Lou Hudson, former Gophers star, dies at 69

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2014 - 11:16 PM

Lou Hudson died on Friday in Atlanta after a major stroke in March put him in hospice care. “Sweet Lou” will be remembered as one of the greatest players in Gophers basketball history. He went on to star for the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.

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Irwin Smallwood was a golf writer, sports editor and editor for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record for nearly a half century. For most of that time, Cleola Hudson worked for the Smallwood family as a housekeeper and other duties.

Segregation still had a strong hold on the South in the early 1960s. “We weren’t really covering the black high schools at that time,” said Smallwood, now 88. “Mrs. Hudson told me a few times that she had a son who played basketball, and she thought he was pretty good at it, and that I might want to go to Dudley High School and watch him.

“I did that, and her son was bringing the ball up the court, and making shots, and getting above everyone for rebounds, and I went back to the office and said, ‘Gentlemen, there’s quite a basketball player over at Dudley named Lou Hudson.’

“Bones McKinney, the coach at Wake Forest, would have loved to have Lou, but it was just a couple of years too early for that down here. Bones told his good friend John Kundla about Lou, and that’s how he wound up at Minnesota.”

Lou Hudson, among the greatest of all Gophers basketball players, died Friday at age 69 while in hospice care in Atlanta. He had suffered a stroke on March 24.

Hudson had a previous stroke in 2005 that had left him needing a wheelchair or other aids to get around.

“I talked to Lou a couple of months ago and he was rehabbing every day and feeling good about the progress he was making,” Smallwood said. “He said, ‘We’re going to play a round of golf before this summer is over.’ ”

Mardi Hudson, Lou’s wife, said he suffered the stroke while lifting arm weights on the deck of his place in Atlanta. “The terrible thing about all of this has been to see him there in the hospice, looking so darn good,” she said. “Lou had been working out four, five times a day, getting stronger.”

Mardi Smith was from Windom, Minn., and first met Lou when he was a student at Minnesota and she was a student at Mankato State in the mid-1960s. Two decades later, Mardi was living in Park City, Utah. Lou was working on the Atlanta Hawks telecasts as an analyst, he connected with Mardi for a dinner date and they wound up getting married in 1987.

Lou became a prominent citizen in Park City and, in 1993, he was elected to the city council with the help of campaign signs that read, “Sweet Lou for You.”

There was another Sweet Lou, Nanne, the hockey player from the Soo, on the University of Minnesota campus when Hudson arrived in the summer of 1962. More than Sweet Lou, Hudson was known as the lead name in the Minnesota basketball partnership of “Hudson, Clark and Yates.”

New to town

Hudson, Archie Clark and Don Yates were the first three black players to receive basketball scholarships to Minnesota, through the outreach of coach John Kundla and his assistant, Glen Reed.

“I was 17 when I got to Minnesota,” Hudson said in a 1994 interview. “I had been out of high school less than a week. Clark and Yates did not arrive until later in the summer. It was amazing, for a kid who had lived with segregation in North Carolina, to be on that campus …

“I would ride the bus down to Hennepin Avenue once in a while, just to run into another black person and maybe talk for a few minutes.”

Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition at the time. Reed was the varsity assistant and also the freshman coach in the winter of 1962-63.

“We would bring the freshmen over to scrimmage the varsity,” Reed said in 1999. “If the varsity tried to press, Hudson, Clark or Yates would be shooting a layup a couple of seconds later.”

Hudson was a sleek 6-foot-5 forward from Greensboro and came to the Gophers because of a Kundla-McKinney connection dating to the NBA. Yates was a 6-foot-3 guard from Uniontown, Pa., the town from where the Gophers had recruited quarterback Sandy Stephens. Clark was a 6-foot-2 guard who was serving in the Air Force; he came on a recommendation of Reed’s friend Buzz Bennett, who was the basketball coach at Andrews Air Force Base.

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