CL Summer School 2017: Taking your “shot” at greatness

His form is textbook,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s got great confidence in it. But when it comes off his hands so nicely, and he shoots it the same way every time. Everything you’ve ever heard a shooting coach talk about, his follow through, where he puts his hands, his elbow. I mean, it’s perfection.
The object of the Iowa coach’s affection was the record-setting shooting display of his 6’6” senior Peter Jok en route to a 96-90 OT victory over Indiana that had a happy crowd leaving Carver-Hawkeye Arena on a February Tuesday night.

By draining 22 free throws (in 23 attempts), Jok and his sound fundamentals eclipsed a school record that had stood for 55 years and four days, since February 17, 1962. (Appropriately enough, the old standard had likewise been established against IU – after all, the lead role in Hoosiers was played by a “Hack”-man.)

It’s highly unlikely that the prior record-holder had received such a glowing tribute from his young coach, despite missing but four of his 25 foul shots. He would, though, earn All-League honors for the second season in a row and be recognized as a 1961-62 Third Team All-American.

But five-time Boston Celtic champion Don Nelson shot his free throws in a manner that absolutely NO player has ever emulated and absolutely NO coach (other than maybe Don himself?) has ever advocated. As a fan from that era, I can say with complete assurance the only time I ever saw anybody shoot that way was in a game of H-O-R-S-E – once!

The basketball journey of this Hoops Lifer is every bit as quirky as his free-throw routine. A product of Big Ten country, the Michigan native played his high school ball in Illinois at a time when the University of Iowa was making back-to-back Final Four appearances (falling to Bill Russell’s San Francisco Dons in 1956).

Nellie signed to play for the Hawkeyes, and the team’s outlook was looking pretty rosy as his junior year (1960-61) got underway. Not only did the Varsity begin its season 12-1, their freshman squad boasted a rather talented cat by the name of Connie Hawkins.
But Iowa’s championship aspirations got de-railed in February when the entire starting unit save Nellie flunked off the team. With Don playing out-of-position at center – anybody out there recall that “position”? – the only highlight left in the season was a tough 62-61 loss to eventual NCAA titlist Ohio State. (The Hawkins experiment was abandoned as well when a New York City police investigation raised questions about The Hawk’s eligibility and propelled him on to a life as a basketball vagabond.)

On the heels of his All-American senior season, Nelson was selected with the 19th pick in the 1962 NBA Draft by the Chicago Zephyrs. The preceding pick in that draft belonged to – the team for whom this guy would end up winning five rings.

Instead of Don Nelson, Mr. Auerbach snatched up another ’62 Third Team All American who’d play eleven games for two teams in a career that lasted a single season. But when the Lakers cut him during training camp in the fall of ’65, Nelson brought that “shooting style most foul” to Boston for the next eleven years.

For the record, Nellie shot free throws at a respectable .765 clip for his career, a rate he improved to .817 in post-season play.

Yet Another of those NBA Williams Boys

About the same time Don and Connie were getting acquainted in Iowa, a young ballplayer named Art was embarking on a college career at a small state school in California. Like Connie, Art did not return to school, opting after one year for a wife, family and normal job. A sound, aggressive player who was small but whippet fast, Artie continued to play ball as often and as competitively as his time allowed.
About the same time Connie Hawkins was joining the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers, Art was induced by an associate to try out for the NBA’s expansion San Diego Rockets, making the squad as a 28-year-old rookie. Over the summer of 1970, Red Auerbach brought him to Boston as a back-up to Coach Tom Heinsohn’s promising young backcourt of Don Chaney and Jo Jo White.

Hambone, Hambone, have you heard?
The Rockets gonna buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird don’t sing,
The Celtics gonna get you a championship ring!

A Case of En-TITLE-ment

About the same time Don Nelson was wrapping up his third pro season by playing about 20 minutes a game for the Lakers in the ’65 Finals – unwittingly auditioning for his Boss-to-be, you might say, as Auerbach signed Nellie as a free agent later that year – a future teammate with whom Don would win two NBA titles was achieving a goal that had eluded the guy who would go on to stockpile more NBA coaching victories (1,335) than anyone else.

Steve Kuberski’s Moline High School squad won the 1965 Illinois State High School championship, which young Steve parlayed into a free ride at Dear Ol’ State U.

One of life’s eternal truths is that stud athletes are afforded certain perks, be it a date with a cheerleader or a $20 handshake from an alum. So it’s hardly shocking to learn that Kuberski got himself hooked up with some cushy-albeit-well-paying summer employment as an Illini jock.

Now, in the same way that Don Nelson was in the wrong place at the wrong time when academic issues “gutted” a promising squad, some rather unfortunate timing made Steve the victim of some collateral damage during his stint as a Fightin’ Illini.

The school’s long-time Athletic Director was preparing to retire just as Steve was enrolling. His replacement would be either the head football coach or the then-current Assistant AD. The trouble started when Coach emerged victorious in that little intramural tug-o-war.

The scorned AAD, apparently simply in spite, revealed the existence of a “Slush Fund” used to provide unauthorized benefits to Illini athletes. Predictably, the “suits” immediately went into CYA mode – and hung the kids out to dry. The eligibility of several football and basketball players was permanently revoked … others, including Kuberski, were given lighter sentences.

When Steve’s appeal of his one-year suspension was denied, he opted to transfer to Bradley University of the Missouri Valley Conference for his final two seasons of eligibility.

Kuberski earned a spot on the first post-Russell Celtics as a fourth-round draft choice, acquiring the mentorship of the skilled and savvy Bailey Howell, the slick and sophisticated Satch Sanders and the always clunky-but-cagy Nelson – all bases covered for a budding “cornerman.”

After winning Banner No. 12, Steve was selected by New Orleans in the expansion draft, shipped to Milwaukee and shuffled off to Buffalo before showing up as a free agent under the C’s 1975 Christmas tree – just in time to win Banner No. 13.

That year, Kuberski was warming up a certain uniform number – Charlie Scott had usurped his original – for another dude who would, just like Steve, find trouble in the Big Ten, solace in the Missouri Valley and a happy basketball home in Beantown.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

We’ll give the last word today to old-school ref Earl Strom (via Pluto’s Tall Tales).
For years, the Celtics lived off other teams’ castoffs. Larry Siegfried wasn’t good enough for the Hawks, but ended up starting for Boston. Bailey Howell was supposed to be too old for Detroit. Wayne Embry was supposed to be washed up in Cincinnati. Don Nelson wasn’t good enough for the Lakers, all they saw was a guy who couldn’t dribble, who was slow and not much of a leaper. Red saw a guy who never missed an open shot from medium range, and he knew the Celtics could set things up to get Nelson that shot.

Be sure to check out TB's more thorough WTHHT's for Steve Kuberski and Art "Hambone" Williams. The ending of the Williams piece will make you proud to be a Celtics fan.