Friday, July 22, 2011

Cajun Flavor

Former Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) coach Beryl Shipley has rightly been exalted for helping integrate a college basketball team in the heart of the Deep South. His hoops reputation has certainly improved since 1973 when he was forced to resign amid a torrent of NCAA violations, mostly centering on giving cash to some of the poor black players that he recruited to Lafayette.

Those big issues have overshadowed the entertainment value that Shipley’s Ragin’ Cajuns brought to the NCAA.

It’s hard to fathom that on Feb. 23, 1973, the nationally televised game of the week was Southwestern Louisiana at Oral Roberts. But they were the two highest-scoring teams in the country at the time, each pouring in a shade above 98 points per game.

This was Shipley’s last squad at Southwestern Louisiana and undeniably his best. The Ragin’ Cajuns had four players that would be NBA draft picks: Dwight “Bo” Lamar, Larry Fogle, Jerry Bisbano and Fred Saunders.

Lamar was quite a sight to behold, a blur of a point guard with a giant Afro and the temerity to pull up for a jumper from anywhere inside halfcourt. Lamar had scored 36.3 points per game the previous season, becoming the first player to lead the nation in both Division 1 and Division 2 (the Ragin’ Cajuns made the leap to the top division for the 1971-’72 season.)

Lamar’s scoring would dip to 28.9 in 1972-’73 because he had to share the ball with another offensive warhorse. Larry Fogle was a scoring legend from Detroit’s Cooley High, his 73 points against Cody in 1972 still stands as a single-game mark for Detroit’s public league.

Those dynamic scorers would help Southwestern Louisiana dominate Oral Roberts, 104-89. The teams combined for 196 shots.

Lamar was outstanding in the first half, hitting on 10 of 18 shots for 22 points. He finished with 34. Fogle added 13 points and also helped Southwestern Louisiana on the boards. Lamar and Fogle brought a street flair to a game that was still dominated by the buttoned-down approach of John Wooden and UCLA.

The Ragin’ Cajuns would advance to the Sweet 16 that season before falling to Kansas State, 66-63. Soon after, Shipley was out and the NCAA put the program on ice for two seasons.

Lamar was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the third round of the NBA draft but he opted for the ABA and landed with the San Diego Conquistadors and coach Wilt Chamberlain. Lamar didn’t soften his gunner tendencies as a rookie in the pros, jacking up 247 three-point attempts — more than the totals of three ABA teams. He made it one season with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA after the ABA ceased operations.

After Southwestern Louisiana’s NCAA turmoil, Fogle transferred to Canisius College, where he set several scoring marks. Fogle’s NBA career lasted all of two games with the New York Knicks, but he surfaced recently on an episode of “Judge Mathis.”

Whatever that team’s future troubles, the 1972-’73 Ragin’ Cajuns anticipated the rough-around-the-edges, immensely talented and freewheeling teams in the next decades like UNLV under Jerry Tarkanian and the Fab Five at Michigan.