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.

Throwback Thursday: 90 Years of the Palestra

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Very few places in college basketball can match the history of Penn’s Palestra in Philadelphia. Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym is older, but the Palestra has played home to countless Penn Quaker games, Big 5 games, and the occasional 1-game playoff in the Ivy League.

Tuesday night, Penn celebrated the 90th birthday of the Palestra during their game against Ivy League archrival Princeton. Unfortunately for the locals, Princeton crashed the party with a 64-49 victory. It won’t be the last time Princeton visits the Palestra this year – for the first time in league history, a 4-team tournament will take place at the Palestra during Championship Week. Penn has a long way to go just to make the tournament in its inaugural season, however.

But there have been plenty of good times for Penn since the opening of the Palestra in 1927. They have won or shared the Ivy League regular season title 32 times (the last title was in 2007). They have 23 NCAA Tournament appearances to their credit, including 5 Sweet 16s, 3 Elite 8s,  and a Final 4 team in 1979 (click here for a recap of their unlikely run to the Final Four in Salt Lake City that season). Many of their notable coaches include Jack McCloskey, Chuck Daly, Bob Weinhauer, Craig Littlepage and Fran Dunphy. Notable players include Matt Maloney, Ugonna Onyekwe, Michael Jordan (not former Washington Wizard Michael Jordan), and Jerome Allen.

The Big 5 in Philadelphia goes back to 1955 – this is the annual round-robin series between Penn, Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle. Temple leads the way with 27 titles (shared and outright), Villanova has won 25, Saint Joe’s has won 20, Penn has won 13 times and La Salle has won 11 times. For many years, there were 2 national title banners that were also promiently displayed at the Palestra – La Salle’s 1954 NCAA Championship and Villanova’s 1985 NCAA Championship. There was a period from 1992 through 1999 where the full round-robin was not played; each team has played the full round-robin since 2000.

As for other postseason tournaments, the Palestra has also been home for a number of Atlantic 10 Tournament games. All of the games except the championship games were played at the Palestra from 1989 to 1995; the championship games were played at the respective campus sites of the time (i.e. Penn State, Temple, UMass). The MEAC also had their tournament at the Palestra in 1985 – North Carolina A&T defeated Howard for the title that season.

As for the NCAA Tournament, the Palestra played host to the East Regional 5 times (the last one being in 1977) and East sub-regionals 13 other times (the last one being a set of play-in games in 1984). The Palestra at the time had hosted the most NCAA Tournament games of any facility – they would later be surpassed by UD Arena when they became the annual host of the Opening Round/First Four games beginning in 2001.

As stated earlier, other schools have also played games at the Palestra. Saint Joe’s played their home games at the Palestra in the 2008-09 season when Hagan Arena was being renovated for the Hawks. In the 2014-15 season, the Palestra was the site of a 1-game playoff between Harvard and Yale – Harvard defeated the Bulldogs 53-51 to win the Ivy League and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Earlier this season, Penn State also defeated Michigan 72-63 at the Palestra as a homecoming game for numerous players on the Penn State roster.

 

Throwback Thursday: The 2006 Atlantic 10 Tournament

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2006 was a bit of a watershed year for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This would be the 20th season of the conference (originally started out as the Eastern 8), and the conference tournament would be held at USBank Arena in downtown Cincinnati. Charlotte and Saint Louis were newcomers to the Atlantic 10 for this season, and as expected the 49ers were a serious contender for the league crown.

However, this season saw GW run the table with a perfect 16-0 record in conference play. They would get the top seed only a year after winning the 2005 A-10 Championship (also played at USBank Arena). Temple had a much quieter outing than the previous season – in 2005, John Chaney suspended himself for the remainder of the season after he had sent in Nehemiah Ingram as a “goon” to send a message to Saint Joseph’s player John Bryant in a late season Temple-Saint Joe’s matchup at the Liacouras Center. Feeling that Bryant and other SJU players were getting away with illegal screens in that game, Ingram committed a hard foul late in the game that caused Bryant to break his arm and prematurely end his season.

