While the Ramblers of today’s Loyola basketball team will play next week in the Final Four, their 1962-63 won the National Championship by defeating the top ranked and two-time defending champion Cincinnati Bearcats in a 60-58 title game.
Two Loyola starters on that team were from Nashville. They played high school at segregated Pearl High School. Thus, they went north to Chicago Loyola and played college basketball.
The Loyola coach was George Ireland and they were 29-2 and national champions in 1963. They averaged 91.8 points a game that season. They were an independent at that time and now are in the Missouri Valley Conference.
They opened the season against Tennessee Tech in 1963 and won 111-42, a record which still stands today in the tournament. They then beat Mississippi State, ranked No. 7 61-51, No. 8 Illinois, who lost 79-64, No. 2 Duke in the semi-finals, 94-75 and upped their record to 28-2 before taking Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime in Louisville, Ky.
Mississippi State played all white players in that tournament and had to slip out of Mississippi and come through Nashville, defying a rule that the State team could not play a team that had black players. They did it any way.
Loyola’s Jerry Harkness was a black player on that 1963 championship team and was inducted to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Nashville Pearl’s Les “Big Game’’ Hunter was Loyola’s 6-7 starting center in 1963. Pearl’s Les Rouse was the team’s 6-6 junior forward.
I was covering the Final Four in Kansas City in the 1980s and knew of Hunter. He owned a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City after a pro career and I went there to interview him. Hunter owned it for 10 years before leaving to help students get their diplomas.
Here is some ancient history to decipher. Their 1963 team broke what was then a “gentleman’s agreement’’ among coaches in which no more than two black players would be on the floor at one time. According to Wikipedia, in some road games, black players would have to rotate, so that only one of them was playing at any given moment.
The Ramblers would regularly have three or four black starters, paving the way for the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners men’s basketball team who would finally kill the “gentleman’s agreement’’ and play five black starters winning that year’s National Championship.
In the SEC, former Alabama coach C.M. Newton was the first in the conference to recruit black players. He admitted it was a difficult time in the South, but other teams they were beating followed suit.
This season’s 11-seed Chicago Loyola team is on a roll. They beat 3-seed Tennessee on a last shot, 63-62 with Clayton Custer’s game winning shot. They beat Miami 64-62 and Nevada, 69-68 before defeating Kansas State Saturday, punching their ticket to the Final Four next week. They have a 98-year-old nun, Sister Jean, on their side.
As crazy as this year’s March Madness has been, who knows? Maybe Chicago Loyola’s team will keep the streak going.
It happened in 1963. It can happen in 2018. Right, Sister Jean? Keep the faith.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.