1963 LOYOLA (CHI) RAMBLERS
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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1963 Loyola (Chi)
The 1963 Loyola Ramblers basketball team went 29-2 and won the NCAA Championship. "That '63 team was an extraordinary group of young men," coach George Ireland said. "All intelligent, all willing, all good at what they did. They were not great players, but they were a great team."
Ireland had been an All-American at Notre Dame in 1934-35. He was a tough player. “[Hall of Fame Kentucky coach] Adolph Rupp called me the dirtiest player in the game,” Ireland said, “and just because I coldcocked one of his players right in front of his bench.”
Ireland came to Loyola in 1951. The school did not emphasize sports and Ireland couldn’t compete with bigger schools for top recruits. He coached losing teams five of his first eight years and was so upset he contracted a bleeding ulcer. “Money was scarce,” Ireland said. “I didn't even have an office. My recruiting budget was practically nothing, and we were playing then in a gym that was already 40 years old."
In 1959, Ireland went to New York to recruit an undersized left-handed black forward named Jerry Harkness. Harkness had received no scholarship offers. “Nobody wanted me," Harkness said.
In 1960, Ireland went back to New York and recruited lightning quick Ron Miller, also black. Ireland then traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and recruited big men Les Hunter and Vic Rouse, who had led Pearl High School to two straight National Negro High School Championships. Finally, Ireland picked up Johnny Egan, a tough Irish kid from the South Side of Chicago.
By 1960, black players had already played a major role on top college basketball teams. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson had all achieved great success. One or two black players might be accepted, but a team full of black players was not. "The unspoken rule then was two blacks at home, if you had to play them, and one on the road," said Ireland. "I played four, and rarely substituted."
"No matter where we went, people didn't like us," says Jerry Lyne, an assistant coach at Loyola. "We were, in fact, pariahs," forward Vic Rouse said.
"Ireland liked the publicity," said forward Harkness. "He liked the spotlight of bringing the racial thing to the forefront."
Ireland was a tough coach who drove his players mercilessly. “He's such an intense person that he put pressure on himself and on us,” center Les Hunter said. “He was a very difficult man. None of us really liked him very much.” “Maybe that’s why we played so well,” guard Ron Miller said. “After his practices, the games were fun and easy.”
Senior forward Jerry Harkness averaged 21.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in 1963. He was a very good ball handler with a great jump shot. Harkness ran track in high school in the Bronx. He didn’t play varsity basketball until his senior year of high school.
Harkness was selected by the New York Knicks in the second round of the 1963 NBA draft, but was cut from the team. "Here I was an All-American on a national champion, and I got cut,” Harkness said. “That made me sick and depressed.” Ultimately, Harkness came back and played one year in the NBA and two in the ABA. He averaged 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his brief professional career. Harkness, however, managed to set one professional record. On November 13, 1967, he made a 92-foot shot at the buzzer to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Dallas Chaparrals.
Junior center Les Hunter (17 pts., 11.4 reb.) and junior forward Vic Rouse (13.5 pts., 12.1 reb.) were the Ramblers top rebounders. Hunter was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 1964 NBA draft. In a seven year pro career, Hunter averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Rouse was a good ball handler who could score inside and outside.
Junior guards Ron Miller (13.3 pts., 5.4 reb.) and Johnny Egan (13.7 pts., 3.6 reb.) were both excellent defensive players. Both could take the ball into the lane: Egan was short, stocky and tough. He would just power the ball inside. Miller was super quick. Both could shoot from outside as well.
All of the Ramblers, even white Johnny Egan, had to deal with racism, especially when the team played in the South. "We would play games when guys on the other teams were actually punching us on court,” center Les Hunter said. “The only one who could respond to that was Jack [Egan]. And Jack would give it back to them.”
"Coming to Loyola was a tremendous adjustment for me," center Les Hunter later said. "I'd lived in a segregated environment all my life. I didn't understand whites, and they didn't understand me. And Loyola, on the far North Side of town, was geographically wrong for us then. The girls we could date were on the South Side. It was hard even getting a haircut where we were.”
"Retrospectively, coming to Loyola was one of the best decisions I ever made," said forward Vic Rouse. “Academically Loyola was very good. I had professors there who didn't even know I played basketball. I liked that. Still, I don't think back on my college years as a happy period of my life. As a black and as a black athlete, I felt myself narrowly isolated in a white world. It was a physically and emotionally stressful time for me.”
“I liked Loyola,” Jerry Harkness said. “There were some lonely times, though. I didn't have many friends because there weren't many blacks on campus. And the racial thing really got to me in basketball. Les and Vic were from the South, so I think they handled it better. With me, it was all magnified. I guess I was a little more emotional than the others.”
After going 11-13 in 1959 and 10-12 in 1960, the Ramblers started playing Harkness, Miller, Hunter and Rouse at the same time in 1961. Their record improved to 15-8. In 1962, the Ramblers finished 23-4 and placed third in the NIT. Harkness averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. “The moment [the 1962] season ended, we started talking about how we could go all the way next year,” center Les Hunter said.
