ENID, Okla. —
Legend is an often over-used word in today’s sports world.
But Bob Kurland, who died Sunday in his sleep at the age of 88, certainly qualified.
Kurland, who led Oklahoma State to back-to-back national basketball championships in 1945 and 1946, had a major impact on the game as one of the sport’s true big men at 6-foot-113⁄4.
Broadcaster Curt Gowdy (who did OSU games in the Kurland era) wrote in his book “Seasons to Remember, ‘’Nobody worried about goaltending — until (OSU coach Henry) Iba unveiled Kurland in 1942.’’
Gowdy wrote Kansas coach Phog Allen called Kurland “a glandular, mezzaine-peeping goon’’ for his ability to bat away shots. Allen called for the goal to be raised from 10 to 12 feet.
Oklahoma coach Bruce Drake, in Gowdy’s book, was quoted as saying Kurland took 22 shots out of the basket in an A&M (OSU was Oklahoma A&M then) win over the Sooners.
When Kurland was a sophomore, Drake had the NCAA send an official down to sit atop a platform he rigged behind the basket, to make sure Kurland wasn’t putting his hand over the rim. Kurland’s team still won 14-11.
Gowdy recalled Iba being frustrated over the criticism. Iba changed his defense from a man-to-man to a diamond zone, Gowdy wrote, with Kurland acting as the “goalie.’’
“It’s not against the rules, and we’re going by the rules,’’ Iba told me,’’ Gowdy wrote. “I’ve got him and I’m going to use him. What would you do if you were coach?’’
Gowdy wrote of the harassment Kurland received from fans. When he walked on the floor for the first time, fans would throw things on the floor. When he batted away the first shot, “you wouldn’t believe the catcalls,’’ Gowdy wrote. “It got so vicious, they’d have to stop the game.’’
Kurland came along at the same time as another legend — DePaul’s George Mikan, who would be one of the first stars of the National Basketball Association.
The duo split their four head-to-head meetings. Kurland fouled out of the first — a 41-38 loss at the 1944 NIT.
The next season, the NIT champion DePaul and NCAA champion Aggies met in a Red Cross benefit game at the end of the season at Madison Square Garden.
Mikan fouled out with just nine points after 14 minutes. Kurland was a terror on defense as the Blue Demons missed 80 of their 96 shots in a 52-44 loss. The game netted the Red Cross $50,000.
The teams had a home-and-home in 1945-46 with A&M winning the second game in Chicago 46-38. Mikan outscored Kurland 19-10, but Gowdy wrote Kurland spent most of the night feeding his teammates.
Kurland averaged 19.5 points per game his senior season (1945-46). He still holds the OSU school record with 58 points against St. Louis University in 1946. But Kurland was recruited first and foremost for defense. As Gowdy wrote, Iba envisioned him as a player who could prevent 40.
Iba’s coaching genius could be seen in the development of Kurland, Gowdy wrote. Kurland had not been highly recruited. Iba offered the St. Louis native a chance to try out for three days, but with no guarantees.
He was offered the standard scholarship after the tryout — it was $13 a year then at A&M, Gowdy wrote — plus a job sweeping out the gym.
Kurland literally couldn’t run when he came to A&M, Gowdy wrote, but Iba worked with him on his footwork, teaching him how to spin off the post.
Gowdy wrote about one practice where Kurland missed the hoop, the backboard and everything else with his first 100 shots — but Iba kept working with him until Kurland found the range.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.