Thursday, April 1, 2021

When NC State Beat Baylor for the 1950 NCAA Championship*

Everett Case and his 1950 Southern Conference champions.

 

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© Tim Peeler, 2021

The last time Baylor made it to the NCAA tournament semifinals – long before the last three games of the season were known as the Final Four – it played NC State for the de facto national championship. 

Technically, it was the NCAA consolation finals at Madison Square Garden on T,uesday, March 28, 1950. The consolation games, played in every round of the first dozen tournaments, were a relic of the early days that were eventually eliminated in the 1970s as March expanded into Madness. The finals consolation was played as the first game of a doubleheader at the famous venue, a warm-up for the championship game between City College of New York and Bradley.

However, the NCAA has never vacated the tournament appearance of those schools, two of the seven teams that were proven to be part of the worst gambling scandal in college basketball history. Others involved were New York University, Long Island University, Manhattan College, the University of Kentucky and the University of Toledo. From 1947-50, a New York City police investigation found a total of 32 players took money from organized crime-affiliated gamblers, affecting the outcomes of 86 games in 17 states, all running afoul of the city's 1945 anti-gambling laws. Another player, Jack Molinas of Columbia, was later linked to the scandal after he was suspended from the NBA for gambling.

Three of the biggest stars of CCNY's double-championship team were arrested in New York’s Penn Station on Feb. 18 1951 as they returned home from a game at Temple, primarily for their misdeeds in the previous season. Many others were investigated and forever tainted because of their involvement.

Indisputably, CCNY's Beavers of 1950 were one of the greatest stories in college basketball history, becoming the only one to ever win both the NCAA and National Invitation Tournament in the same season, back when teams could participate in both (as NC State did in 1951). Unranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season, the team made up entirely of New York City high school all-stars called themselves both "A Cinderella Team" and "A Team of Destiny," nicknames others have adopted  through the years.

Eleven months later, however, after seven players were charged with fixing in regular-season games during the 1949-50 season, the city school in Hamilton Heights overlooking Harlem was banned from ever playing in Madison Square Garden again.

Many of the schools involved self-punished themselves in the wake of the mob-tainted scandal. CCNY completely de-emphasized sports, dropping down to what is now Division III level. It remains the only former NCAA champion that is not currently a Division I program. LIU shut down its entire athletic program from 1952-57 and didn’t return to Division I status until the 1980s.

The NY Board of Higher Education banned athletic scholarships at all City University colleges, opening the door for players from the Big Apple to work their way south to play for Philadelphia's Big Five schools or in the the newly organized Atlantic Coast Conference. Former St. John's coach Frank McGuire, whose team was not overtly implicated in the scandal, bolted for North Carolina, where in 1957 his starting lineup of five New York City natives went undefeated and won the NCAA Championship.

Kentucky was forced by the NCAA to cancel its entire 1952-53 season, a massive embarrassment to the state and its legendary coach, Adolph Rupp. (The 1998 HBO documentary City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal, takes a deep look at the entire sordid affair, using highlights from many NC State games that season; it's currently available on HBOMax.)

Bradley, ranked No. 1 in the final 1949-50 Associated Press poll, later discovered that seven of its players conspired with gamblers to fix four games that season, and several others the next. Gene Melchiorre, perhaps the school's greatest player and the No. 1 overall pick of the 1951 NBA Draft, was banned from playing in the league and never received the honor of having his jersey retired by his alma mater.

Since both CCNY and Bradley players were both proven to be involved in the scandal for the 1949-50 season, their team accomplishments in the tournament are specious at best and likely should be stricken from the NCAA’s postseason record, since those players would certainly be deemed ineligible by most standards.

Now, no one is arguing that the winner of that 1950 consolation final should be recognized as the true national champions, since no Final Four appearance has ever been vacated for gambling, point-shaving, academic, illicit recruiting or any other malfeasance.

However…

Both Baylor and NC State had outstanding seasons in order to qualify for the eight-team NCAA Championship that year.

