LSU Week continues with a look at one of the most fascinating basketball schools in the country. The Tigers are rarely just average -- they are either spectacular, spectacular underachievers, or just spectacularly bad.
LSU doesn’t have the banners and trophies to claim to be a basketball power. LSU doesn’t have the pedigree to make themselves a player for the big-name coaches or recruits. But LSU has an amazing story to tell about its basketball history, and it’s full of names you either already know or absolutely should. Call the affiliates, this one is running long tonight.
A Short(ish) History
LSU was definitely a very good early basketball program in the early days of the sport following their first season in 1909. And when Harry Rabenhorst took over the program in 1925, things would go from good to great.
Rabenhorst, who would also be a very successful baseball coach at LSU in his time, put the Tigers on the map as a dominant basketball power as he coached in Baton Rouge from 1925-1957, taking a brief vacation to tour Europe from 1942-1945 as a member of the United States Army. In his 29 seasons of coaching LSU he led them to an overall record of 340-264. While he started off slowly, only having two winning seasons in his first 7 years, things got better when LSU joined the SEC prior to the 1933 season. Over the next 3 seasons, LSU would post 15-8, 13-4 and 14-1 records including a combined 38-10 in the SEC. In 1935, LSU was 12-0 in the conference claiming their first ever conference title. They completed the season by winning the American Legion Bowl and were later awarded a Helms National Championship for that season. While this championship is not officially recognized by the NCAA since it did not sanction a tournament, LSU officially claims this championship and displays a banner in their home arena.
LSU is the only school that officially claims an American Legion Bowl championship. Harry Rabenhorst’s teams would continue playing well, being at or above .500 every single season (both in the conference and overall) all the way until his departure to go serve his country in World War II. When he returned, the LSU program had been treading water for basically two seasons and Rabenhorst quickly got them back on track going 35-7 (16-2) in the next 2 seasons but somehow did not win the SEC Championship in 1946 despite being 8-0. Things continued going well for LSU over the next few years, posting mainly winning seasons before another two-year burst of success, the last ones Rabenhorst would see, in 1952-53 and 1953-54. LSU would run up incredible numbers going 42-8 overall and an astounding 27-0 in the SEC during these two seasons, winning back-to-back SEC Titles and reaching the NCAA Final Four in 1953 thanks in large part to the leadership of a basketball great named Robert Lee "Bob" Pettit, Jr.
Pettit, who also went by "Dutch" in college, was a three-time All-SEC selection and two-time All-American in his time at LSU. He averaged 27.8 points per game over his career, putting up an eye-popping 31.4 points per game with 17.3 rebounds per game during his senior season. His number 50 was retired in 1954, making him the first Tiger athlete in any sport to receive this distinction. He was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Milwaukee Hawks (who would move to St. Louis following Pettit’s rookie season). Pettit was NBA Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds per game in his initial season, and Pettit would go on to win the NBA scoring title in just his second season (averaging 25.7ppg). He was the key player on the NBA Championship team of 1958, he was a 2-time MVP, 4x NBA All-Star Game MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team, 2-time NBA Scoring Champion, and a member of the NBA 25th Anniversary, 35th Anniversary and 50th Anniversary teams. He scored 20,880 points in his pro career (he was the first player in NBA history to score more than 20,000 points), grabbing 12,849 rebounds (the 2nd highest career total at the time) and adding 2,369 assists. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, inducted in 1970.
Rabenhorst’s final 3 seasons were unspectacular to say the least as his teams managed just 19 wins against 54 losses. His replacement, Jay McCreary, wasn’t able to fare much better getting just a single winning season in his 8 years at LSU. McCreary was replaced for a season by Frank Truitt who managed a 6-20 record, and then LSU would hire someone who would put them on the basketball map for all-time.
Petar "Press" Maravich played professional basketball with the Youngstown Bears (1945-46) and then the Pittsburgh Ironmen (1946-47) following his standout college career at Davis & Elkins College. He coached at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Davis & Elkins, Clemson, and NC State before coming to Louisiana State University in April of 1966. He immediately made an impact signing after offering a scholarship to his son, Pete. Upon offering the LSU scholarship to his son, he told him "If you don’t sign this…don’t ever come into my house again." It’s fair to say that Press Maravich is best known for being the father of Pete Maravich.
