1961-62 Pekin Chinks Basketball Season Home
I started out as the starting point guard in practice but after the football season was over some guys from that team would be joining our team and I might lose my position. We had a pre-season scrimmage with Tremont a small town 15 miles away and I started at guard and played the whole game. Our first game was to be at Peoria Central where Dawdy had coached before he came to Pekin. They and Richwoods were favored to compete for the Big Eight title and the Central guard whom I would be guarding had a big writeup in the Peoria Journal Star a couple days before the game. After I read that I really wanted to get at least one steal off the Central guard. Since I was going to be starting my parents decided to travel to Peoria to see the game.
The night of the game we were out on the court warming up when I heard these loud boos coming from the Central student section and I looked up to see they were booing Dawdy as he walked out on the court. I hadn't even thought about that possibility and it totally took me by surprise. It also pissed me off and gave me some extra determination to win. Central had a left handed 6' 7” center named Alexander and we were playing man to man defense. The first time the center got the ball near the free throw line he took one dribble before turning around and making a shot. The next time down the court as the ball went to the other side of the court I sank back off of my man till I was to the side and a little behind the center. Sure enough when he got the ball he put it on the floor and I stole the ball. After that he knew he needed to change his habit but he was having a hard time doing it and I was able to get several more steals before the first half was over. I had been hounding the Central guard pretty closely as he brought the ball up the court but I wasn't haven't any luck stealing the ball and I had fouled him three times before Dawdy called time out and told me to back off of him. So I let him bring the ball up unmolested the rest of the first half. However with 30 seconds left in the half we had just missed a shot and were still four points behind and the Central guard was bringing the ball up the court. It was at that time that I decided I couldn't take the chance of them taking a six point lead into half time so I waited till he got to half court and started to look for someone to pass to and I advanced and knocked the ball behind him and beat him to the ball and went in for a lay-up. We went into half only two points down.
The second half was nip and tuck all the way but we had never had the lead. We had the ball down by one point with a minute left in the game. All night long the refs had been calling a foul if you reached in whether you touched someone or not. That's how I had gotten my three fouls. I decided I had to make something happen and as I started to drive across the lane the guard reached in and had a foul called. It was a good thing because I had nowhere to go with a 6' 7” center. As I stepped to the line I was pretty confident and was looking forward to being the one to disappoint the Central fans who had booed Dawdy. Just as I started to begin my shot the opponent on my left motioned to the ref for a time out. I couldn't believe the ref let him call time out so late. I was really upset and when I got back to the bench Dawdy told me to just relax. After the time out when I got to the line now I wasn't so sure. As I let the ball go I knew it was going to be a little short. It hit the front of the rim and bounced around before dropping in. Although I had left that one short I knew I wouldn't do it again so when I got the ball back I didn't waste any time making the next one which put us up by one point. That was our first lead. They missed at the other end and we got the ball back with 30 seconds to go and I dribbled the ball out until a few seconds left when I threw it to our star center Gene Williams. He threw the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded and we had upset Central. I ran over toward him to celebrate and he approached me a little and we both jumped in the air but as we did we both decided not to hug each other so it just turned into the first chest bump that I had ever heard about.
In the locker room I was standing there naked when Dawdy walked in with a big smile on his face and patted me on the butt and said “Thanks, Mike.” The next day in the papers on the sports page in big letters - “PEKIN UPSETS CENTRAL.” And below that “Williams, Geiser, Hall star.” I was so high I couldn't sleep all night and we had a home game against Canton the next night. Dawdy had scheduled a practice the next morning. I was so tired I sprained my ankle really bad and didn't think I would be able to play but Dawdy taped it up and said I was starting. We had a little let down and it went into overtime. In the overtime we were four points down when I was under the basket when Williams put up a shot and the rebound came to me as I hit the ground with the ball I heard a whistle. Normally I would have stopped but I hadn't put up a shot all night and I just wanted to see what it felt like to score a basket so I put the rebound back up. Amazingly the ref had called a foul on Canton and declared my basket good even though it was obvious to me the whistle had come before my shot. So now we were only two points down and had a man going to the line to shot a one and one. As I stood at half court waiting for our man to shoot his free throws I looked back at their coach to see his reaction and he was standing there with his hands on his hip with a look of bewilderment on his face. Who could blame him. What was so strange the ref was Dean Rubafoni a cop who I had heard all the Pekin players say discriminated against us. Anyway we made the two free throws and tied the game up and later went on to win in overtime.