The Bears had won or shared four Southwestern Conference championships in five seasons. Coached by Bill Henderson, the Bears made their first NCAA tournament in 1946, lost to Kentucky in the 1948 title game, then returned again in 1950. It was a period of remarkable success, just two decades after one of the worst disasters in American athletics history, in which 10 Baylor players and students affiliated with the team were killed when the team bus was hit by a train on Jan. 22, 1927, in Round Rock, Texas. They are memorialized now as the Immortal 10 on Baylor’s campus.

NC State was also enjoying its first taste of national success under head Everett Case, who guided his team to four consecutive Southern Conference titles in his first four seasons on campus. In 1950, Case’s first recruiting class, known as the “Hoosier Hotshots” because most of them were from the coach’s home state of Indiana, were seniors ready to reach their greatest glory.

There was controversy, however, about State’s berth into the NCAA tournament, since there were no automatic bids in those days. A committee of NCAA representatives in eight geographic regions picked which schools would make the tournament.

Both Kentucky and NC State breezed to their respective league titles, and the Region 3 committee had a tough time deciding between the two. Chairman Gus Tebell, a former NC State football and basketball coach in the late 1920s who later coached at Virginia, suggested that the teams face each other in a one-game playoff to decide the bid. Case, whose team had never been to the NCAA tournament, said he would meet the 25-4 Wildcats “anytime, anywhere,” and reserved a date at Duke Indoor Stadium for the showdown.

Rupp, whose team had won back-to-back NCAA titles, refused, pointing out that his team had beaten Villanova in Philadelphia while the Wolfpack had lost to the same team in Raleigh. When Tebell awarded his former employer the bid, Rupp called the decision “ridiculous,” widening the deep chasm of dislike and disrespect between “The Old Gray Fox” and the “Baron of the Bluegrass.” Instead, Rupp's team elected to play in the more prestigious NIT, where it lost to upstart CCNY by an embarrassing score of 89-50, still the largest margin of defeat in school history.

While other teams were playing in the NIT, Case and his fifth-ranked Wolfpack had two full weeks to prepare for the first NCAA appearance in school history. The team and its coaches received a big send-off from Wolfpack fans as its train left Raleigh's downtown station for New York.

Baylor was chosen as a representative in the West bracket after winning the SWC championship, despite having just a 13-11 regular-season record.

The Bears nipped Brigham Young, 56-55, in Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium to advance to the NCAA semifinals. They faced top-ranked Bradley in a game that was also played in Kansas City, as the West bracket played its games there to reduce travel. While powerful Bradley nipped Baylor, 58-56, both teams advanced to Madison Square Garden for a season-ending doubleheader between the last quartet of teams.

It was Case’s finest team to date, with senior Dick Dickey fully recovered from his injury-plagued junior campaign and junior Sammy Ranzino ready to step into a starring role. They were surrounded by Vic Bubas at one guard, Joe Harand at the other, and 6-10 center Paul Horvath in the middle.

The Wolfpack of that season won the inaugural Dixie Classic, beat defending NIT-champion San Francisco at Reynolds Coliseum, upset NYU in a January game at Madison Square Garden and swept through the Southern Conference tournament by beating Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke by an average of 17 points.

Playing in front of the sold-out Garden, Dickey drew the unenviable assignment of guarding Holy Cross senior All-American guard Bob Cousy, the top college player in the country that year. Dickey, despite being hurt in the final game of the regular season, limited Cousy to two field goals on 17 shots, Ranzino shattered the 12-year-old tournament's single-game scoring record with 32 points and the Wolfpack cruised to an 87-74 victory.

Bubas, however, sprained his ankle and was hobbled the next night in the semifinal game against CCNY.

The game was close throughout, but Dickey, Ranzino and Paul Horvath all fouled out with less than a minute remaining with CCNY holding on to a 75-73 lead. Bubas’s jumper to tie the game in the closing seconds fell short.

The final two games were played three nights later, giving Bradley and Baylor time to travel to New York.

