From Naismith to Whalen
Sixteen mostly sweet facts about the first 100 years, or so, of Minnesota basketball:
On Feb. 8 — four years after Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Mass. — Hamline University of St. Paul defeated the Minnesota State School of Agriculture 9-3 in the first intercollegiate game.
Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus — our great old Barn and still home to the Gophers — played host to its first basketball game on Feb. 4. Dr. James Naismith, then of the University of Kansas, was the honorary referee.
Minnesota won the Big Ten title. One of the Gophers’ standouts was Johnny Kundla, who later went on to coach the Minneapolis Lakers to six professional titles. He then coached the Gophers for a decade starting in 1959.
Hamline, coached by the legendary Joe Hutton, won the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball championship. It added two more titles in 1949 and 1951 (the NAIB later became the NAIA).
Myer “Whitey” Skoog, a Brainerd native who played for the Gophers and Minneapolis Lakers, was a 5-11 guard and one of the godfathers of the jump shot. Skoog attempted his first jump shot in 1944 while in high school.
The Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League became the Minneapolis Lakers. A young sportswriter, Sid Hartman, helped with the personnel decisions. At 99, Sid still writes for the Star Tribune today.
John Wooden interviewed for the coaching jobs at Minnesota and UCLA. Wooden, an Indiana native, took the UCLA position after not hearing from Minnesota at an appointed time. The apparent reason? A snowstorm.
Two of the greatest shootouts in Gophers history came vs. Indiana that January. The Gophers won 104-100 at Williams Arena, and the Hoosiers won the rematch at Indiana 105-104 in OT. IU’s Jimmy Rayl scored 56 points.
On Dec. 18, the Gophers lost at No. 2 Houston 103-65. Nine days later they fell to No. 1 UCLA 95-55 in Minneapolis. On Jan. 20, 1968, Houston ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak before 52,693 at the Astrodome in Houston.
Fiery 30-year-old Bill Musselman took over as Minnesota’s coach and led the Gophers to their first Big Ten title in 35 years. He also introduced a wildly popular pregame ballhandling show performed to “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
A second straight Big Ten championship was tarnished by a bloody brawl against Ohio State on Jan. 25. Musselman wound up resigning after the 1975 season, as an NCAA investigation of violations was unfolding.
Led by Darryl Mitchell, Trent Tucker and Randy Breuer, the Gophers won the Big Ten title. Another talent, Mark Hall, left school after a several controversies. Best pull-up jumper on the break you ever saw, though.
Minneapolis businessman Mannie Jackson, an inductee in the Naismith Hall of Fame, purchased the Harlem Globetrotters, becoming the first black owner of a major international sports and entertainment organization.
Minnesota basketball great Kevin McHale came home to serve as the boss for the NBA’s Timberwolves. His first star student: a 19-year-old Kevin Garnett, plucked straight out of high school in the NBA draft.
The Gophers’ Final Four season can’t be found in record books because of a 1999 academic scandal. The greatest performance in U history (by Bobby Jackson) was part of the greatest game: a 90-84 win over Clemson in the Sweet 16.
Minnesotan Lindsay Whalen and Wisconsinite Janel McCarville led the Gophers to the Women’s Final Four. Whalen went on to win four WNBA titles and now coaches the Gophers women.
Patrick Reusse and Joel Rippel