Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ties That Bind

Despite common misconception, Al McGuire wasn’t related to Frank McGuire. Yet the careers of the two coaches were inextricably linked.

Al played for Frank at St. John’s from 1948-’51 and during their three seasons together on the varsity, the then-Redmen went 66-19 and made into the prestigious NIT each year.

Al averaged just 8.1 points per game in college, but he was a scrapper known for his obstinate defense. Frank called Al one of the most competitive players that he ever coached.

That defensive attitude bought Al three seasons in the nascent NBA with the New York Knicks. The pesky guard billed himself as a Bob Cousy stopper and, yes, he did shut down the Boston Celtics’ legendary point guard on occasion.

After his playing career, Al landed as an assistant at Dartmouth in 1955 but the Ivy League didn’t suit his streetwise personality.

By then, Frank had moved on to the University of North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels to an undefeated season in 1957 and the national championship over Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain, a player Frank would later coach in the NBA.

Those bona fides give a coach considerable clout in North Carolina, and Frank used his influence to persuade Belmont Abbey, a small school near Charlotte, to take a chance on his former player at St. John’s.

Al went 109-64 as coach at Belmont Abbey. He and Frank shared similar coaching styles. The charismatic leaders would bring in talented players, preferably from New York City, and then use psychological ploys more than tactical ones to get the most out of their talent.

Al was hired by Marquette in 1964, with another solid reference from Frank, who became coach of South Carolina that same year.

The coaches would match wits against each other nine times at those schools. The first two games were probably the best of the series.

The first meeting came on Dec. 16, 1966, in the Milwaukee Classic tournament at the Arena. South Carolina won, 63-61, after referees waved off a last-second basket by Marquette’s Paul Carbins, who had knocked in the ball as it bounced on the rim after Brad Luchini’s shot.

South Carolina had been called for four technical fouls in the game. Al seemed to think that it got the referees on edge enough to make that gutsy final call. He recognized the tactics of his former coach and said afterward that Frank “used the oldest trick in the book.”

When the teams met again on Jan. 9, 1972, in South Carolina, it was a nationally televised contest between top-10 squads.

The game was intensely physical and tensions bubbled over three minutes into the second half with Marquette leading, 44-35. The Warriors’ Bob Lackey and the Gamecocks’ Tom Riker had enough of the bumping in the post. The haymakers started between those big guys and spread like a contagion.

It took 10 minutes and the South Carolina band to start playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for order to be restored. Frank, much like in North Carolina’s brawl with Duke in 1961, was right in the middle of the action on the court. Al was on the bench the whole time and said later “a bar-hall bouncer wouldn’t take his coat off for this one.”

Allie McGuire, an actual relation of the Marquette coach, hit two free throws with 1:15 remaining to give the Warriors a 72-69 lead. The Gamecocks got within 72-71, but that would be the final score after South Carolina couldn’t convert on its final two possessions.

Frank and South Carolina would win their next 27 home games before Al and his Warriors returned to Columbia to stop the streak.

Frank notched a victory against Al in 1974, but the pupil ran off with five straight victories in the series before retiring after Marquette’s national championship in 1977. The feisty former guard finished with a 7-2 record against his mentor.

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