Louisiana State University celebrates 100 years of basketball in 2009 with visions of Pete Maravich, Bob Petit and Shaquille O’Neal still dancing in its head and wondering when its next Cinderella team will arrive.
Basketball has played second fiddle to LSU football and has lived in the shadow of basketball dynasties at UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and Duke. At times, the men’s team has even been overshadowed by the freshman team and the Lady Bengals. But the men have had some moments in the sun.
They won a "mythical national championship" in 1935 and have played in the NCAA Tournament 19 times, reaching the Final Four in 1953, 1981, 1986 and 2006.
Maravich, Pettit and O’Neal rank among the greatest college and professional players of all time. "Pistol Pete" and Pettit are already in the college and professional basketball halls of fame. Similar spots await O’Neal.
Harry Rabenhorst coached LSU to a 349-264 record in 29 years, won one national championship and took the Tigers to their first Final Four tournament.
In 25 years at LSU, Dale Brown coached the Tigers to 13 NCAA tournaments, two Final Fours and four SEC championships. He won four SEC coach-of-the-year awards and one national coach of the year honor.
Maravich won first team all-American honors three times, led the nation in scoring three years and is still college basketball’s all time scoring champion with 3,667 total points and a 44.2 point game average, all before basketball adopted the 3-point shot.
In 1967-68, Maravich and his freshman team outdrew the varsity in attendance with his scoring and ball handling magic.
Maravich had a volatile 10-year Hall of Fame career in the NBA with Atlanta, New Orleans, Utah and Boston. He died, at age 40, of a heart attack while playing in a California 3-on-3 game. LSU renamed its arena the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in recognition of his role in popularizing Louisiana basketball.
Pettit was a first team all-American and was named to the all-SEC team three times. In 1953, he led the Tigers into their first Final Four tournament. He is still LSU’s fourth all time rebounder and fifth all time scorer.
In 1958, Pettit led St. Louis to the NBA championship and won the MVP award in the NBA all-star game, setting game records with 28 points and 26 rebounds. He did it with the losing team, with a wrist cast and playing against defensive great Bill Russell. Pettit was the first NBA player to score 20,000 points.
In 1935, Guard Sparky Wade and forward Buddy Blair led LSU to a 14-1 regular season record. LSU defeated Pittsburgh 41-37 in a national championship match game at Atlantic City. Wade twice led the SEC in scoring and was LSU’s first all-American.
In 1992, O’Neal was named national player of the year and led LSU to the SEC championship. He was all-America and all-SEC in two of his three years at LSU. He was the first pick in the 1992 NBA draft and won four NBA titles with the Lakers and Heat.
LSU’s Chris Jackson registered perhaps the NCAA’s greatest freshman season in 1989, averaging 30.2 points and winning the SEC player of the year award. He was first team all-American twice. Denver selected Jackson in the first round of the 1990 NBA draft. He later changed his name to Abdul-Rauf and continued his career in Europe.
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