Wine Online: A (Basketball) History Lesson - Hawkeye Sports Official Athletic Site
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Wine Online: A (Basketball) History Lesson
A long-time friend reminds former Hawkeye that the sky isn't necessarily falling for UI hoops fans
Iowa City native Matt Gatens had a stellar freshman season for the Hawkeyes and is a significant piece of the foundation for Coach Todd Lickliter's UI men's basketball program.
Iowa City native Matt Gatens had a stellar freshman season for the Hawkeyes and is a significant piece of the foundation for Coach Todd Lickliter's UI men's basketball program.
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March 30, 2009

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    IOWA CITY, Iowa - If you think the sky has fallen and Iowa's basketball team cannot recover from the defection of four scholarship players, here are two stories that will give you hope. One comes from my friend Al Schallau, who graduated from Iowa some 40 years ago, then moved to Southern California to seek his fortune as a lawyer.

    Al sent me a recent email with this message: "Jake Kelly, Jeff Peterson, Jermain Davis and David Palmer leaving Iowa brings back memories of 1978 when Lute Olson was coaching the Hawkeyes.

    "On Dec. 13, 1977, a tragic plane crash claimed the lives of the entire Evansville University basketball team and coaching staff. In 1978, Hawkeyes Scott Kelley, Jim Hallstrom and Larry Olshtorn transferred to Evaansville, where the NCAA allowed them to play immediately.

    "In 1980, after Iowa made it to the Final Four, Lute Olson told me that those three transferring, 'Was the best thing that happened to our program.' It freed up three scholarships, two of which went to Kevin Boyle and Kenny Arnold. Boyle was a four-year starter. Arnold started for three years.

    "Four Iowa players leaving give Coach Todd Lickliter a golden opportunity for a new beginning. He will do just fine. I also believe he will do it with integrity, just like he did it at Butler."

    Believe what Al says about Lute Olson, because Al was instrumental in Lute's coming to Iowa. When the Hawkeye basketball coaching job opened in 1974, Al called Athletic Director Bump Elliott and suggested he take a good look at a young coach at Long Beach State. Bump did and hired Lute, who was Iowa's head coach for nine seasons. In 1983 he left for Arizona, where he won a national championship and just recently retired.

    Lute's last five teams at Iowa (in order) shared a Big Ten title, made a Final Four appearance, and finished second in the Big Ten three times. It is worth noting, however, that he did not achieve instant success at Iowa. His first four Hawkeye teams were unremarkable, indicating it often takes time to turn a program in the right direction.

    Al's reminding me of what happened at Iowa 30 years ago jogged my memory of another time when Iowa basketball roster took an enexpected hit. But it can't get any worse than losing four players, including two starters, can it? Yes it can, and yes it did.

    In January of 1961, first-semester grades were posted and the news was shocking. Four Hawkeye starters were ruled academically ineligible. That's right, FOUR, as in 80 percent of the lineup. At the time Iowa was nationally ranked with a 12-3 record and had won four of five Big Ten games.





    When four starters were ruled ineligible in 1961, many fans -- perhaps most -- were ready to throw in the towel. But not a young coach and his players. They looked adversity in the eye and stared it down.

    That might be a lesson for the Iowa fans, coaches and players of today.



    Gone for the rest of the season were center Frank Allen, forward Tom Harris and guards Dave Maher and Ron Zager. Only forward Don Nelson remained.

    The coach was Sharm Scheuerman, who was only 26 years old and looked younger than many of his players. At that tender age, he could have easily panicked and Iowa's season would have gone on lthe rocks. Instead, he and his players steeled themselves and wrote a chapter of courage, determination and grit into the Hawkeye history book.

    The 6-6 Nelson, the team's best player, was moved to center. The new forwards were 6-1 Matt Szykowny, who had helped quarterback Iowa to a share of the Big Ten football championship a few months earlier, and 6-9 Dennis Runge. The new guards were Joel Noval and Joe Reddington.

    That unlikely lineup stunned heavily favored Indiana at Bloomington, 74-67, then beat Wisconsin at home 63-61. That set the stage for a visit from Ohio State, the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Before a howling capacity crowd at the Fieldlhouse, Iowa led for 38 minutes before losing a 62-61 heartbreaker.

    The the gritty Hawkeyes refused to let that disappointment ruin their season, winning six of nine games with a decimated roster. Astonishingly, they finished second in the Big Ten and No. 8 in the nation. Nelson averaged 27.2 points a game with the new lineup and won all-America honors. He went on to a long and successful career in the NBA, first as a player, then as a coach.

    When four starters were ruled ineligible in 1961, many fans -- perhaps most -- were ready to throw in the towel. But not a young coach and his players. They looked adversity in the eye and stared it down.

    That might be a lesson for the Iowa fans, coaches and players of today.

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