It was named the All College Tournament and college teams played in it but it was high school basketball that Oklahoma A&M coach Henry Payne "Hank" Iba and Oklahoman and Times sports editor Bus Ham had in mind when they founded the holiday cage-fest 50 years ago this month.
"The reason we did it was we were trying to create interest in high school basketball in the state of Oklahoma," Iba said Monday from Lincoln, Neb., where he's paying a pre-Christmas visit to son Moe, the Cornhusker coach. "We talked about it in that way."
Iba had coached at Classen High School before going to Maryville, Mo. (1929-33), Colorado (1933-34) and A&M (1934). He had no trouble interesting Ham and from 1936 through 1956 the All Collegee was sponsored by the newspapers with profits going to the "Milk and Ice Fund," a children's charity.
The inaugural tournament was played at Classen with 16 participants: A&M, Oklahoma City University, Tulsa, Central State, Oklahoma Baptist, Northeastern, Panhandle, Southeastern, Phillips, Southwestern, Northeastern, East Central, Baylor, West Texas State, Texas Tech and Southwestern, Kan. The largest field was 32 teams two years later. "We had it in three gymnasiums in Oklahoma City," Iba recalled. "We had a lot of interest and it helped us a lot with high school basketball. That is exactly why we started it."
The All College doesn't get all the credit for spurring interest in prep basketball hereabouts. Iba said, "In 1927-28, Central, Capitol Hill and Classen had the best young athletes I can remember, before or since. We had some great ones."
But the All College focused attention on basketball. "All the college teams in the state needed that push in high school basketball," Iba said. "I'm positive the All College helped at all the state colleges."
Iba said Central State coach Claude Reeds also pushed for formation of the All College, which celebrates its Golden Anniversary Friday and Saturday in the Myriad. Oklahoma State faces SMU and Oklahoma tests Cincinnati in a doubleheader starting at 7 p.m. Losers and winners play Saturday.
Oklahoma A&M won the first All College championship game from Tulsa, 40-17. The 49th finale last winter was won by Oklahoma over Manhattan, 121-74. Iba said there's no mystery about why scoring has skyrocketed: "The boys have become better shooters."
Looking back to circa 1936, Iba said, "At that particular time, if you were in the 38-40 shooting percentage range, it was real good.
Today, you've got to shoot in the 50s to have a good team. Back then, a team would have a couple of pretty good shooters. Starting about 15 years ago, you find teams that have a lot of good shooters."
Iba, whose teams were known for their tenacious defense, said better defensive play might have had something to do with the lower scores many years ago "but, really and truly, thy didn't shoot as well so it made our defense stand out better."
Iba was asked just how much basketball has changed since the initial All College. He said, "I think we've got better organization on offense. The defenses are scared to set up a pattern on defense.
Everybody is going away from the man (to man) defense, going into a zone. That makes it tougher to go against that type of team.
"I saw Georgetown play DePaul (on television). The teams were changing defenses every third time down the floor. That's made a difference in basketball."
Asked if the players changed much through the years, Iba said, "We've got more good players in basketball than we've ever had. But the good ones we had in the old days were just as good as the good ones they've got today."
Referring to the 15 players on the all-time All College team, which will be honored at a banquet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Iba said, "They are some of the finest athletes we ever had, not only in Oklahoma but in the entire country. Some great ones are going to be honored there."
That includes Iba, who's the all-time team coach for players Elgin Baylor, Cornell Green, K.C. Jones, Bob Kurland, Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Slater Martin, Calvin Murphy, Robert Parish, Bill Russell, Frank Selvy, Arnold Short, Dave Stallworth, Wayman Tisdale and Nate Thurmond.
Iba not only founded the All College Tournament but also loves it.
He said, "Looking back, one of the best memories I have of basketball was basketball in the All College Tournament." BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 253869