You simply cannot exaggerate enough the skills and talent of Pete Maravich. He was born in Aliquippa, PA, a small steel town in the western part of the state. Maravich amazed his family and friends with his basketball abilities from an early age, and he enjoyed a close but demanding father-son relationship that motivated him toward achievement and fame in the sport. Pete played varsity basketball in high school in Central, SC, a year before being old enough to attend the school. After moving with his parents to Raleigh, NC, after his dad’s job change to coach at NC State, Maravich would see the birth of his famous moniker. From his habit of shooting the ball from his side, as if he were holding a revolver, Maravich became known as "Pistol Pete". Maravich averaged 33 points per game as a senior in HS.
While Pete would admit later in life that he always dreamed of playing for West Virginia University and was all set to be a Mountaineer, his father’s offer was not one he could pass up. In his first game on the LSU freshman team Maravich put up 50 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. In only three years of varsity ball at LSU, Maravich scored 3,667 points (scoring over 1,100 points in each of his 3 seasons) while averaging 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points per game. In his collegiate career, this incredible player averaged an incomprehensible 44.2 points per game over 83 career games and led the NCAA in scoring in each of his three seasons. The fact that his career points record still stands now 42 years later is astounding when you consider, again, that he only played 3 seasons of varsity competition and that he played before the advent of the three-point shot.
Years later, long-time LSU head coach Dale Brown charted every college game Maravich played, taking into consideration all shots he took. Brown calculated that at the original NCAA 3-point line of 19’9" from the rim, Maravich would have averaged thirteen 3-point scores per game, lifting the player’s career average to 57 points per game. But perhaps his most mind-boggling stat of all comes when you examine his career statistics in the NCAA Tournament: zero appearances. Despite being the most prolific scorer and one of the best players of all-time, Pete Maravich never appeared in the NCAA Tournament, never won the NIT Championship, never won the SEC Tournament, never won the SEC Championship. He was a 3-time consensus First-Team All-American, 3-time SEC Player of the year, 2-time USBWA Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, Helms Foundation Player of the Year, UPI Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year and AP College Player of the Year.
Pete Maravich would go on to be selected with the 3rd overall pick in the first round of the 1970 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. After four seasons in Atlanta, he would return to Louisiana with the New Orleans (and then Utah) Jazz, before finishing his career with the Boston Celtics. He was a 5-time NBA All-Star, 2-time All-NBA First Team, 2-time All-NBA Second Team, NBA All-Rookie First Team, a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, his #7 is retired by New Orleans Hornets and the Utah Jazz, and he finished his career with 15,948 points (24.2ppg) and 3,563 assists (5.4apg). Maravich is one of the youngest players ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and is cited by the Hall as "perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history." Pete Maravich died suddenly at the age of 40 in 1988 of an undetected congenital heart defect. He was playing a pick-up basketball game in Pasadena, CA.
In spite of coaching his prolific son for half of his coaching career for the Tigers, Press Maravich had an overall losing record at LSU. But, he can still be credited with turning around a program that had hit hard times in the years before his arrival and his lasting legacy, and his son’s, at LSU would be long-remembered. Press Maravich was replaced in 1972 by Dale Brown, and LSU was once again destined for the bright spotlight and all of the good and bad that can bring.
NOTE: We'll have more on the Dale Brown years tomorrow. The short version: in 25 seasons under Brown, LSU won 20 or more games 10 times, attended 13 NCAA Tournaments in a 15-year span, made two Final Fours, made two more Elite Eights, finished seven seasons ranked in the Top 25, signed Shaquille O'Neal, underachieved, overachieved, and ran into trouble with the NCAA. It was a crazy, eventful time for LSU basketball, and it warrants its own post. Stay tuned for that tomorrow. For now, we'll pick up the story in 1997, after Brown's departure.
