The Dandy Dons: Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball's Greatest and Most Innovative Teams

Overview

In the mid-1950s three unrecruited black basketball players, coached by a white former prison guard who had never before coached a college team, led a small Jesuit university in San Francisco to two national titles. The Dandy Dons describes for the first time how the unprecedented accomplishment of the Dons, led by coach Phil Woolpert and future hall-of-famers Bill Russell and K. C. Jones, paved the way for black talent in major college basketball and transformed the sport.
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The Dandy Dons: Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball's Greatest and Most Innovative Teams

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Overview

In the mid-1950s three unrecruited black basketball players, coached by a white former prison guard who had never before coached a college team, led a small Jesuit university in San Francisco to two national titles. The Dandy Dons describes for the first time how the unprecedented accomplishment of the Dons, led by coach Phil Woolpert and future hall-of-famers Bill Russell and K. C. Jones, paved the way for black talent in major college basketball and transformed the sport.
James W. Johnson traces the backgrounds of the coach and players, chronicles the heart-stopping games on the road to the championships, and details the Dons’ novel techniques: a more vertical game, more central defense, and intimidation as part of game strategy. He also gives a textured picture of life on an integrated basketball team amid a culture of racism and Jim Crow in mid-twentieth-century America.
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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
This is a carefully researched and passionately written account of one of the greatest amateur teams ever assembled. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of college basketball.—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist starred review

— Wes Lukowsky

Frank Deford
"UCLA's many championships and Texas Western's single dramatic win over Kentucky have perhaps obscured larger truths. As James Johnson shows so very well, the University of San Francisco's NCAA champions of 1955 and 1956 may not only have very well been the finest teams ever to win, but they surely endured the most racist anguish. And Bill Russell's legacy only looms more majestic with time and the telling."

-Frank Deford, NPR commentator, author of The Entitled, and senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated

Dave Newhouse
"James Johnson has executed a literary slam dunk worthy of Bill Russell in proving that those USF Dons of 1955 and 1956 were the most frighteningly dominant college basketball team ever. This book is well researched, well crafted, and well worth any hoop junkie's curiosity."

-Dave Newhouse, columnist of the Oakland Tribune and author of Old Bears

Sports Literature Association
The Dons may not have been from the largest school, but Johnson makes it clear their impact was far-reaching.—Robert S. Brown, Sports Literature Association

— Robert S. Brown

Booklist - Wes Lukowsky
"This is a carefully researched and passionately written account of one of the greatest amateur teams ever assembled. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of college basketball."—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist starred review
Sports Literature Association - Robert S. Brown
"The Dons may not have been from the largest school, but Johnson makes it clear their impact was far-reaching."—Robert S. Brown, Sports Literature Association
Frank Deford
“UCLA’s many championships and Texas Western’s single dramatic win over Kentucky have perhaps obscured larger truths. As James Johnson shows so very well, the University of San Francisco's NCAA champions of 1955 and 1956 may not only have very well been the finest teams ever to win, but they surely endured the most racist anguish. And Bill Russell’s legacy only looms more majestic with time and the telling.”—Frank Deford, NPR commentator, author of The Entitled, and senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated
Dave Newhouse
“James Johnson has executed a literary slam dunk worthy of Bill Russell in proving that those USF Dons of 1955 and 1956 were the most frighteningly dominant college basketball team ever. This book is well researched, well crafted, and well worth any hoop junkie's curiosity.”—Dave Newhouse, columnist of the Oakland Tribune and author of Old Bears
Kirkus Reviews
A look back at the 1955 and '56 University of San Francisco NCAA championship basketball teams. In an era in which integration was still frowned upon, if not unheard of, in many Southern states, legendary African-American center Bill Russell emerged as the future of basketball. With his long arms, astonishing leaping ability and uncanny timing, Russell turned the act of shot-blocking into an art form. Under the guidance of cerebral coach Phil Woolpert, and alongside fellow future NBA hall-of-famer K.C. Jones, Russell led the Dons-who, with multiple black players, shocked and scandalized the basketball community-to back-to-back championships and redefined what it meant to play defense. Johnson (The Wow Boys: A Coach, a Team, and a Turning Point in College Football, 2006, etc.) combs through archival interviews as well as articles and books written by Russell and Jones to piece together the story of a team that revolutionized the game and endured an era of racial turmoil, supplementing the material with his own interviews. Without new input from Russell, Jones or the deceased Woolpert, however, the narrative feels like a discovery from a time capsule, with much of its perspective originating in an earlier era. There is little commentary from modern pundits, making it difficult to adequately contextualize and frame the legacy and influence of the team beyond the time period in which it played. Distance from segregation and a lack of game film contribute to USF's accomplishments being overlooked, which makes Johnson's chronicle a much-needed piece of basketball literature. But incorporating interviews with some of today's top coaches, analysts and players-who could address modern facets ofthe game and its culture developed or influenced by USF-would have injected welcome insight. A worthy topic for a retrospective-if only the narrative were as fresh and innovative as its subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803218772
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 875,211
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

James W. Johnson is an emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the author of several books, including The Wow Boys: A Coach, a Team, and a Turning Point in College Football, available in a Bison Books edition.
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Table of Contents

Preface: The Changing Game ix

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction xxi

1 Russell's Coming of Age 1

2 A Road Trip to Discovery 9

3 On Catholic Schools and Race 15

4 Another Surprise Recruit 23

5 A School He'd Never Heard Of 29

6 Roommates and Friends Forever 35

7 Time to Produce 45

8 A Disappointing Season 61

9 An Unlikely Coach 71

10 A Surprising Move 83

11 The Trail to the Title 103

12 Russell Brings about Rule Changes 121

13 The Machine Rolls On 129

14 Into the Deep South 137

15 Holiday Travel and the Stall 145

16 Two in a Row 161

17 A New Sport for Russell 175

18 The Aftermath 181

19 Epilogue 193

Notes 205

Bibliography 237

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