9th-seeded Temple would defeat Rhode Island 74-45 in a nondescript opener, and Saint Joe’s would beat Dayton 67-55 in the next game. Dayton was the last team to qualify for the tournament; they finished ahead of Duquesne and St. Bonaventure in the conference standings.

In the nighttime doubleheader, 10th-seeded Xavier avenged their season-ending loss at UMass with a 75-66 win over the Minutemen. Noteworthy here is that this was the first win for Xavier after senior PG Dedrick Finn was dismissed from the team by head coach Sean Miller. A few hearty souls stayed around to watch 6th-seeded Fordham defeat Richmond 45-37 in the last of the opening-round games.

The 4 teams that ended up getting byes into the quarterfinals were the aforementioned GW Colonials along with the #2 Charlotte 49ers, #3 LaSalle Explorers and #4 Saint Louis Billikens. Remarkably, neither of the 4 teams would advance to the semifinals. Temple beat GW 68-53 with relative ease, and Saint Joe’s upended SLU 56-37 in the 2nd game of the afternoon doubleheader. A partisan Xavier crowd watched the Musketeers defeat Charlotte 59-55 in the first night game – this doomed whatever at-large hopes the 49ers had and relegated them to the NIT. Another remarkable result was Fordham beating La Salle 64-62 in the nightcap; this was the first time the Rams made it to the A-10 semifinal round in what was then their 12th season in the conference.

The semifinal round began with a weird delay – a bird managed to fly into a ceiling fan at USBank Arena and was killed on contact. The Saint Joe’s-Temple game was delayed for 15 minutes after the floor was cleared and the fan was cleaned up. This time, the Hawks would beat Temple 73-59 to avenge the injury to Bryant from a season earlier. Xavier would avenge their earlier loss to Fordham in the season with a 70-59 victory. This would be the 3rd straight season that Xavier and Saint Joe’s would play each other in the Atlantic 10 Tournament – the Hawks won in 2005, but Xavier blasted the Hawks in 2004 to put an abrupt end to what was a perfect regular season for the Hawks.

The championship game was a very close one, and a blocked shot on the game’s final play preserved a 62-61 win for Xavier – this was their 3rd and final Atlantic 10 title. As for the NCAA Tournament, Xavier got the auto bid and a #14 seed in the West (Oakland) region, but lost to Gonzaga in a game where the Muskies had a serious opportunity for a historic upset. GW would end up as a #8 seed in the South (Atlanta) region – they beat UNC-Wilmington in overtime in the first round before falling to Duke in front of a partisan crowd in Greensboro. Saint Joe’s, Temple and Charlotte would all play in the NIT – the Hawks advanced the furthest with a Round of 16 appearance before losing to Hofstra.

Conference Preview: Atlantic Ten

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ATLANTIC TEN

We are not that far removed from the time when the Atlantic Ten was able to argue, with a straight face, that it was as good a conference, if not better, than the Big East.  Unfortunately for the conference, the Big East schools re-asserted themselves and have relegated the A-10 back to a “second tier” conference behind the power leagues.  That does not mean, however, that this conference is not capable of producing teams that are able to make deep March runs.  Last season, the A-10 only put three teams in the Big Dance, none of which got beyond the first weekend.  VCU (10 seed) and St. Joseph’s (8 seed) each won a single game before falling, while Dayton (7 seed) fell in the Round of 64 to eventual Final Four team Syracuse.  The A-10 put three teams in the NIT (Davidson, George Washington and St. Bonaventure), one team in the CBI (Duquesne) and one team in the CIT (Fordham, making their first postseason appearance in 24 years).  The top postseason performance in the conference came in the NIT, where George Washington cut down the nets as champions.  Everything has fallen apart, however, for the Colonials in the offseason leading to the recent termination of head coach Mike Lonergan under allegations of verbal abuse of his players.

