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Greatest College Basketball Teams of All Time:  Spotlight 1957 Kansas

The 1957 Kansas Jayhawks basketball team went 24-3, but lost the NCAA Championship game to North Carolina in triple overtime.  'We're easily the best No. 2 team in college history,' Kansas coach Dick Harp said after Kansas lost. 

The 1957 Jayhawks were led by 7'0' Center Wilt Chamberlain.  Chamberlain attended Overbrook High School in Philadelphia.  In his three years on the varsity team, Overbrook went 19-2, 19-0 and 18-1 and Chamberlain averaged 37.4 points per game.  He once scored 90 points in a single high school game.  Goaltending was legal when Chamberlain was in high school, so the Overbrook High School coach actually taught his players to miss free throws so that Chamberlain could rebound them and score.  In High School, his nicknames 'Wilt the Stilt' and 'The Big Dipper' were born.  Chamberlain is said to have hated 'Wilt the Stilt' but liked 'The Big Dipper' (a name given to him because he had to dip his head when entering a room).  

Chamberlain was the most recruited High School player up to that time.  He met Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen and decided to attend Kansas.  On Allen's 70th birthday, Chamberlain appeared in an exhibition game between the Freshmen team and the Varsity team (Freshmen were not eligible to play varsity basketball when Chamberlain played).  Chamberlain led the Freshmen to an 81 to 71 victory, scoring 42 points, pulling down 29 rebounds and blocking four shots.  Unfortunately for Allen, 70 was mandatory retirement age at Kansas, so he never got to coach his prize recruit in a varsity game.  As he left, Allen said 'Anybody could win the National Championship with Wilt Chamberlain and four cheerleaders.' 

Assistant coach Dick Harp coached Kansas during the 1956-57 season.  In his first varsity game on December 3, 1956, Chamberlain scored 52 points and had 31 rebounds in an 87-69 win over Northwestern.  After the game, Northwestern's center, Joe Ruklick, said 'It's ridiculous.  Chamberlain made me feel like a 6-year-old kid.' 

In Chamberlain's second varsity game against Marquette, Chamberlain blocked 14 shots.  Kansas won easily, 78-61. 

Kansas won four more in a row before facing Iowa State on December 26, 1956.  Iowa State played a zone where three players covered Chamberlain, one in front, one behind and a third helping out when Chamberlain got the ball.  Chamberlain was held to only 12 points.  Iowa led 57-56 with six seconds to go, but Gene Elstun nailed a 20-foot jumper to give Kansas the 58-57 victory.

Although Kansas won the game, their weakness had been discovered.  Chamberlain was an offensive force inside, but Kansas lacked the outside shooters to make teams pay for double or triple teaming Chamberlain.  'We were not a great outside-shooting team,' Harp said.  'Teams would rig zone defenses around [Chamberlain] with three or four men, making it impossible for him to move, particularly around the basket.'   

Kansas reeled off five more victories to bring a12-0 record to Ames, Iowa for a rematch against the Iowa State Cyclones.  This time, Iowa State combined their triple-team zone defense with a slow down offense.  The Cyclones held Chamberlain to 17 points and defeated Kansas 39-37 with a last second shot.

After five more victories, Kansas traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma to play Oklahoma State on February 21, 1957.  Chamberlain scored 32 points, but Kansas lost 56-54 on another last second shot.

Kansas finished the season 21-2.  They headed to Dallas for the NCAA Tournament.  Dallas hotels wouldn't allow the black Wilt Chamberlain or his black teammate Maurice King to stay.  The team chose to say 30 miles outside of town in Grand Prairie, Texas. 

In the first game, Kansas faced all-white Southern Methodist University.  SMU had won 36 straight in Dallas.  It didn't matter.  Chamberlain scored 36 points and had 22 rebounds.  Kansas defeated SMU in overtime, 73-65. 

In the second game, Kansas faced Oklahoma State University.  OSU played an extremely physical game, running into Chamberlain on purpose and 'flopping' in a desperate attempt to draw fouls.  The ploy didn't work.  Kansas crushed OSU, 81-61.

Chamberlain and King were showered with racial slurs, debris, seat cushions, coins and food during the games.  Coach Harp said 'Basketball is in danger if crowd demonstrations and behavior are not corrected. This is a dire circumstance.'  Oklahoma State's coach complained that 'We [Oklahoma State] got beat up all night and they [the referees] protected the big guy [Chamberlain] all night.'

The Final Four was held in Kansas City.  Kansas blew out San Francisco 80-56 in front of the partisan crowd.  Chamberlain scored 32.  San Francisco's coach said that the Jayhawks' team was 'one of the greatest I've seen.'  In the other semifinal, the undefeated No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels won a triple overtime thriller against Michigan State to advance to the NCAA Championship game.

The 1957 NCAA Championship game is arguably the greatest in history.  The undefeated No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels against the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks.

Realizing that nobody on his team could win a tipoff against Wilt Chamberlain, North Carolina coach Frank McGuire sent in the scrappy 5'11' guard Tommy Kearns.  Chamberlain won the tip, but Kansas appeared psyched out.

