “Lacy”.
Coach Maury John had a short bench and stuck with a seven-man rotation. Herman Watson got minutes subbing at both guard positions. (Herman was a story himself, but we’ll save that for another day.) And Hanson (remember him from the cocktail party?) was the 6-6 guy who found a lot of playing time at both center and forward.
The game was fabulous. Scruffy has been to many great games. He has basketball memories of Biblical proportion. He remembers players, venues and outcomes that could keep him babbling for six months (which is good because sometimes he DOES babble for six months and needs a good subject). But, that game is No. 1 in his heart. There are others that might be very close, but ...
The postgame celebration was sensational. The male students went to the quadrangle of women’s dorms around the reflecting pool and acted like crazed college kids. Not much of an act. The glow carried over for a Drake Skip Day which meant “no classes” (Like Scruffy would have gone to class anyway.
He cut classes for a lot weaker reasons than that.) And, the next week found Drake in the Top 10 AP and UPI rankings ... a spot they would hold for a while.
Then, in March, Scruff hitchhiked to Lawrence, Kans., for a conference championship playoff game that ended in heartbreak. And those seven seconds? Here’s how he told it to Dave: “Drake is down by three (please note another “those days” reference – NO 3-point shot). Gene West drives the lane where he is fouled. Wichita calls a timeout to ice him. Seven seconds remaining.
“West hits both ends of the one and one to close the gap to one point. Drake calls a timeout to set up its defense. Stallworth decides to throw the home run ball to go over the top of the defense.
“You (meaning Dave) leap and get your fingertips on the ball.
It falls at your feet and you scoop it up. Three dribbles gets you to the front court where you call timeout. Three seconds remain on the clock.
West inbounds the ball to Foster at the top of the key. Lacy has his back to the basket and is covered by Kelly Pete. Bogash sets a massive ball screen as Foster turns and elevates in one move. He releases a 20-foot jumper as 12,500 hearts quit beating. The buzzer sounds. Cotton.”
Lucky Scruffy was in the second row and not the balcony when he jumped to the floor. A cheerleader leaped into his arms and gave him a kiss.
Young Scruffy felt like it was Times Square on VJ Day (there’s the final “those days” reference). Lucky he was in that moment. In a parallel universe, he might have lost his ticket, had the flu or been trampled on the way into the auditorium.
But, he was in THAT universe. At THAT game. With the perfect view. Basic quantum physics or good luck ... he didn’t care.
The NCAA tournament starts this week. It “ain’t no Lifetime Movie,” so we don’t know how it’s going to end. But, if you’re watching one of those 67 games, and it’s close. And, say there’s seven seconds left. Keep watching because seven seconds can be a lifetime (of memories) in college basketball.