Saturday, 10 March 2012

Solomon: Luckenbill played a key role in basketball history

It helped Luckenbill reach the NBA, where he would play and become friends with the most dominant player the sport has known. Were it not for Luckenbill, it is quite possible the greatest in-game feat accomplished by a professional basketball player would have been the night Wilt the Stilt almost scored 100 points. Luckenbill was athletic and, as was the norm for boys from the Hoosier State, he played a lot of basketball. Between his freshman and sophomore years of high school - the summer after Milan, the inspiration for the movie "Hoosiers," won the Indiana state championship - he sprouted up several inches to a lean, lanky 6-5. While the rest of the Blue Blazers practiced, Bell took Luckenbill off to the side and had him jump up and down over and over, touching the rim. Another of Bell's favorite drills involved putting a lid over the basket and making Luckenbill try to tip the ball in (obviously it couldn't go in), rebound the carom with another fruitless tip and so on. Luckenbill, who averaged 18 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior (16.6 ppg and 9.8 rpg for his career), and Gary "The Ghost" Phillips helped Lewis post his first two winning seasons and UH claim its first NCAA Tournament victory. In his rookie year in Philadelphia, Luckenbill became friends with a 7-foot gentle giant. The Warriors had a new coach that season, eventual Hall of Famer Frank McGuire, who would coach only one NBA season. The Warriors players showed up in Hershey, Pa., for a game against the Knicks and decided they wanted to see just how many points Chamberlain could score. In the final minute, with Chamberlain sitting on 98 points, he launched a shot that caromed off the rim. A little more than a year later, Luckenbill, who had a $10,000 contract offer on the table to play for the Knicks, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He works three days a week as a receptionist - "Excuse me, the title is front desk jockey," he said - at a law office just to keep busy.

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