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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1952 Kansas Jayhawks
The 1952 Kansas Jayhawks basketball team went 28-3 and won the NCAA Championship. Hall of Fame coach Forest “Phog” Allen said of his 1952 Jayhawks, “This is as scrappy a club as I've ever had.”
Dr. James Naismith invented basketball and coached the Kansas basketball team. As a student at Kansas, Allen told Naismith he intended to be a basketball coach. According to Allen, Naismith said “Forest, you don’t coach this game, you just play it.”
Allen assumed the coaching duties at Kansas from Naismith while still a student in 1907. In two seasons, Kansas was 43-9. After medical school and seven years coaching at Missouri State Normal School, Allen returned to Kansas in 1919. He coached the Jayhawks for the next 36 years, winning three national championships. When his coaching career ended in 1956, Allen had compiled a 746-264 record and had endured only two losing seasons in 50 years. Future Hall of Fame coaches Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith both played for Allen.
In 1948, Allen recruited Clyde Lovellette, a 6’9” physical center from Terre Haute, Indiana. Nearly 50 other schools sought the highly touted high school star.
As a sophomore at Kansas, Lovellette averaged 21.8 points and 7.7 rebounds and was named an All-American. As a junior, Lovellette averaged 22.8 points and 8.8 rebounds and was named an All-American again. The 1950-51 Jayhawks went 16-8 behind the big man, but placed second in their conference and did not go to the NCAA tournament.
In 1951-52, Kansas returned four starters, including Lovellette. “It seemed like from the first time we stepped on the court that year, good things were going to happen,” Lovellette said. “We had been up and down in two years, but we all still liked each other and got along. Phog was a still a ball of fire then. It just all came together. It was a great experience.”
Lovellette, nicknamed “Man Mountain” and “Cloudburst Clyde”, led the nation in scoring with 28.4 points per game. He also pulled down 14.6 rebounds per game. He was named an All-American, National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. He is the only player to lead the nation in scoring and lead his team to an NCAA Championship in the same year. Phog Allen said of his star, “I consider Lovellette the greatest player the game has produced.”
At the conclusion of the 1952 season, Lovellette joined six other Kansas players on the US Olympic team and won the gold medal in Helsinki, Finland.
As a pro, Lovellette averaged 17.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game during his 11-year career. He was a three-time NBA all-star and won three NBA Championships. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The only other Kansas player to score in double figures was senior Bob Kenney (13.1 pts.). Other notable players on the team were future coaching legend Dean Smith (1.5 pts.) and 6’8” sophomore B.H. Born, who would go from 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds as Lovellette’s backup in 1952 to being an All-American and Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament with 19.0 points and 11.2 rebounds in 1953.
Kansas started the 1952 season with high expectations. Kansas won its first 13 games, then lost two in a row to Kansas State (81-64) and Oklahoma State (49-45). After that, Kansas won the rest of its regular season games.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Kansas faced TCU. Lovellette scored 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game and the Jayhawks jumped out to a 20-13 lead. Kansas extended the lead to 34-24 at halftime. The Jayhawks cruised to a 68-64 victory and Lovellette ended up with 31 points.
In the second round, Kansas faced St. Louis. St. Louis got an early lead, but Lovellette scored 19 first-half points to tie the score 27-27 at halftime. In the second half, Kansas pulled away and won 74-55. Lovellette ended the game with 44 points and 16 rebounds.
In the Final Four, Kansas faced Santa Clara. The Jayhawks won 74-55. Lovellette had another big game, scoring 33 points.
In the NCAA Championship game, Kansas faced St. Johns. The country boys against the city slickers. “It amazed me how fast they talked,” Lovellette said. “And I’m sure to them we sounded like hillbillies.” Lovellette scored 33 points and brought down 17 rebounds. Kansas led the game throughout, winning easily, 80-63.
Lovellette’s four-game total of 141 points in the NCAA tournament shattered the former record of just 83 points. For his efforts, Lovellette was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.
Name Pos Class Pts Reb
Clyde Lovellette C SR 28.6 13.2
Bob Kenney F SR 13.1 3.8
Bill Houghland G SR 6.8 5.6
Dean Kelley G JR 6.5 3.3
Bill Lienhard F SR 5.8 3.3
Charlie Hoag G/F JR 5.2 3.0
John Keller G/F SR 2.3 2.7
B.H. Born C SO 1.7 1.2
Bill Heitholt G/F FR 1.5 1.9
Dean Smith G JR 1.5 0.6
How would the 1952 Kansas Jayhawks do against the teams of today? How would they handle the shot clock and three-pointer?
Lovellette probably couldn’t dominate the bigger, stronger players of today the way he dominated in 1952, but who knows? In the NBA, Lovellette developed an outside shot and forced opposing big men to play out of position. Bob “Trigger” Kenney could hit the outside shot and would make it hard for opposing defenses to collapse on Lovellette.
The shot clock wouldn’t bother 1952 Kansas much. They played at a very fast pace. The three-pointer would probably help the Jayhawks a little by spreading the floor and giving Lovellette more room inside.
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