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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Honeycomb Could Sting As Well

The state of Idaho and more specifically the Idaho Vandals have not seen anything like him since and might never see anything like him in the future.

Gus Johnson is the greatest player ever in Idaho Vandal history. He only played for one year at Idaho, 1962-63, but what a year it was. Johnson averaged 19 points and 20 rebounds per game during the season and lead the Vandals to a 20-6 record. His team,  also that season went 4-0 against Oregon and 4-1 against, Washington State,  two of their bitter rivals at that time. (Yes they did play four and five times against each other, to save travel costs).

Despite the fact it lasted only one year, it was truly an amazing time in Idaho Vandal basketball history. The team played in 3,500 seat Memorial Gym , but when I contacted a local, who I have known for some time last week,  he assured me that the stories are true, for every home game during the season, there were easily 4,500 people in the arena by game time and often people would line up three days in advance just to get in. (My friend also wanted me to know the Fire Marshall, loved the Vandals).

Johnson was so good that his coach Joe Cipriano named him "The Honeycomb", because of his sweet play on the court. Johnson was also beloved in Moscow, Idaho, there still to this day many photos of him hanging on the walls of local businesses. There is still something very romantic about small towns and their basketball heros, no matter what the level of play.

If you ask NBA people today,  as I have and even retired referees, although "Dr. J" is considered to be the greatest dunker of all time, they will tell you that Gus Johnson was on a par or even greater than Erving when it came to dunking the basketball.  Heck, he even broke three backboards in his NBA playing career during games.

In that career, Johnson played 11 professional seasons, most notably with the Baltimore Bullets, where ha had a stellar career and even went on to win an ABA championship with the Indiana Pacers in 1973. The Bullets retired Johnson's jersey in 1986 and Idaho retired his jersey in 1987 and inducted him into their first ever Hall of Fame class in 2007. Not to mention, you have to be awfully good to be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., of which Johnson attained in 2010, 23 years after his death in 1987.

With the NBA draft coming up this Thursday, it is also interesting to think about how Johnson was drafted in the 1963 NBA draft. He was taken as the 10th overall pick in the SECOND ROUND, yes the 10th pick in those days was in the second round, oh how times as have changed.

It is also worth noting that five years after that 1963 draft, Lakers general manager at the time of the draft, Lou Mohs,  admitted he blew it by taking Roger Strickland as the 7th overall pick rather than Johnson. He told several people, if he would have taken Johnson, the Lakers would have had several more championship banners hanging from their rafters. Mohs was an interesting character and was brought in to run the Lakers when owner Bob Short moved the team from Minneapolis in 1960. Despite being close to Idaho, he never made an attempt to see Johnson play in college, but to Mohs' credit he did a great job of running the Lakers in his tenure as their GM.

It is easy for many people who don't understand the game of basketball to sit back and say that Gus Johnson would just be an average player in today's game. WRONG. Gus Johnson would be a super-star on any team in the league on any day, any year and anytime in the future, he was more than good.

Too bad the Idaho Vandals only got him for one season, but in Moscow, Idaho,  it for sure was a season of JOY.

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