For Clyde Lovellette, the television set inside his home in North Manchester, Ind., is his most trusty portal to his old life.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Lovellette is 83 years old now, and trips back to Allen Fieldhouse are becoming more and more rare. He’s more than 60 years removed from that magical year in 1952, when he led the nation in scoring, won an NCAA basketball title at Kansas and then won an Olympic gold medal in Helsinki, Finland. But if there’s one forgotten advantage in being a legendary figure at a place like Kansas, Lovellette discovers it every time he goes to flip on the television set. More often than not, his Jayhawks are on television.
“I watch them on television as much as I can,” Lovellette said Sunday night.
An hour or so later, Lovellette would be formally inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City. It was more than fitting. Lovellette, a 6-foot-9 center, was a three-time All-America selection and led the Big 7 Conference in scoring in each of his three seasons. He averaged 28.6 points per game and was selected the Most Outstanding Player in the 1952 NCAA Tournament.
If a college basketball hall of fame would have existed fifty years ago, Lovellette would have been inducted decades ago. But if there’s one thing Lovellette has noticed over the years, it’s that the older he gets, the more folks want to hand him awards and recognition for a sport he began playing during his childhood in Indiana.
“It’s been my life ever since I could bounce the ball,” Lovellette said.
So there he was on Sunday night, wearing black cowboy boots to go along with his coat and tie, talking about a lifetime in basketball. There were the early days, when Kansas coach Phog Allen showed up in Indiana and told him that he would win the 1952 title and an Olympic gold medal if he came to Kansas. And there was his long NBA career in the league’s infancy, when he won three NBA titles and matched up with the likes of Bill Russell and former KU star Wilt Chamberlain.
“You had to adapt to him or he’d kill you,” Lovellette said of Chamberlain.
In Lovellette’s days, he mastered the hook shot and the back-to-the-basket game. He also remembers Allen making players shoot their free throws underhanded and frowning upon jump shots.
“They thought you got up in the air and you lost all your senses,” Lovellette said. “They kept you on the ground.”
In so many ways, the game has changed. But some things haven’t. Like Kansas, Lovellette says, which is still winning more than 60 years after he left Lawrence.
“He had a hundred different nicknames,” said Max Falkenstien, the legendary KU broadcaster. “Cumulus Clyde. The Master of the Planks. The Big Turkey gets all the grain.”
These days, Lovellette is living back at home in Indiana. He spent a few years in Michigan, he said, but the cold and snow drove him back home among family members in the Hoosier State.
But he still keeps in contact with a group of players from that 1952 team. Many of them still live around the area, including Bill Lienhard, Bob Kenney and Bill Hougland. Sometimes, they call up Lovellette and wonder when he’s coming back to Kansas.
“I’ve got to come the furthest,” Lovellette says. “But I would come the furthest, just to be with those guys.”
They were men who played the game in a different era. The pace may have been slower. The players may have been skinnier. But for Lovellette, it was still the game he grew up loving.
“I think we loved to play basketball,” Lovellette said. “We played basketball in the sandlot. We play basketball wherever we could play. And we just loved the game of basketball. And I don’t think we looked very far ahead.”