We were now 2-0 and my dad told me that Dawdy had said that if we won the first game we could go 7-0. The next weekend we were to play Woodruff at home. Woodruff had a high scoring guard who didn't even have a jump shot. He just used a set shot to score 30 points a game. He got a big write up in the local paper and I was looking forward to getting a chance to stop him. The night of the game Dawdy set up the other four players as a box zone and I was to be one on one with their high scoring guard. The first half I let him take one shot which he made. I just wanted to see his shot and see if he could make it. After that I wouldn't let him get a shot off and he was really getting upset. Just before the half ended he decided since I wouldn't let him get a shot off from the outside he would drive to the basket. He tried to go around me on the base line but I got in front of him and he got a charging call and he blew up at the referee. I had held him to only two points in the first half and we had a ten point lead. We were ahead by more than 10 points at half time but for some reason Dawdy went to a switching man to man in the second half which I didn't feel was as effective. It certainly allowed their guard to start scoring points. But we won handily and before the next game Dawdy switched to a new defense he had been toying with in practice. It was a full court zone press which we would use the whole game. We would let them make the inbounds pass and then we would attempt to trap the ball with two players so his next pass could be intercepted. Sometimes on their half of the court we would switch back to a man to man defense. We tried it the next game and it worked well and we were now 4-0.
The next weekend we had a big home game with Washington, a little town near Peoria. They were undefeated also and were supposed to be a power that year. Before the tip off Dawdy told us not to go into the full court press defense until their third possession. We got possession of the opening tip and we passed it around the horn for a couple times with nothing happening. I finally decided I'd put it up the next time I got the ball. I put up a twenty-five footer over their defense which swished through the net causing a sound explosion in the gym. When they went to throw the ball in I guess they were expecting our zone defense which didn't challenge the in-bounds pass because I was able to steal the pass. I was in an awkward position under the basket and I should have just kept possession and waited for the rest of my team to get back to our basket but I tried to lay the ball in and missed and the opposing guard got the rebound. The crowd had let out a big cheer when I intercepted the ball and put up a shot and then a groan of disappointment as I missed. That shook me up so much I forgot about switching to our zone defense on the third possession and Dawdy called time out to remind me. As we gathered around him he asked me what happened. I told him I forgot and he lost his temper and punched me in the stomach in front of our players. That had really caught me off guard and surprised me but I shook it off and went back to the court. As the first half progressed I remember feeling a little insecure as they were ahead something like 16 – 14 and I was thinking these guys are going to be tough to beat. I just felt like I was the only one hustling on defense as we trapped their guard in the corner. Just then their guard made a pass and I turned around to see our star center Gene Williams move in front of the intended target and head for our basket. He made the basket and the game was tied and from then on we slowly built up a lead until just before the end of the first half we had an eight point lead when they turned the ball over and we had a chance to go up by ten points before half time. As I went to throw the ball in I was having trouble finding an open man and Gene finally came over close to me and I tried to hand him the ball but I thought if I just hand him the ball he will be touching the ball while I'm standing out of bounds and it will be a turnover so I tried to make a pass out of it but the opposing guard had his hand in the way and I had to try to pass it low and it hit his thigh and bounced out of bounds. I felt terrible because I had wanted that ten point lead at half time. There was about a minute left when they got the ball. They passed it around until it went to a player that I hadn't seen take a shot yet so rather than let him make a a pass back to their guard I blocked off his outlet pass and started exhorting him to shoot. I knew that if he missed the shot the right way the rebound could bounce back to the free