A lifelong relationship – The Worlds and the Pan-Ams

1967 was the last year the FIBA held the World Championships one year before the Olympic Games. Starting with 1970, the Worlds would be held two years after one Olympics and two years before the next. The 1967 Worlds were held in Montevideo, Uruguay, May 27 – June 11. The USA, under Armed Forces coach Hal Fischer and assistant Jim Gudger (East Texas St. U.), had a 7-2 record. beating the USSR, 59-58, losing to Yugoslavia, 73-72, and to Brazil, 80-71. In the final round, the USSR was 5-1, to win the gold. There was a 3-way tie for second, including the USA, Yugoslavia and Brazil. The USA placed 4th, on direct confrontation, being 0-2 vs. the other two.

The US team did not have a single super star. A few played in the ABA and the NBA but none made an All-Star team. That said, I felt Hal Fischer did what he could with what he had. That’s coaching. Again, I wondered why we didn’t have a big-name college coach on the bench but the event came in the middle of recruiting season and before the end of the academic year. Then, there was no way the ABA-USA, predecessor to today’s USA Basketball, could dictate to FIBA when to hold their events. The month of May, in Uruguay, was near the end of summer and fit best for the South American teams, like Brazil, Peru, Paraguay and Argentina, in addition to host Uruguay.

The 1967 Pan-American Games were held in Winnipeg, Canada, July 23 – August 6. The USA went with, basically, the same team that almost won the gold in Montevideo, again with Hal Fischer as head coach and with John Kundla, ex-Minneapolis Lakers coach and, then, U. of Minnesota coach, as his assistant. The US rolled through the tournament with a 9-0 record. A couple of welcome additions helped the cause: 6’6″ Wes Unseld of U. Louisville and 6’2″ Jo Jo White of Kansas, both of whom would go on to win NBA titles. The big news here, though, was that the USA was offense-minded, scoring under 89 points only once, in an 80-52 win over Puerto Rico!

Truth be told, I followed these two events only superficially, as I’d just completed my first year as head coach at Delaware and I was on the road, as said, recruiting … most of the time. So, I did not follow these tournaments on a day-to-day basis. I knew what had happened after the fact. Still, I was into it because I’d been contacted by Jim McGregor, coach of the Gulf Oil All-Stars, an agent that formed this team, basically, to place players in Europe. I didn’t have anyone off that 1966-67 team that interested him but he gave me a great overall view of the international game, national teams and club teams, especially Europe and South America. He had my full attention.