(Second of five parts in this Final Four week on Minnesota basketball events)
There has been nothing in 53 years as a sports writer to top the 28 months spent at the St. Cloud Times, from May 1966 to September 1968. Mike Augustin was the sports editor, I was his full-timer, and Jon Roe and Frank Hyland were working for the Times and finishing degrees at St. Cloud State.
A good time was had by all.
We covered plenty in Central Minnesota, but the dominant topics in that time were St. John’s football and St. Cloud State basketball. John Gagliardi, not yet 40, had won NAIA championships with the Johnnies in 1963 and 1965, and Red Severson, in his 30s, was bringing large crowds to the new Halenbeck Hall to watch his Huskies, a Northern Intercollegiate Conference powerhouse.
Severson was a promoter as well as a coach and started the Granite City Classic, an eight-team holiday tournament featuring the Huskies, a couple of powers from the MIAC and some of the better teams nationally in NAIA basketball.
The Huskies had lost out to Bemidji State for the NIC title in 1967. St. Thomas won the MIAC-NIC playoff game against the Beavers and represented District 13 in the fabulous, 32-team NAIA tournament in Kansas City.
A month after the Huskies’ season ended, there was another basketball event to fill Halenbeck: The NAIA All-Stars assembled in St. Cloud to prepare for the Pan-Am Trials tournament that would be held at Williams Arena in early April.
The players on that team included the following:
Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, Winston-Salem State, the No. 2 overall selection in the 1967 draft, between No. 1 Jimmy Walker of Providence and No. 3 Clem Haskins of Western Kentucky.
Al (Where’s the Fire) Tucker, Oklahoma Baptist, No. 6 overall in 1967, and a record holder with 471 points in three NAIA tournaments.
Bob Kauffman, Guilford College, No. 3 overall selection in 1968, following Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
Plus – Charlie Paulk, Northeastern Oklahoma, No. 7 overall in 1968; Henry Logan, Western Carolina, No. 32 overall in 1968; and Gene Littles, High Point [N.C.], a fifth-rounder in 1969, and six-year player in the ABA.
Darryl Jones from St. Benedict’s was outstanding, too, and had led his team to the NAIA title over Oklahoma Baptist a couple of weeks before the trials.
Severson received permission to reassemble his Huskies for an exhibition game to conclude the NAIA All-Stars’ stay in St. Cloud.
It was more fun than two county fairs – first, the pregame dunking contest that ended when Where’s The Fire tapped the ball off the rim with his nose, and then a fast, outstanding game in which the Huskies’ Terry (Turk) Porter put on one of his long-range shooting exhibitions.
The Central Minnesotans left Halenbeck with two opinions: One, that was great, and two, why didn’t Turk get a spot on this team?
The NAIA joined teams from the NCAA, the Armed Forces and AAU (older, industrial league players) for the Pan-Am Trials at Williams Arena. The round-robin, three-day tournament over the weekend of April 7-9, 1967 received considerable coverage in the Minneapolis newspapers.
The crowds weren’t bad – over 14,000 for three sessions – and result was an upset that we Central Minnesotans credited to the energetic push given to the NAIA team in Halenbeck:
The NAIA and the Armed Forces both went 2-1, the AAU and the NCAA were 1-2, and the NAIA was declared the trials winner by virtue of a third-day win over the Armed Forces.
The Tribune had both game coverage written by Bob Fowler and a sidebar by Ira Berkow after the first night, and this was young Mr. Berkow’s assessment of the NAIA’s effort:
“Earl Monroe and Henry Logan, a pair of extraordinary guards, shot, passed, dribbled, stole passes and sent the crowd of 4,807 into frenetic shouts as they led the NAIA …
“Monroe, a 6-3 ½ senior from Winston Salem State who led the nation with a 41.5 scoring average, hit 20 points. Logan, a 6-foot junior who has been a small-college All-American for the last three years, hit 19 points.
“And what a dissembler they made of scoring statistics last night. For, when they weren’t shooting, they were pulling the defense out to them and then whipping in swift and spectacular passes to the big men who just laid up the ball.’’
The crowd’s frenzied reaction to the NAIA’s guard play was not shared by the stodgy basketball selection committee – at least in the case of Earl the Pearl.
The larger committee reported its recommendations to a seven-person Pan-Am selection committee, headed by the stodgiest basketball man of them all, Oklahoma State’s Hank Iba – a legendary advocate of slow-paced hoops.
The racist ethic that still permeated basketball’s bureaucracy leaps at you in reading about the trials. And this was the kicker in that area:
There were 18 of the 48 players selected for another camp at which the roster would be reduced to 12 players for the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg in late July. Monroe had scored a tournament-leading 62 points in three games, including 26 in a final game victory over Armed Forces that was a tournament high.
Earl the Pearl was not among the 18 players selected. Neither was Elvin Hayes, for that matter.
Asked about this, Hal Fischer, the coach for the Pan-Am team, said: “I don’t know why Monroe didn’t get more votes. I’d say he is a fine player. There’s no question of his ability. I know he had quite a few mistakes against his name on the statistic sheet.’’
Russ Lyons, a vice chairman of the basketball committee, said: “I can’t speak for every man on the committee, but I believe the general feeling after watching the trials was that Monroe wouldn’t have helped the Pan-American team.''
That was a good one, Russ.
Obviously, the committee's general feeling aligned with a Minneapolis Star reporter who described Monroe and Logan, the NAIA guards, as “fancy Dan pointmakers.’’
The decision-makers had to keep the racism under wraps to a degree, and thus named Logan to the 12-man Pan-Am team. The USA had no challengers in international basketball at the time and the chosen Yanks cruised to the gold medal in Winnipeg.
As for Earl the Pearl, he made all-Halenbeck for sure that spring, and had a fine NBA career, filled with wonderful, fancy Dan moments.
(Wednesday: When the Minneapolis Lakers and Harlem Globetrotter had serious showdowns for pro basketball supremacy.)