The Ramblers played a pressing defense and a run-and-gun offense coach Ireland called “organized confusion.” "The object of the game is to put the ball in the basket," Ireland said. Loyola led the nation in scoring with 90.2 points per game in 1962 and 91.8 points per game in 1963. “With that offense, there was never a problem of who scored what,” center Les Hunter said. “There were plenty of points to be had by all on that team.” All five starters on the 1963 Loyola team averaged double figures in scoring.
Ireland didn’t believe in bringing in substitutes. “We had no sixth man,” assistant coach Jerry Lyne said. “I thought it wasn’t good for team morale to have guys sitting on the bench when we were up by 25 points,” guard Johnny Egan said.
Near the end of the 1963 season, when Loyola was 20-0, Loyola’s top two substitutes, Robertson and Smith, were declared academically ineligible. Loyola finished out the regular season 4-2. In the NCAA Championship, which went into overtime, Loyola’s five starters never left the court.
Loyola started the 1962-63 season ranked fourth in the nation. In their first six games, they outscored their opponents, including a solid Indiana team, by an average score of 111 to 69.
The 6-0 Ramblers then faced #10 Seattle. The Ramblers beat Seattle 93-83 and moved up to #3 in the nation.
On December 29, 1962, in a game against Wyoming, Johnny Egan fouled-out and Loyola brought in Pablo Robertson. It was the first time a major Division I college team had an all-black team on the court. Loyola won, 93-82. Two days later, Loyola beat Dayton 74-69 and moved up to #2 in the nation.
On January 5, 1963, the Ramblers faced Loyola of New Orleans. The black players weren’t allowed to ride in taxis or stay in the same hotel with Egan and the other white players. The Ramblers crushed Loyola of New Orleans 88-53. “I wanted to run it up on those guys,” Les Hunter said. “We weren’t just playing a team, we were playing an ideology.”
The Ramblers kept on winning game after game until they were 21-0, but remained ranked #2. Cincinnati, which had won two consecutive NCAA Championships, was also undefeated, riding a 37-game winning streak.
On February 16, 1963, Cincinnati finally lost a heartbreaker to Wichita State, 65-64. Loyola didn’t move up in the rankings, however, because on the same night they were blown out by Bowling Green, 92-75.
The Ramblers won their next three games, but then lost a nail-biter to #8 Wichita State, 73-72.
Loyola entered the NCAA Tournament ranked fifth in the nation. The Ramblers’ first opponent was Tennessee Tech. The Ramblers crushed Tennessee Tech 111-42.
Loyola’s next opponent in the NCAA Tournament was supposed to be #6 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had never before accepted an invitation to the tournament, however, because they might be required to play teams with black players. In 1962, Mississippi State turned down an invitation despite being 24-1 and ranked fourth in the nation.
In 1963, the Bulldogs snuck out of Mississippi in the middle of the night, defying the Mississippi governor and a court injunction, to go to East Lansing, Michigan and play Loyola. "I'm happy my boys could come," Mississippi State coach Babe McCarthy said when his team arrived, "just to see a team like Loyola play."
At the start of the game, Mississippi State captain, Joe Dan Gold, walked out on the court and shook Jerry Harkness’ hand. “It became such a big thing,” Harkness said. “Flashbulbs were popping everywhere.”
"They had city police, state police, the FBI, the Secret Service, everybody there to see that nothing happened,” Loyola coach George Ireland said. “The place was a fortress. I was so anxious to avoid an incident that I told Babe [Mississippi State’s coach], 'Don't worry, we won't even so much as breathe on your boys.'”
Mississippi State slowed down the game and took an early lead. Ireland called timeout. “When they got ahead 10-4, I told our players, 'Go right ahead. Breathe on 'em.' " The Ramblers came back and won 61-51. Harkness scored 20 points. Rouse scored 16 and pulled down 19 rebounds. “We wanted to beat them very badly,” Harkness later recalled, “but they played a tough game and later showed us a lot of respect. I remember thinking, ‘Hey, they’re not bad guys at all.’”
The next day, Loyola faced #8 Illinois and won easily, 79-64. Harkness scored 33. Johnny Egan celebrated with too many cocktails and was arrested. Ireland was so upset that he didn’t speak to Egan until after Loyola won the NCAA Championship, at which point Ireland said to Egan “You’re an ass.”
In the Final Four, Loyola faced #2 Duke, an all-white team from the South. The Ramblers won easily, 94-75. “They don't play Negroes,” Ireland said. “Any good team with a predominantly Negro lineup could beat them." Hunter scored 29 points and pulled down 18 rebounds. Harkness scored 20 and Miller 18.
In the NCAA Championship game, Loyola faced heavy favorite 25-1 top-ranked Cincinnati. The Bearcats had won the title the last two years in a row and had the best defense in the nation, permitting opponents only 52.9 points per game.
