March 1939: Before the Madness-The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions

March 1939: Before the Madness-The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions

by Terry Frei
March 1939: Before the Madness-The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions

March 1939: Before the Madness-The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions

by Terry Frei


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In 1939, the Oregon Webfoots, coached by the visionary Howard Hobson, stormed through the first NCAA basketball tournament, which was viewed as a risky coast-to-coast undertaking and perhaps only a one-year experiment. Seventy-five years later, following the tournament’s evolution into a national obsession, the first champions are still celebrated as “The Tall Firs.” They indeed had astounding height along the front line, but with a pair of racehorse guards who had grown up across the street from each other in a historic Oregon fishing town, they also played a revolutionarily fast-paced game.

Author Terry Frei’s track record as a narrative historian in such books as the acclaimed Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, plus a personal connection as an Oregon native whose father coached football at the University of Oregon for seventeen seasons, makes him uniquely qualified to tell this story of the first tournament and the first champions, in the context of their times. Plus, Frei long has been a fan of Clair Bee, the Long Island University coach who later in life wrote the Chip Hilton Sports Series books, mesmerizing young readers who didn’t know the backstory told here. In 1939, the Bee-coached LIU Blackbirds won the NCAA tournament’s rival, the national invitation tournament in New York—then in only its second year, and still under the conflict-of-interest sponsorship of the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association. Frei assesses both tournaments and, given the myths advanced for many years, his conclusions in many cases are surprising.

Both events unfolded in a turbulent month when it was becoming increasingly apparent that Hitler's belligerence would draw Europe and perhaps the world into another war. .. soon. Amid heated debates over the extent to which America should become involved in Europe's affairs this time, the men playing in both tournaments wondered if they might be called on to serve and fight. Of course, as some of the Webfoots would demonstrate in especially notable fashion, the answer was yes.

It was a March before the Madness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781630761998
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 260
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Award-winning journalist, author, and screenwriter Terry Frei is in his second stint at the Denver Post. He has been sports columnist for the Portland Oregonian,a football writer for the Sporting News,and an hockey columnist. Among his six previous books are ThirdDown and a War to Go, ’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age, and Olympic Affair. His web site is

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I Setting the Stage

1 Hobby 11

2 Fishermen 18

3 Laddie and Slim 24

4 From the Gorge 29

5 Basketeers 32

6 Floating Ideas 44

7 Bee and the Blackbirds 51

8 Taking the Show on the Road 56

9 Garden and Beyond 65

Part II March

10 White Smoke 77

11 Cayuse with a Saddle 85

12 Maneuvers 92

13 RSVP 98

14 Jumping Either Way 105

15 Spotlights 113

16 Moving On 119

17 Suitcase Test 123

18 Eighth Avenue 129

19 Treasure Island 132

20 How the West Was Won 136

21 49th Street 140

22 Destinies 143

23 Broken Trophy and All 152

24 Ride Home 160

25 Dance of Champs 166

Part III Conclusions

26 First, Always 173

27 Coaches 178

28 The Tall Firs 185

Acknowledgments 197

Part IV Appendices

Appendix A 1939 NCAA Tournament 203

Appendix B Oregon's 1938-39 Results 206

Appendix C 1939 National Invitation Tournament 209

Appendix D Long Island's 1938-39 Results 211

Notes 213

Selected Bibliography/Sources 223

Index 227

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