throw line where I planned to be after the shot. “Shoot, Shoot” I kept yelling. He was showing indecision as he finally put up a shot with about 10 seconds left. I retreated back to the foul line to see if I could get the rebound. Sure enough the ball had bounced sharply off the rim out to where I was standing at the free throw line. I immediately started for our basket. As I got within 10 feet of the basket their guard had pulled up along side of me planning on stopping me at the basket as I went for a lay-in so I pulled up to take an eight footer off the backboard instead. Just as I released the shot one player went flying by me trying to block the shot but he missed. As the ball went through the basket another Washington player went flying by me too late. The crowd went wild. There was only a few seconds left as their guard got the inbounds pass and instead of advancing up the court he was just staring at me with this stunned look on his face as the buzzer sounded. The same look I had seen on the St. Bernadette guard's face after I made the half court shot to win the last game of St. Joseph's eight grade regular season. Anyway we went into half time with a ten point lead and went on to win by twenty some points. When their guard sat down I did something that I would later regret. I went over to shake his hand and tell him good game. I really meant it because I felt he was a good guard, but I'm sure it came off as an insult which he wouldn't forget. Towards the end of the game I became jealous because all the other starters had left the game to big ovations and I wanted to be taken out for my ovation. I should have realized that being the last one to be taken out was an honor but instead I purposely missed two free throws in a temper tantrum that I hadn't been taken out yet before Dawdy called time out and took me out. I remember feeling a little resentment that Dawdy had called time out to take me out rather than let me walk off the court by myself to applause – the pettiness of youth. Maybe I was still a little pissed about being punched in the stomach in front of our players and fans, I don't know. Anyway I should have had 15 points but wound up with 13.
This was the high point of my season and after the game I wanted to listen to a re-broadcast of the game that was on the radio but Ray Melton a fellow teammate had fixed me up and we were going to go over to the girl's place for a double date. Ray was a country boy from Tennessee who had a little bit of a rebellious attitude like me and we had starting hanging around together at practice. That night I got to make out with this girl. I was too dumb to do anything more although she was ready.
Ray invited me to stay overnight at his house on new year's eve. Meanwhile Dawdy had scheduled a new year's morning practice session. Some of the guys weren't too happy about that and on new year's eve Ray told me he and some of his friends were going hunting (I forget for what) on new year's day and he wanted me to go with him. I told him I couldn't skip practice. He asked me to tell Dawdy that he was sick. I shouldn't have agreed but I did.
When I got to practice I started to approach Dawdy to lie to him but I just couldn't do it. Instead I did nothing. I was a little upset with Ray for putting me in that position. Next weekday Ray learned that he was no longer on the team. Ray came to me and asked me why I hadn't told coach that he was sick. I lied and told him I had forgot. His mom came down to talk to Dawdy but he wouldn't budge. Ray and his mom asked me to tell Dawdy that I had forgot to tell him that Ray was sick so I agreed. I went in to talk to Dawdy and lied and told him that I had forgot. He said it was ok – he understood. He wasn't buying it and it was final. Ray was off the team. That ruined my friendship with Ray.
The next Friday we had to travel for a non-conference game and we almost were upset there. We won in a squeaker to go 7-0 going into our Saturday night match-up with undefeated conference rival Richwoods. They had a 7' tall center who would later go on to play for Kansas St. The day of the game I went to the get a hair cut from Fritz Joestings, the local barber and a rabid basketball fan. While I sat in the chair he said he wanted me to do him a favor. He said when I bring the ball down the court and move to the right to just put up a shot. He wanted me to start shooting more from the outside. I explained to him that Dawdy didn't want me to shoot a lot, that he wanted me to feed the ball into Gene Williams our star center. Fritz begged me to just try it. I just didn't see how I could do that, but I told him ok just to get him off my back.