This season, like last, appears to be one in which the A-10 will be a 3-4 bid league at best.  Dayton returns a ton of their talent, even if the team will be playing with heavy hearts following the tragic offseason passing of center Steve McElvene.  VCU is always dangerous, as is Davidson with star Jack Gibbs leading the way.  The biggest improvement should come from Rhode Island, where head coach Dan Hurley welcomes back star player E.C. Matthews.  Matthews went down for the season due to an ACL tear in the team’s very first game last year.  He is healthy and ready to go, and should be able to lead the Rams back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1999.  Finally (and it seems we do this every year), we again will be keeping an eye on Fordham as a dark horse.  Jeff Newbauer just may be the guy to finally turn things around in the Bronx as he builds off of last season’s successes.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Rhode Island – E.C. Matthews is healthy, four starters are back, this team was top in the conference defensively last season, and possible A-10 Rookie of the Year Mike Layssard joins the roster.  How can they not be picked first?

2. Dayton – If Rhode Island ends up snake-bitten again the way they always seem to, Dayton is right there.  Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke, and Kyle Davis will give the Flyers dominance in the backcourt against most teams they play.  The team is trying to get over the absolutely tragic offseason passing of big man Steve McElvene, and will need to rely on Josh Cunningham and Kendall Pollard in the frontcourt.

3. VCU – The Rams will remain tough to beat, especially with the inside duo of Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman.  They will need to find some outside scoring, however, now that Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury are gone.

4. Davidson – Just having Jack Gibbs alone on the court would be enough to keep the Wildcats competitive.  Adding in Peyton Aldridge, who averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year, makes them that much tougher.  If the Wildcats can improve on the defensive end, there is no reason they will not at least be on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

5. Fordham – As we seem to do every year, Fordham is again our dark horse pick to make some noise in this league, even if not quite to the NCAA bid level.  The Rams have a potent backcourt with 2016 A-10 Rookie of the Year Joseph Chartouny and Eastern Kentucky transfer Javontae Hawkins.  The team is lacking in height down low, and will need to find a way to get rebounding production.  If they do, do not be surprised to see them this high in the final standings.

6. St. Bonaventure – The combination of Jaylen Adams (17.9 points per game last season) and Central Connecticut State transfer Matt Mobley (17.2 points per game last year) will give the Bonnies a strong backcourt, but it will be tough for them to replace Dion Wright down low.

7. La Salle – Most of last year’s team is back, including 19.2 points per game Jordan Price, and several key transfers are being added in.  The Explorers should be vastly improved over last season’s 9-22 record.

8. Richmond – The Spiders still have a lot of scoring punch with ShawnDre’ Jones and T.J. Cline, but they need to get a lot better defensively if they want to improve in the standings.

9. George Washington – Tyler Cavanaugh is one of the league’s top players and Seton Hall transfer Jaron Sina should make a big impact.  This team would probably have been picked at least four spots higher in the standings but for the off-court mess surrounding the September dismissal of head coach Mike Lonergan.

10. George Mason – Year 2 of the Dave Paulsen era should be a better one, especially with sophomore Otis Livingston II only expected to get better.  The Patriots are still probably a year or two away from contending for the upper division, but appear to be on the right track.

11. Massachusetts – The Minutemen will get solid scoring outputs from Donte Clark and Canisius transfer Zach Lewis, but this still looks like a rebuilding year.  The good news in Amherst is that Derek Kellogg’s six-man recruiting class has been ranked in the top 30 nationally.

12. Saint Louis – New head coach Travis Ford will certainly have his work cut out for him with three of the top five scorer’s gone from a team that lost 21 games.

13. St. Joseph’s – How do you make up for losing DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown?  You don’t.  This looks like a clear rebuild year for the Hawks.