In the opening game of the doubleheader, the Wolfpack played well, as All-American Dickey concluded his spectacular career as the school’s all-time leading scorer, in a 53-41 win over Baylor's Bears. Ranzino posted 21 points to lead all scorers. [Boxscore]

It was the start of a five-game winning streak in the Final Four for the Wolfpack, including the 1974 and ’83 championship seasons. Baylor hasn’t been back to the Final Four until this year’s event in Indianapolis.

The final game of the 1950 tournament was a repeat of the NIT championship, a more prestigious event at the time that CCNY won 69-61 a week before in the same building. In the NCAA title game, the Beavers had a comfortable lead until Bradley’s Melchiorre scored three straight baskets in the final two minutes to cut CCNY's lead to one point. On Melchiorre's fourth attempt in that span, three Beaver frontcourt players blocked his shot. One of them recovered saved it from going out of bounds and flung the ball down the court to sophomore teammate Norm Mager. With blood oozing from the bandage used to cover the five stitches he received after being knocked out in the first half, Mager laid in an uncontested layup with seven seconds to secure the 71-68 win, setting off a chant of the team's rally cry "Allagaroo, garoo, gara!" by the home-town crowd.

The trophy NC State received after its victory, which is on display at PNC Arena, says "NCAA 3rd Place," but despite the individual player and team punishments, CCNY’s double titles and Bradley’s two final game appearances have stood without review or challenge from the NCAA through the decades.

Yet the two teams in the consolation final were only ones playing that Tuesday evening in New York untainted and unscathed by the worst sports scandal since baseball's 1919 Black Sox.
 

END NOTE: NC State was decimated a decade later by college basketball’s second point-shaving scandal, which affected multiple Southern teams, forced the cancellation of the Dixie Classic, caused both NC State and North Carolina to de-emphasize its basketball programs for the first half of the 1960s and forever broke Case’s heart.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

This Rings a Championship Bell


 

© By Tim Peeler, 2021

NOTE:
 If you enjoy reading "One Brick Back" and would like to help offset research expenses for stories such as this, please make a small donation to the cause and help keep these posts free of ads.

A couple of weeks ago in a guestroom at the Music Road Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a member of the housekeeping staff found a piece of jewelry rolling around on the carpet as she vacuumed. She turned it in to her boss, as she does with all lost-and-found items, and went back to her daily duties.

The jewelry was a gaudy, oversized baseball championship ring, gold with a red-ringed face and diamond insets, encircled with the words “NC State 2003 Regional Champions.” There are school and conference logos, notations for the No. 12 national ranking, the team’s 45-18 record and an interior inscription that reads “Start to Finish.” In the collectibles market, it might bring $50 at a weekend hobby show or on ebay.com, if someone were interested in such a thing.

On this particular ring, however, one side is embossed with the single surname: “Winkworth.”

That makes this ring invaluable to NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent, to me and to any other followers of the NC State baseball program who knew Bruce Winkworth, the baseball’s longtime communications director. It belonged to Bruce, and was one of seven championship rings stolen from his home on Dec. 10, 2012, in a random neighborhood break-in. I have no idea how it ended up lying unaccompanied on the floor of an East Tennessee hotel; who among us, right?

It’s the exact same ring that was given to all players, coaches and staff after the 2003 Wolfpack team won its first NCAA regional and advanced to a three-game Super Regional at Miami. That was a year of difficulty for the Pack because its home stadium, Doak Field, was going through a massive renovation that forced the team to play all its home games that season and the four-team NCAA regional about an hour away at Wilson’s Fleming Field.

That season was an exciting, exhausting haul for every member of the team, and Bruce worked endless hours promoting the accomplishments of players like Joey Devine, Michael Rogers, Vern Sterry, Colt Morton, Matt Camp, Jeremy Dutton, Chad Orvella, Joe Gaetti, Justin Riley and all the others.

When a career’s worth of memorabilia was stolen from Bruce’s Raleigh home, it pissed him off unlike anything ever has. Few things in the world can compare to Bruce when he was annoyed, whether it was a minor indignity like being served three pieces in the basket of bread at Amedeo’s when two of us were having lunch together or, to such a lifelong liberal, a major affront like Donald Trump being elected president.

