Former Kansas basketball player Clyde Lovellette, the most outstanding player of the 1952 NCAA Tournament who helped lead the United States to an Olympic gold medal the same year, died Wednesday night in North Manchester, Ind., after battling cancer. He was 86.
Lovellette, a two-time All-America selection, scored 33 points with 17 rebounds in the 1952 national championship game, lifting KU to an 80-63 victory over St. John’s for its first NCAA title. The center was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1988 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City in 2012.
“Clyde’s passing is a big loss for anyone who has ever supported Kansas athletics,” KU coach Bill Self said in a release. “He was a great player, a national champion and Olympic gold medalist. He was a beloved teammate and a great ambassador for his alma mater.”
Originally from Terre Haute, Ind., Lovellette’s No. 16 KU jersey was retired in 1992. He ranks as the fourth-leading scorer at KU with 1,979 points, behind only Danny Manning, Nick Collison and Raef LaFrentz. His 813 rebounds also rank 10th on KU’s career list.
Lovellette was a frequent visitor to Kansas over the years, returning for reunions and games. He had planned to attend a game this season but didn’t make it to Lawrence.
He was the centerpiece of Phog Allen’s recruiting class that arrived for the 1948-49 season. Allen went to Terre Haute, Ind., to land a 6-foot-10 center who developed a deadly hook shot.
Allen’s pitch to Lovellette went like this: Come to Kansas and win an NCAA title and Olympic gold medal. Then, NCAA champions supplied half of the Olympic team roster and Allen believed a Lovellette-led Kansas team could represent the United States.
He was right. The Jayhawks rolled to the Big Seven championship, became NCAA regional champions — Lovellette scored a then-record 44 points against Saint Louis in the regional final — and continued the pace at the Final Four in Seattle.
Lovellette scored 33 against Santa Clara in the semifinals before matching that point total with a double-double against St. John’s in the championship game. He then joined six Kansas teammates on the gold-medal winning Olympic team that summer in Helsinki.
That season, Lovellette became the first — and he remains the only — player to lead the nation in scoring (28.6 points) while playing for an NCAA title team.
Lovellette went on to an 11-year NBA career and won one championship with the Minneapolis Lakers and two with the Boston Celtics.