(The fourth of five parts in Final Four week on Minnesota basketball events.)
The guess here is that a good share of our visitors for the Final Four are interested in the location of The Party, in the royal sense of that activity. There also have to be a few basketball people with a strong interest in the game’s traditions, and if so, there are a couple of historic arenas worth visiting:
Williams Arena, home of the Gophers since 1928, and Hutton Arena, home of the Hamline Pipers since the middle of the 1936-37 season.
And the good part is, a Green Line train stop on campus will put you within a five-minute walk of Williams, and a stop on University Ave. will drop you within a 15-minute walk to Hutton on the Hamline campus.
The appeal of seeing Williams in-person is obvious to regular viewers of college basketball on ESPN and other outlets: You get to see what that elevated court under that enormous roof is all about.
There is also a confession to make. The Gophers’ goofball marketers did go along with putting down a white floor this season in the old Barn, cutting greatly into the nostalgic appeal of the place, so you might want to skip Williams and head directly to Hutton.
Plus, when it comes the tradition, what took place in basketball at Hamline, a small college in St. Paul started by a Methodist bishop, is much more amazing than anything the Gophers have had to offer.
Texas Tech is here for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA’s Final Four. You’re all aware of that, obviously.
Here’s what you didn’t know: The first two times Texas Tech earned its way into a postseason basketball tournament, the winners of said tournament were the Hamline Pipers, coached by Joe Hutton Sr.
Those were the 32-team National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (later and still the NAIA) tournaments in Kansas City in 1942 and 1949.
In its initial appearance, Texas Tech defeated Louisiana Tech in the first round and then lost a 37-36 heartbreaker to Southeastern Oklahoma. Three games later, playing for the championship, SE Oklahoma lost 33-31 to Hamline.
In 1949, Texas Tech won twice to reach the quarterfinals, then was blown out by Hamline, 80-56. The Pipers went on to defeat Regis 57-46 in the championship game.
One year earlier, Hamline defeated Mercer, Gonzaga and Manhattan, before losing 68-65 in overtime to Indiana State (coached by John Wooden) in the semifinals. Louisville then defeated Indiana State 82-70, while Hamline was taking third place with a 59-58 victory over Xavier.
Hamline would win its third NAIB title in 1951, defeating New Mexico State (then A&M) in the quarterfinals. Other colleges of current Division I note in that field were Memphis. Florida State, Pepperdine and Providence.
Moral of the story: When you hear of Hamline and success in the 32-team tournament in Kansas City, don’t think of today’s NAIA. Think of a tournament started by Dr. James Naismith, founder of the game, in 1937, and predating the NIT by one year and the NCAA by two, and drawing terrific fields.
Hutton came to Hamline in 1930 and remained through 1965. The true period of glory was from 1932 through 1953, when the Pipers won 17 of Hutton’s 19 titles in the MIAC.
They had the tremendous John Norlander, a 6-foot-3 forward, and 6-foot-6 Howie Schultz leading the way to the title in 1942. Norlander served in the Navy in World War II, then played five seasons of pro basketball with the Washington Capitols. Schultz was deemed too tall for the service, and played both major league baseball and with the Anderson [Ind.] Packers in the National Basketball League.
The 1951 Hamline champions were led by Jim Frtische, a 6-foot-8 center. He also led the Pipers to the title game in 1953 (a 79-71 loss to Southwest Missouri). He was the Lakers’ first round selection in 1953 and played with three NBA teams in two seasons.
The Hamline lineup of the greatest renown led the Pipers to Kansas City in 1948 and 1949: Vern Mikkelsen at center, Bob Lundsten and Hal Haskins at forwards, and Joe Hutton Jr. and Bob Leviska at guards.
Mikkelsen joined the Lakers for four NBA championships and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. And for all his strength and ferocity on the court, Big Mik wasn’t the Pipers’ best player:
That was Haskins, known far and wide as “Sleepy Hal,’’ a name given to him by high school pals in Alexandria, Minn. for an alleged droopy-eyed look.
Mikkelsen had this to say in 1999, on the 50th anniversary of the 1949 championship: “With Joe’s team, everything went through the left forward. The Chicago Bulls thought it was innovative to have Scottie Pippen as a point forward. Joe was doing that 50 years earlier. And Hal Haskins … he was the best.’’
There was another secret to Hutton’s success, other than talent. There was a full commitment to basketball, as demonstrated thusly:
When Haskins died in 2003, I talked with Cheris, his high school sweetheart in Alexandria and then his wife.
Haskins spent three years in the Navy out of high school before enrolling at Hamline. Hal and Cheris were married in October 1949. As the reigning NAIB champions, Hamline was invited to Hawaii to play four games over the holidays in what would be Hal’s senior season.
That trip was going to be a perfect honeymoon, Hal and Cheris figured. They figured wrong.
“I was going to pay my way, but Joe said no,’’ Cheris said. “So, Hal went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and I stayed home and went to my job.’’
In Joe Hutton’s defense, how could he count on the offense to run with full efficiency, if the left forward, from where everything flowed, faced the distraction of also holding a new wife’s hand and walking barefoot in the sand on Waikiki Beach?
(Friday: Clem Haskins.)