Cincinnati’s defense dominated the game early on. Loyola missed 13 of their first 14 shots from the field. Despite shooting a dismal 8 for 34 from the field and despite leading scorer Jerry Harkness not scoring as single point, Loyola was only down 29-21 at halftime. At halftime, Harkness recalled thinking “Don’t let them kill us.”
At the start of the second half, Cincinnati poured it on. With 14 minutes left, Cincinnati extended the lead to 45-30. “I wish I could tell you I thought we were going to win,” Harkness said, “but I broke my back just so we could get back in the game and look decent and not be embarrassed.”
With about 10 minutes left in the game, and Cincinnati’s three top players all saddled with four fouls, Cincinnati’s coach elected to go into a stall. With no shot-clock yet in existence, Cincinnati could try to stall for the rest of the game. “I was extremely surprised they decided to go into a stall,” Loyola center Les Hunter said. “It takes something out of you if you’re not even trying to score and the other team is. They were definitely out of sync.” The Loyola press started taking its toll. Cincinnati had 16 turnovers for the game—most in the last 10 minutes. Loyola had only three.
With their three top players in foul trouble, Cincinnati had to loosen up their legendary defense as well. “The fouls changed our whole game,” Cincinnati’s coach said. “We could no longer play aggressively.”
Over the next five or six minutes, Loyola outscored Cincinnati 11-3. With about 4:30 left and Loyola still trailing 48-41, Jerry Harkness finally scored a field goal. Then he immediately stole the ball and scored another. It was 48-45.
The crowd of nearly 20,000 started rooting loudly for the underdog Ramblers. Duke and Oregon State fans, whose teams were eliminated in the Final Four games, got behind them. "We didn't have a band," Loyola coach George Ireland said, "but the Duke band got behind us."
With 12 seconds left, Cincinnati had the ball and held on to a one point lead, 53-52. Harkness intentionally fouled Cincinnati guard Larry Shingleton. Shingleton made the first charity shot. It was 54-52. “I have a picture of that scene hanging in my basement,” Shingleton said. “If I’d made that shot, I could probably have been the youngest senator in the history of the State of Ohio. But I missed it.”
Loyola center Les Hunter pulled down the rebound and flung a quick pass to Ron Miller. Miller stepped and fired a pass to Harkness. Harkness put up a 12-footer. “I knew it was going in,” Harkness said. “I had played so badly it just had to go in.”
The crowd roared as time ran out. A 54-54 tie at the end of regulation. After scoring one of Loyola’s first 41 points, Harkness had scored 11 of their last 13.
In overtime, Loyola scored first. Again, it was Harkness. 56-54 Loyola. Cincinnati came right back. With a little less than two minutes left in overtime and the score tied at 58-58, Loyola called time out. The Ramblers stalled for the last shot.
With seven seconds left, Harkness dribbled into the left corner looking for an open shot. He left his feet to take a jump shot, but a Cincinnati player got his hand on the ball. “I felt I was losing it,” Harkness said. “Then I saw Les [Hunter] out of the corner of my eye.”
Harkness passed to Hunter. With less than four seconds left, Hunter took a short jumper, but missed. Loyola forward Vic Rouse got the ball. “I grabbed it tight, jumped up and laid it in. Oh my, it felt good.”
“I just went crazy,” Harkness said. “I was hugging and kissing everyone and doing all kinds of dumb things.”
The Loyola Ramblers were NCAA Champions despite getting outshot 49 percent to 27 percent. “Sometimes I wish we hadn’t played such a terrible game against Cincinnati,” guard Ron Miller said. “I wish we had played as well as we could. We should have blown them out.”
The five starters on the 1963 Loyola team earned a total of 11 college degrees. Johnny Egan earned a law degree and became a successful criminal defense lawyer. Ron Miller earned an MBA. Vic Rouse earned three masters degrees and a PhD, and taught at the University of Maryland.
"This team was a dream team," Jerry Harkness said. "It was made from heaven above."
Name Pos Class Pts Reb
Jerry Harkness F SR 21.4 7.6
Les Hunter C JR 17.0 11.4
Johnny Egan G JR 13.7 3.6
Vic Rouse F JR 13.5 12.1
Ron Miller G JR 13.3 5.4
Billy Smith F/C SO 7.7 5.5
Pablo Robertson G SO 5.1 2.9
Earl Johnson F SO 3.1 3.5
Jim Reardon F SR 2.2 2.1
Dan Connaughton G SO 1.9 1.1
How would the 1963 Loyola Ramblers do against the teams of today? How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?
The shot clock certainly wouldn’t be a problem for the fast breaking Ramblers. The Ramblers weren’t a great outside shooting team, but they were acceptable. Miller and Harkness would probably both be solid three-point shooters. Hunter and Rouse, at 6’6” and 6’7” would be small compared to today’s inside players, but they both had great leaping ability. Loyola probably didn’t have the talent to compete with the best teams of all time, but their intelligence and ability to play as a team would enable them to be be a very good team even today.
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