The night of the game I felt really unprepared as I realized Dawdy had never instructed us in how to line up for the opening tip. It was obvious that the 7' center was going to control the tip so I watched his eyes to see if he would tip me off as to where he was going to tip the ball. I was still undecided as to what to do if I got control of the ball. I thought what if I get the chance to take the ball to the basket off the tip – should I try to take it in for a layup? Then I thought about the layup I had missed in the Washington game. Just before the tip I saw the 7' center make eye contact with the guy standing next to me so as the ball rose in the air I moved behind the guy next to me and started toward our basket and beat him to the ball. Now all I had to do was continue on for a lay up but I had a moment of doubt and hesitated. I'm sure it was the complete shock of getting control of the tip and the insecurity of the prior missed lay-up and the intimidation factor of the 7' center, but it set the tone for the game and was a big mistake. I retreated to center court and their center just about tripped over me as he tried to get to our basket on defense. Now I was pissed for not taking the ball to the basket and it affected my confidence. I had several opportunities to take a shot but demurred. It got so bad that one point I had an open shot that I was hesitating to take when the some one in the crowd yelled “Shoot”, which I did and made the shot. That helped but I still was not right. We went into the half down by a few points. There came a point in the second half where I realized that our offense of feeding our center was not going to work because of the 7' center. I realized I was going to have to start shooting. As I got ready to shoot I thought wait a minute. If I miss their center is going to get the rebound. I just didn't have the confidence to put up a shot. Finally Gene came out of his center position and started shooting from outside and made a game out of it but they went on to beat us by double digits. Fritz was right I should have put it up that night. Sometimes you just have to override authority when you know they're wrong. We had our first loss.
As the season wore on the opposing teams learned how to adjust to our full court press and we started to take some losses. Central, the team we had upset in our opening game, came onto our court and beat us. Alexander their 6' 7” center had learned to stop putting the ball on the floor in the paint and I couldn't steal the ball from him anymore. Our offense of relying so much on Gene was faltering. Dawdy should have recognized that and encouraged me to shoot more. Gene and I had the best shooting percentages on the team. When we came up against a team with a tall center that Gene couldn't get a shot off of underneath we should have went into an outside oriented offense.
About mid season Kewanee came to town. They had a center who had a chip on his shoulder about Pekin and he started expressing his dislike early in the game. He was pushing Gene around under the basket and taunting us. “So you're the great Pekin Chinks – huh?” Whenever he would score or stop us from scoring he would taunt us. I have to admit he was pissing me off. We had the lead throughout but it was a tough physical game and as it came down to the final minute all the other starters had fouled out but me. We had a two point lead and the ball as Dawdy put us in a perimeter rotating stall with instructions to run out the clock. I was feeling a little insecure without the other starters in the game and every time I gave the ball up I was afraid I wasn't going to get it back. I saw the loudmouth Chink hater protecting the basket. I decided the next time I got the ball I would drive to the basket regardless of what Dawdy said. As I drove toward the Chink hater under the basket and he advanced toward me I saw Dawdy jump off of the bench. I didn't back off and as I went up for the lay up the Chink hater backed off and as the ball went through the hoop and I came down Dawdy was standing right in front of me not knowing how to feel. We now had a four point lead with a minute to go. However they came down and scored again so it was still a game. By that time we had forgot all about Dawdy's stall tactic and one of our player's shot and scored giving us a four point lead with only a few seconds left. However I wasn't through with the Chink hater and as he brought the ball to half court I knew he wouldn't be expecting me to try to steal the ball so I advanced on him and knocked the ball away and picked it up and headed for the basket when he grabbed me from behind violently and practically knocked me down. I lost my temper and rushed at him with my fist raised and was just able to stop myself before bumping into him. The whole gym became quiet as we stood squared off against each other. I just looked up to the Chink section and hung my head and turned around and walked to the free throw line. The ref had called a technical on the Chink hater which meant I had two shots coming plus possession of the ball and there was only a couple of seconds left. I was so disgusted with myself for losing my temper I purposely missed both free throws. I guess I was punishing myself for my stupidity. After the free throw attempts I got the ball out of bounds to throw it in and as I threw it in the buzzer sounded and the Chink hater purposely jumped into me trying to start something but I just ignored him and went into the locker room.