Making Bruce mad was a dance that could be a slow waltz or a full-on rave, and it was always fun to see what emotion the daily music of life would elicit during our regular visits.

Nothing rated higher than losing his championship rings, which explicitly made him part of any team’s accomplishments, a tangible token of all the hard work he put into being scorekeeper, note-maker and Avent-adviser/suppressor.

“Elliott, they could have taken anything in my house, other than my albums or my rings, and I would have been fine,” Bruce told the coach after the break-in. “I wouldn’t have cared. But I want those rings back.”

Losing his record collection would have been devastating. In a lifetime of loving music, he had collected some 55,000 albums and bootleg concerts, almost all of which were saved on three redundant 2 terabyte hard drives. He gave one of them to me just before he died on May 17, 2019.

How fateful, then, was it that one of Bruce’s greatest treasures was found at the Music Road Resort? It would have never been returned if it weren’t for Director of Housekeeping Laura Lakins, who put in extra effort to search for its rightful home, even though it’s hotel policy not to actively seek the owner of lost property.

She posted it on her Facebook page, asking for advice for who to contact.

“I knew someone probably worked pretty hard to get that, and I wanted to make sure it was returned,” Lakins says.

Eventually, she left a question on the Wolfpack Club’s customer service page. WPC assistant director Hannah Willoughby forwarded the message to associate director Buzzy Correll, who forwarded it to me. After we verified the ring, Lakins mailed it to Correll, who gave it to me last week.

I’ve been working the last two years to close out Bruce’s estate, one of the last things he ever asked me to do for him and his wife Rita. If you’ve never done it before, know what you are getting into before you agree to such a thing. It can be a mess.

In the grand scheme of the troubles we have been through over the last year, this is hardly a significant global event. For me, however, it restored some faith in the kindness of others. It made me want to plan a trip to Pigeon Forge and stay at the Music Road Resort. And it made me happy to call his brother Doug – Bruce’s sole heir – to tell him I was mailing the last bit of money in the estate account and to tell him about what the housekeeper found.

At least Bruce got one of his rings back.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Philip Rivers Has Always Been Philip Rivers



Philip Rivers at Carter-Finley Stadium in 2002. [Photo from NC State Athletics.]


NOTE:
This story was originally published in the Greensboro News & Record during Philip Rivers' freshman year at NC State, when he was still new on the scene. He and his family spent a few hours over a handful of days getting to know them and learning what made him so competitive. He never changed one bit during his four years at NC State or his 17 seasons in the NFL. I dug this story up when he announced his retirement on Wednesday and revealed that he immediately will begin his high school coaching career back in Alabama, where, like his father, he will coach his sons.

If you enjoy reading "One Brick Back" and would like to help offset research expenses for stories such as this one, please make a small donation to the cause and help keep posts like this free of ads.

© Landmark Communications, 2000

BY TIM PEELER

When Philip Rivers arrived at halftime of his father's junior varsity football game at Wakefield High School on Thursday night, he went right to the end zone where Steve Rivers was dissecting the Wolverines' first-half performance.

When the third quarter began, Philip followed his dad to the sideline, where his 6-foot-5 frame was a head taller than the ninth- and 10th-grade players in their cleats and helmets. He gave the officials what-for every now and again and tried to will Wakefield back from a 13-point deficit, just as he has rallied the undefeated Wolfpack in three of its first four games.

It didn't happen.

Millbrook's junior varsity whipped Raleigh's newest school, which has no seniors and only a handful of juniors among its student body, 27-0. It was the first loss this season for Steve or Philip, who had been a combined 6-0 before Thursday night.

It was a little bit hard to take, because nobody in this family likes to lose. At anything.

Philip, the 18-year-old freshman quarterback who has led N.C. State to a 4-0 record, remembers marathon video games against his maternal grandfather, a man 56 years his senior. They would play so long that Bob Gunner's fingers would turn black from the metal disk and keypad used in the primitive Mattel Intellivision NFL game.