14. Duquesne – This could be a long season for the Dukes with Micah Mason and Derrick Colter gone.  The team will need to rely on a pair of graduate transfers, Emile Blackman from Niagara and Kale Abrahamson from Drake, to lead the way.

Philly Pride: HoopsHD interviews Coach Speedy Morris about La Salle legend Lionel Simmons

Villanova is back in the NCAA tourney title game for the 1st time since winning it all in 1985.  1 of the keys to their success is their beautiful balance: if you try to shut down Ochefu or Hart, then you will just get burned by Jenkins or Brunson or someone else.  Another Big 5 team who has made a postseason title game since 1985 was La Salle way back in the 1987 NIT, but they used a little less balance to get there.  There are only 2 men in the history of D-1 basketball who made 1200+ FG and 600+ FT: Pete Maravich and Lionel Simmons.  After winning a Philly Public League championship in 1986, Simmons led La Salle to the NIT title game as a freshman before a 4-PT loss to Southern Miss.  Simmons was nothing if not consistent: he still holds the D-1 record for most consecutive games in double figures with 115.  A 3-time conference POY who was also named national POY in 1990, he was finally elected to the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame last month.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel recently got to chat with Simmons’ former coach Speedy Morris about the Explorers’ magical 2-loss season in 1990 and how good his star could have been if he had remained healthy. 

lionel

In the 1986 Philadelphia Public League boys’ title game Simmons had 21 PTS/18 REB to lead South Philadelphia High School to a 2-PT win over University City: how dominant was he in high school, and how did you get him to come to La Salle? He was the player of the year in the city. I got the job late but was friends with his high school coach Mitch Schneider, which probably helped a lot. We met for dinner 1 night and I told Simmons that I would not promise him a starting spot: my assistant at the time (Fran Dunphy) started to kick me under the table because he thought that Simmons was better than anyone we had!

In the 1987 NIT title game he scored 34 PTS in a 4-PT loss to Southern Miss: was it just 1 of those nights when the entire Golden Eagles team was in the zone (11-24 3PM)? They had a good night but we still had a chance to win at the end despite trailing most of the game. Our PG had an open 3 to win the game but he passed the ball to Tim Legler and it got stolen.

After he allegedly turned down a $2 million offer to leave after his junior season, your team only lost 2 games during the 1990 season:
He had 34 PTS/19 REB in a 5-PT loss to Loyola Marymount: how unstoppable were the Lions with Bo Kimble/Hank Gathers (who each had double-double)? I actually thought that we were a better team. I got criticized for trying to run with them but we had a lot of great players including Doug Overton. Lionel shot a couple of air balls in the 1st half, which was very uncharacteristic for him. Gathers was a great player and Kimble had just won a game against St. Joe’s 2 nights earlier with a half-court shot at the buzzer (en route to setting a school record with 54 PTS).

In the NCAA tourney he scored 28 PTS in a 4-PT loss to Clemson: how were the Tigers able to overcome a 19-PT deficit? We were up by 16 PTS at the half and our press was bothering them but in the 2nd half we just could not make a shot. They also dominated us on the boards with future NBA players Dale Davis/Elden Campbell. It was 1 of the most disappointing losses of my career: I think that if we had won that game then we could have beaten UConn in the Sweet 16.

He was a 3-time conference POY/2-time All-American/1990 national POY: what did it mean to him to receive such outstanding honors? It was such a great run he had. He shot about 50% for his career so it did not take a rocket scientist to know that if he missed 1 shot he would probably make his next shot! He was difficult to guard and he made everyone around him better.

He remains the #3 all-time scorer in D-1 history with 3,217 career PTS: what was his secret for being such an amazing scorer? He was a good player who did not take bad shots. He was not a highlight film dunker or very fancy: he was a coach’s dream.

His 1429 career REB is #7 since the NCAA split into 3 divisions in 1973: how was he able to grab so many REB despite standing only 6’7”? He had a great nose for the ball, good positioning, and a great 1st step. Rebounding is about commitment and he was committed to getting the ball.