By February I was already thinking about golf season and the Saturday of the away Woodruff game the snow had melted enough that I got my clubs out and went out to the fourth fairway and hit balls during the day. That night when I got on the court I noticed that the ball felt like a medicine ball. My hand muscles had been all messed up by my afternoon golf ball hitting episode. I couldn't feel the ball at all and had no touch. After a little practice I was able to dribble the ball well enough to get by but I couldn't get anywhere near the basket on shot attempts so I knew I wasn't going to be shooting much. Since I usually didn't shoot that much anyway I figured I could get by. We had beaten Woodruff at home by double digits earlier in the season, but this was going to be a close game on their court. In the latter stages of the second half we had a lead when I went to the line for a free throw. I had already missed an earlier attempt and didn't feel very confident. Dawdy had once suggested that some of the players who had trouble with free throws try shooting underhanded as they did in the 40s. He used to show us how he could make free throws that way. Since my hands were so screwed up I decided I might as well try the underhanded two hand shot. I tried but missed again. Now every time we got the ball they started fouling me and the Woodruff fans started yelling so loud when I came to the line that I could actually feel the wind from their screams as I went to attempt my underhanded free throws which I continued to miss. In the final seconds we had a two point lead when they fouled me again. I went to the line and missed again and as their guard brought the ball down the court I got under the basket and he put up a shot that missed everything and I could have grabbed the ball but I figured if I did they could foul me again so I just let it go out of bounds and the buzzer sounded. The rest of our team celebrated the win on the court but I just headed for the locker room as I was so disgusted with myself. When Dawdy came in he was mad. He gave this speech about when we win a game everybody celebrates. I guess it was meant for me but I just sat there and didn't say anything.
The next Monday at practice Dawdy sat us down and started talking about how we needed to improve our free throw shooting. He had this blackboard and said we were all going to shoot 25 free throws and come back and write down everybody's results and compare them. Gene Williams and I were paired together on the same basket. By then my hand muscles were back to normal and I made all 25 attempts and Gene made 24. We all took our results back to Dawdy and he wrote them down. I was the only one who had a perfect score and Dawdy pointed out the guys who needed to improve. I figured either a club member or my dad had seen me hitting balls before the Woodruff game and had told Dawdy about it. Since Dawdy was my golf coach maybe he forgave me.
We went to play Richwoods in Peoria and I figured since they beat us at home we wouldn't have much of a chance up there. Their starting guard was Bobby Moreland's little brother. Bobby and I would meet on the golf course in a month or so. Anyway the game was close all the way and as we got to the final seconds we were down my two points when I tried to put up a shot which was rejected by the 7' center. He had slapped it out of bounds as if to say - “Get that shit out of here.” I was so humiliated I didn't even want to throw the ball in-bounds which I usually would have handled. I let someone else do it. I had lost all confidence and we lost the game.
The last game of the year was at Moline up near Chicago. As we came out for pre-game warm-ups I couldn't believe how big the gymnasium was. I was used to gyms that held a few thousand fans. This gym held twelve thousand. I was totally intimitdated and it must have been obvious to Dawdy as he took me out of the game. We finished the regular season with an 16 – 10 record.
We won our first post season game easily. Our second game we also won easily but I was the only one on the team who didn't score any points in the game and I was a little ashamed. My golfing teammate Scottie told me I needed to go out on a good drunk to forget about it. Unfortunately I succumbed and went out drinking with him. Our next game was with Washington again – the team we had beaten by twenty points earlier in the season. Dawdy started me but took me out not long after the game began. He probably heard about my going out drinking with Scottie. Washington beat us handily and Dawdy put me in with a minute or so to go and I desperately wanted to at least score some points. I put up two rebounds under the basket and couldn't even make either one of those. What a way to end the season. We finished with an 18 – 11 record.
After the game as I was sitting on the bench when the Washington guard whom I had publicly humiliated (although that was not really my intention) by approaching him on the bench and shaking his hand during the game we had won earlier in the season approached me and gave me the same treatment I had given him. At least I was gracious enough to say “Thanks – good luck.” They went on to the elite eight in the state tournament before being beaten.
One of my weaknesses in life seems to be in finishing. I seem to get off to good starts in lots of things but I have trouble finishing strong. However I believe we would have had a much better record if Dawdy had encouraged me to shoot more rather than telling me to just get the ball into Gene.
During the year I got a letter from my old friend Gordon who had moved to Arizona my sophomore year. He had been playing on a team out there and was their star player scoring 20 points a game. He sent me a clipping. I couldn't believe it. I didn't think he was THAT good. I remember thinking the competition out there must not be what it is here.