"Even though I was little, he wasn't easing up on me," Philip says. "He probably did at first, but it got to him."

Joan Rivers, 40, usually is a little bit shy, but that doesn't mask the competitive fire she shows at football games or family competitions.

"I would tell them, no matter what you do, you have to make a game out of it and compete," she says. "I think he got his skills and his talents from his dad's side of the family and his competitiveness from my side."

Philip still hears echoes of his mother's sweet voice from weekend outings. She would stand quietly on the sideline -- until he dropped a pass.

"Come on, Philip, I could have caught that one," his demure mother would yell.

Joan always has been that way.

"If I am watching football -- Oregon against Wisconsin or somebody like that -- I will pick the team I want to pull for, then I will be screaming at the TV.

"That's awful, isn't it?"

Not really. One of the reasons N.C. State coach Chuck Amato knew he wanted Rivers to be his first recruit was that sons of coaches usually have the competitive fire and a knowledge of the game that other players lack.

"He grew up at his father's knee, learning about the game," Amato says. "That is an intangible, and those are things that you can't measure, you can't weigh and you can't count. Those are those things that make some players special."

Call it a mother's intuition, but Joan Rivers always knew her son would be a star. She thought so when he was 2, as she watched him dribble a basketball all over the house. By the time he was 9 or 10, she didn't even feel guilty about not putting money into a college fund.

"I told everybody then that Philip was going to get a scholarship," she says. "They looked at me like I was crazy."

Starting at age 6, Philip spent most of his youth at Decatur (Ala.) High School football practices, standing in the huddle for almost every offensive play, breaking with the team and asking his dad, a former Mississippi State linebacker, what was about to happen.

"He didn't go home and play hide-and-go-seek," Steve Rivers said. "He came to football practice."

Despite that background, Steve Rivers didn't let his oldest son play organized football until he was in the seventh grade because he thought what Philip was learning at practice was far more valuable than what he might learn in Pop Warner leagues.

By the time Philip was ready to play, Steve Rivers was ready to move. In 1996, he hauled the family 12 miles up the road to Athens, Ala., a one-school town that was Decatur's biggest rival.

As a sophomore, Philip was a starter for his father, but not at quarterback. Athens had a senior, Grant Lauderdale, who might not have had as much ability as Philip (already 6-2, 175 pounds), but who had seniority. So Philip started all 10 games at linebacker and occasionally ran the offense.

"It kind of helped me being a linebacker," Philip says. "It made me tougher and made me understand the other side of the ball a little more."

When it was Rivers' turn, he stepped in and became a star. As a senior, he was named the Alabama high school player of the year. But he didn't want to go to Auburn or Alabama, where he would likely would have been moved to another position, so he chose N.C. State.

After graduating in January, Philip enrolled at State and struggled to adjust to college life. That struggle got easier when his father decided to leave Athens to become the head coach at Wakefield. With 28 years of experience in the Alabama school system, Steve Rivers, 51, could draw retirement and go to another state to coach. He had already made inquiries in Georgia before the Wakefield job opened.

"This sort of just landed in our lap," Steve Rivers said.

Philip visits the family's apartment once or twice a week. After leading the Wolfpack to a win at Indiana with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a noon game, Philip was at his parents' place by 9 p.m. to go over game tapes with his father, do some laundry and hang out with his little brother, Stephen, 7, and sister, Anna, 2.

Mom and dad haven't been to his dorm room since they moved him in, but they love being so close.

"We told him that we are here to support him, not to bother him in any way," Steve Rivers says.

Joan figures that those frequent visits might end next year when Philip's longtime girlfriend from Alabama, Tiffany Goodwin, enrolls at N.C. State, but so far the whole family is enjoying their unusual transition year together.

Maybe that is why Philip has shown so much poise and maturity in his first four college football games. He's simply relied on his football knowledge and competitive spirit to stay calm, whether facing a 13-point deficit in a nationally televised game against Georgia Tech or a five-touchdown deficit in a Dreamcast NFL2K video game with his new teammates.

"It's funny," Rivers says. "Those games are just as real for me. I hate to lose."