Kansas coach Dick Harp started in a box-in-one defense to slow down Lennie Rosenbluth, who averaged 28 points per game for North Carolina.  North Carolina collapsed their defense on Chamberlain, double and triple teaming him.  Rosenbluth distributed the ball to his teammates and North Carolina jumped out to a 17-7 lead.  Harp switched to a man-to-man defense, but Kansas still trailed 29-22 at halftime.  With Chamberlain triple-teamed, Kansas was forced to shoot from the outside.  The poor outside-shooting Jayhawks ended the half shooting only 27 percent. 

At the start of the second half, Kansas went on a tear, getting the ball to Chamberlain on the fast break and taking a 36-35 lead with nine minutes left in the game.  Then Harp had the Jayhawks slow down their offense. 

The slow down offense enabled North Carolina to rest and regroup.  Nevertheless, Kansas had the ball and a 44-41 lead with 1:45 left.  Lennie Rosenbluth, North Carolina's best player, fouled Kansas forward Gene Elstun.  It was Rosenbluth's fifth foul and he was out of the game. 
Then the wheels came off for Kansas.  Elstun, a 65 percent free throw shooter, missed both free throws.  With 1:05 left, North Carolina center Joe Quigg scored, bringing the Tar Heels within one, 46-45.  North Carolina guard Tommy Kearns hit one of two free throws with 20 seconds left, tying the game at 46 and sending it into overtime. 

In the first overtime, each team scored one basket.  In the second overtime, Kansas froze the ball and neither team scored. 

In the third overtime, Kearns scored a basket and two free throws, giving North Carolina a 52-48 lead.  Chamberlain scored and was fouled.  He made the free throw, bringing Kansas within one, 52-51.  Kansas guard Maurice King hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 52-52.  With 31 seconds left, Kansas forward Gene Elstun hit one of two free throws, giving Kansas a 53-52 lead.  With time running out, Kearns drove to the basket.  Chamberlain blocked his shot.  North Carolina center Joe Quigg caught the ball and drove to the basket.  Chamberlain and King double teamed him.  King was called for a foul.  With six seconds left, Quigg made both free throws, giving North Carolina a 54-53 lead.  Kansas called time out.   Kansas forward Ron Loneski threw a lob pass to Chamberlain, but it fell short.  Joe Quigg knocked it down.  Tommy Kearns came up with the ball and threw it into the air.  Kansas had lost the NCAA Championship in triple overtime.

Despite being on the losing team, Chamberlain was named the most outstanding player of the 1957 NCAA Tournament.  Chamberlain had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the finals.  North Carolina's coach said Chamberlain was "the best I've seen."  North Carolina center Quigg agreed, calling Chamberlain "the greatest I've ever seen."

When asked if Chamberlain was the best basketball player ever, Oscar Robertson said 'The [record] books don't lie.'  Chamberlain holds both the Kansas scoring record and NBA scoring record for points in a game, with 52 points in a game at Kansas and 100 points in a game in the NBA with the Philadelphia Warriors.  Chamberlain also holds the NBA record for the most rebounds in a game with 55.  Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring seven straight years and led the NBA in rebounding 11 of his 14 years in the league.  He holds the NBA single season scoring record (4,029 points, 52.1 per game) and rebounding record (2,149, 27.2 per game).  He scored 31,419 points during his career, a record until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke it in 1984. Chamberlain holds the NBA record for career rebounding with 23,924.

Bill Russell, center for the Boston Celtics who played against Chamberlain, said 'Wilt was the greatest offensive player I have ever seen.'  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the man who broke Chamberlain's career scoring record, said "Wilt was one of the greatest ever, and we will never see another one like him.'

Name                        Pos   Class    Pts    Reb
Wilt Chamberlain             C     SO     29.6   18.9
Gene Elstun                  F     SR     11.3    7.3
Maurice King                 G     SR      9.7    4.5
Ron Loneski                  F     SO      9.6    6.8
John Parker                  G     SR      5.5    2.0
Ronald Johnston              F     SR      4.3    3.4
Lewis Johnson               F/C    SR      3.0    3.9
Bob Billings                 G     SO      2.2    0.9
Eddie Dater                  G     SR      1.6    0.7
Blaine Hollinger             G     SR      1.2    0.8

How would the 1957 Kansas Jayhawks do against the teams of today?  How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?

Wilt Chamberlain would be a great player today.  There is no doubt about that.  He wasn't just tall.  He was strong and athletic.  However, inside players are bigger and stronger and interior defenses are far better today than they were in 1957.  The lack of any good outside shooters would be a major problem for Kansas.  With nobody to shoot the three, teams would collapse on Chamberlain just as Iowa State and North Carolina did in 1957.  As for the shot clock, Kansas coach Dick Harp said, "Had a shot clock been employed then [in 1957], no one would've been able to come even close to beating Wilt."  Although a faster pace would make it more difficult for opposing teams to collapse on Chamberlain, Harp frequently slowed down the pace.  Harp does not appear to have been a very good coach.  He coached Kansas, a basketball powerhouse, for eight years.  In the six years after Chamberlain left, Kansas had a mediocre 79-74 record.  All things considered, with a mediocre coach and no outside shooting, Kansas would be much worse today than they were in 1957.   

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