After shooting 4-14 (28.6%) from 3-PT range during his 1st 2 years he shot 52-121 (43%) during his final 2 years: how was he able to develop into such a good 3-PT shooter? He was always working on his game and got better every single year.

He was drafted 7th overall by Sacramento in the summer of 1990 and was runner-up to Derrick Coleman for 1991 NBA ROY after scoring 18 PPG: how was he able to make such a smooth transition from college to the pros? He did a little of everything and was the best player that you never heard of because he played for a bad Sacramento team (who never had a single 40-win season from 1984-1999).

He retired in 1997 due to chronic injuries and later said that he felt scared because “not many people retire at 29 with no real responsibilities”: how good a player would he have been if he could have remained healthy, and what has he been up to for the past 2 decades? I think that he could have been a Hall of Famer: his stats speak for themselves and he scored 17 PPG during his 7-year career. He is in the area a lot and owns a tavern so he is doing quite well. He is a good guy who does some charitable work for kids every year and is also good to his mother.

Last month he was elected to the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame: when people look back on his career, how do you think that he should be remembered the most? I thought that he should have been inducted a couple of years ago. He was 1 of the best to ever play in the Big 5 and at La Salle, which says a lot.

Under the Radar Game of the Day – Saturday, November 28: La Salle at Rowan

Under the Radar Game of the Day: La Salle at Rowan, 3:00 PM Eastern, free streaming at rowanathletics.com

Heading into the 2003-04 college basketball season, the Villanova Wildcats were facing several key early season player suspensions related to usage of university phones (running up long distance bills).  The Wildcats were scheduled to start that season in the Maui Invitational, but head coach Jay Wright was concerned about his team’s ability to win in that event with the suspensions.  Games were allowed to begin being played on Friday, November 21 and the team’s first game in Maui was scheduled for Monday the 24th.  So Coach Wright’s goal was to get a couple of games in that first weekend before the Wildcats made it to Maui.  This resulted in the now famous “Midnight Game” against Temple, played at 12:01 AM on Friday the 21st (and won by Villanova 73-48).  After that game, the team flew to California and decided to get in one more game there on Saturday afternoon before heading on to Maui.  That game was at Division III Redlands, and the Wildcats were tested, barely escaping with a 114-103 win.  That was also the last time a Division I school played a Division III school on the road.  Until today.

In the 1995-96 season, the D3 Rowan Profs out of Glassboro, New Jersey were coach by Dr. John Giannini.  Dr. Giannini had turned the Profs into  a national powerhouse at the D3 level in the three years before the 95-96 season, leading them to two Final Four appearances in that time.  But the 95-96 season was the most magical of them all as they defeated Hope College in the national championship game and cut down the nets.  That victory catapulted Giannini’s career as he went on to the Division I level the following year, leading the Maine Black Bears for eight of their most successful seasons in program history (even though he never broke through into the NCAA tournament) and then moving on to La Salle, where he is now in his 12th season, including the magical Sweet 16 run in 2013.  Today, however, Giannini will be returning to his roots.

Today’s Under the Radar Game of the Day is the return of Dr. John Giannini, along with his La Salle Expllorers team, to Glassboro to take on Rowan.  The Explorers will be the first Division I team in well over ten years to play a true road game against a D3 team as La Salle has agreed to play the Profs, at the Profs’ campus site, in a game that will include a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the D3 national championship.  Although 99.9% of the time here at HOOPS HD we criticize D1 programs for scheduling games against non-D1 competition, this is one of those .1% games.  This is a great, classy move by La Salle University to help honor their head coach and their South Jersey neighbors at Rowan.  We don’t expect the game to be very competitive, but that is not the point.  The points is the need to honor the history of this game, something so many people fail to do, and La Salle and Rowan will be doing just that this afternoon.  Congratulations go out to both teams, as both are true winners today, no matter what the final score may be.