Finally the Finals: HoopsHD interviews Jim Phelan about Larry Foust

The NBA Finals feature a pair of “super-teams” in Cleveland and Golden State but the concept actually dates back several decades on the college level.  The 1950 La Salle Explorers went 21-4 thanks to a trio of superstars: center Larry Foust (who became an 8-time NBA All-Star), forward Jim Phelan (who won 830 games as a coach at Mount St. Mary’s), and coach Ken Loeffler (who won the NCAA title in 1954 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame a decade after that).  Foust never won a ring in the NBA with any of the 3 teams he played for but made it to the Finals a whopping 5 times during a 7-year span from 1955-1961.  He passed away in 1984, but HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Phelan about his former teammate’s remarkable rebounding skills and whether he should be in the Hall of Fame.

Foust began his career at South Catholic High School in Philadelphia where he scored a last-second basket to help win the 1945 city title over archrival Southern High School: how big a deal was it to have a local hero stay in town to attend La Salle? It was a big deal because Larry was 1 of the biggest guys in the East. Recruiting was not as heavy back then but it was still a great coup for La Salle. I remember when we played against Holy Cross the year after they won the 1947 NCAA title: Larry played great and Bob Cousy was almost a non-factor.

What are your memories of his final college game in the 1950 NIT for La Salle (Foust had a game-high 18 PTS in a 2-PT loss to Duquesne)? We probably let him down in other areas because they did not have the size to match up with Larry.

In the summer of 1950 he was drafted 5th overall by Chicago (2 spots behind Cousy), but after the Stags franchise folded before the start of the following season he joined Fort Wayne: what did it mean to him to get drafted, and how did feel about switching teams? Fort Wayne was the best team in basketball at the time and he fit in well with them right from the start. He played even better in the NBA than in college: he was a 6’10” hulk who weighed 280 pounds.

On November 22, 1950, he made a running hook shot over George Mikan for the winning basket in the final seconds of a 19-18 win over the Lakers, which remains the lowest-scoring game in NBA history: what did the players think of the slow-down strategy? I was a year behind Larry and still in college so I do not know much about that game. He had some great games against Bill Russell and might have even scored 40 PTS against him 1 time. He would bump into Russell so that Bill would not have room to block his shot.

In 1952 he led the NBA with 880 REB and in the 1954 All-Star Game he had a team-high 15 REB in a 5-PT OT loss to the East team: what was his secret for being a great rebounder? He had a huge body and went after the ball. He could play hard against good people, by backing them down and bumping them.

In the decisive Game 3 of the 1953 Western Division Semifinals he scored a game-high 18 PTS in a 2-PT win on the road over Rochester: how was he able to play his best when it mattered the most? He was a solid performer and had just enough shots to make it hard for people to defend him. I never got to play against him in the NBA.

In 1955 he set a record by shooting 48.7 FG% that stood for 4 more years: what was his secret for being a great shooter? Getting close to the basket! He was not a great shooter from long range and was an inconsistent FT shooter but was a tough player who made do with what he had. He had a very soft touch around the basket.

In Game 7 of the 1955 Finals he scored a game-high 24 PTS but George King made a FT with 12 seconds left and then stole the ball from Hall of Famer Andy Phillip with 3 seconds left to clinch a 1-PT win by Syracuse: do you believe the allegations that some of the Pistons conspired with gamblers to blow a 17-PT lead and eventually throw the series? I have heard the same allegations but do not have the vaguest idea if they are true. Larry was a nice fellow and we were very good friends. His father died when he was very young so he was raised by his mother. His younger brother Kenny also died very young.

He is 1 of 5 players who was named to each of the NBA’s 1st 6 All-Star teams from 1951-1956 (Cousy/Dolph Schayes/Ed Macauley/Harry Gallatin), yet he is the only 1 of the 5 who has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame: was he considered 1 of the best players in the league, and why has he not yet been inducted? I do not have any idea: if his numbers were that good he probably should be. Besides Hall of Famer Tom Gola, a lot of La Salle guys have been ignored.

In 1961 he made it back to the Finals before losing to the Celtics for the 3rd straight year: do you consider his playoff career a success (due to making 5 Finals in a 7-year span) or a failure (due to losing all 5 times)? I would consider it a success. I do not know how the rest of his teammates played but Larry was a great player.

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