Brown’s replacement, John Brady, had great overall success in his 10+ seasons at LSU. He coached the team to an overall 167-111 record between 1997-2008, his teams would win the SEC twice (2000 and 2006) and would also reach the Final Four in 2006. His teams also went to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 (Sweet Sixteen), 2003 and 2005 (1st round losses). They would also go to the NIT twice, losing the in 1st and 2nd rounds. Brady would be dismissed midway through the 2008 season, just two years after another unlikely run to the Final Four, and is currently the head basketball coach for the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Brady’s replacement the following season was Trent Johnson, who coached at LSU just 4 seasons going 67-64 overall but did go 27-8 in his first year, winning the SEC and advancing to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.
After two 11-win seasons to follow, his final season in 2011-12 resulted in a 18-15 finish and a loss in the 1st round of the NIT. Replacing him is Johnny Jones, a former LSU player (from the ’81 Final Four team) and assistant coach (from the ’86 Final Four team) under Dale Brown. He had coached at North Texas from 2001-2012, going 190-146 there and making two NCAA Tournament appearances with the Mean Green in 2007 and 2010 (both resulting in 1st round losses).
Only one player who averaged double-digit points returns to LSU for 2012-13, and that is JR Guard Andre Stringer. Stringer averaged 10.1ppg on just 34.9% shooting for the year. He adds 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. LSU did sign a number of players in the 2012 class that should help immediately, including 4-star SG Malik Morgan from River Ridge, LA and a pair of JUCO Forwards from Howard JC in Big Spring, TX, both of them 3-star players in Shavon Coleman and Calvin Godfrey. Corban Collins, a 3-star PG from Woodstock, VA, and Massanutten Military Academcy signed just a couple of weeks ago, and Shane Hammink, son of former LSU great Geert Hammink, comes in as an unrated legacy ready to follow in dad’s footsteps. The 2011 class included 4-star Center Johnny O’Bryant III, who played 21.4 minutes per game as a freshman, and 3-star SG John Isaac who contributed 14.2 minutes per game in his first season.
Best Of The Best
LSU boasts 58 First-Team All-SEC selections in their history, along with 60 Academic All-SEC honors. 12 players have earned SEC Player of the Year, 8 have been First-Team All-Americans. They’ve had 13 NBA First-Round Draft Picks, 1 overall #1 pick, 2 #2 picks and 2 #3 picks. Three former Tigers were members of the NBA at 50 Team, they’ve had 2 College National Players of the Year and currently have 2 Hall of Fame members with Shaquille O’Neal sure to join in a few years.
Many LSU players have made it to the NBA: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Brandon Bass, Ricky Blanton, Frank Brian, Howard Carter, Maurice Carter, John Chaney, Glen Davis, Ronald Dupree, Geert Hammink, Glenn Hansen, Dan Hester, Kenny Higgs, Tito Horford, Steffond Johnson, Randy Livingston, Rudy Macklin, Pete Maravich, Bill Newton, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Pettit, Anthony Randolph, Jerry Reynolds, Stanley Roberts, Al Sanders, DeWayne Scales, Jabari Smith, Stromile Swift, Collis Temple, Tyrus Thomas, John Williams and Nikita Wilson.
Pete Maravich has all of the scoring records at LSU, with 69 in a game, 1,381 in a season, and 3,667 in a career. Al Sanders set the season mark for rebounds with 474 in 1970 and Durand Macklin owns the career record with 1,276 from 1976-1981. Kenny Higgs is all things assists with the record for a game (19), season (235 in 1977) and career (645 from 1974-78). Darryl Joe had 93 steals in 1987 to set the single-season mark, while Clarence Ceasar has the career record with 310 from 1991-95. Shaq of course wrote the book on blocked shots with 12 in a game, 157 in a season and 412 in a career.
The Tigers play their home games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, a 13,215-seat multi-purpose arena that opened in 1972. It was originally known as the LSU Assembly Center, but was renamed in memory of Pete Maravich shortly after his death in 1988. It is known to locals as "The PMAC" or "The House that Pete Built", or by its more nationally-known nickname "The Deaf Dome", coined by Dick Vitale. Prior to the building of the Assembly Center, LSU played its games at John M. Parker Agricultural Coliseum, aka "The Cow Palace".