Monday, January 30, 2006

Collegiate Basketball Irony -- On a Night When Movie Fans See 5 Black Starters In 'Glory Road,' Iowa Uses 4 White Regulars To Tie for Big Ten Lead

As I sat in sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena at Iowa City the other night, watching Iowa’s basketball team climb into a tie for first place in the Big Ten standings, I considered the irony of it all.

The Hawkeyes were beating Ohio State, 67-62, and staying undefeated at home with a starting lineup that was 80 percent white and 80 percent native Iowan.

At the same time, in theaters around the state and nation, the movie “Glory Road” was drawing viewers who wanted to see the story of an NCAA championship team that had an all-black starting lineup.

It was in 1966 that Texas Western [now Texas-El Paso], coached by Don Haskins, used its all-black lineup to beat all-white Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp, in the championship game, 72-65, at College Park, Md.

People probably cared 40 years ago that Haskins started an all-black lineup, but nobody really gave a damn Saturday night when Iowa coach Steve Alford [pictured at the upper right] used a starting lineup of four white players -- Greg Brunner, Adam Haluska, Jeff Horner and Erek Hansen -- along with black guard Mike Henderson, against Ohio State.

As far as I could tell, the refreshingly noisy crowd of 15,500 cared only that the Hawkeyes won on a night when the student fans were revved up and when the university honored its 1955 and 1956 NCAA Final Four teams.

The fans loved it when Iowa’s 2005-2006 players ran over to the students immediately after the game and saluted them for the noise they had generated.

Skin color didn’t matter. Success in front of only the second home sellout crowd all season did.

The people dressed in those gold sweatshirts and gold T-shirts [photo above from], and buying those big tubs of popcorn, weren’t concerned with which players were “athletic” and which weren’t.

They just wanted to chant “Dirty Program! Dirty Program!” at Ohio State’s players when they were shooting free throws.

This is a Hawkeye team -- now ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll -- that’s easy to like.

*There’s Brunner [lower middle], the balding 6-7, 245-pound senior from Charles City who averages 14 points and 10.3 rebounds. Brunner can do it all, and proved it by starring on the USA team that went 8-0 and won the gold medal in the 2005 World University Games.

*There’s Horner [lower left], the 6-3 guard from Mason City who has been robbed of his shooting ability in his senior season. The knee he injured early in the season, and which now is in a brace, has influenced his shot and his mobility so much that was 0-for-8 from the field against Ohio State. He’s averaging 6.5 assists and 11.8 points a game.

*There’s Adam Haluska [lower right] of Carroll, the transfer from Iowa State who leads the team with a 15.3 scoring average. He’s only a junior, but at this time next season he should maybe consider lining up ESPN announcer and former collegiate coach Rick Majerus as his agent. Majerus raves about him all the time when he does Iowa games.

*There’s Erek Hansen [upper middle], the 6-11 senior center who is the only non-Iowan in the starting lineup. Hansen is from Bedford, Texas, and played at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids before becoming a Hawkeye. He has blocked 65 shots this season and is clearly a crowd favorite while not backing away from physical confrontations under the basket.

*There’s Mike Henderson of Waterloo [upper left], a junior who is the only black player in the starting lineup. He’s averaging 7.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2 assists. The kid can play.

In addition, Doug Thomas [5-point, 4.5-rebound average, 21 blocks], Alex Thompson, Tony Freeman and Carlton Reed, give Alford a pretty fair bench.

The Hawkeyes take records of 16-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten into Wednesday night’s game at Purdue. This is definitely an Iowa team capable of winning 22 or 23 games heading into the conference tournament March 9-12 at Indianapolis.

Alford, whose teams have underachieved in the conference in past seasons, is doing the best coaching job in his seventh season at Iowa.

Barring further injuries, it’s a team that could win a couple of games in the NCAA tournament.

It figures to be a fun February and March.