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Pete Maravich (LSU) fires off a fade-away jumper against Alabama in 1969.
Pete Maravich (LSU) fires off a fade-away jumper against Alabama in 1969.Art Rickerby—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Pete Maravich (LSU) fires off a fade-away jumper against Alabama in 1969.
Wilt Chamberlain
Burke Scott (above, with ball) was a starter on Indiana's 1953 NCAA championship team, the second of Indiana's five title winners.
Seven-foot, two-inch Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, here being fitted for trousers with a 51-inch inseam in 1967) left his native New York for UCLA, where he helped the Bruins win a record 88 games in a row and three national titles.
Long Island Univ. Blackbirds practice in 1940. Under Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee, the Blackbirds were a powerhouse in the 1930s and '40s, winning two NIT titles.
Oregon State Beavers travel by train, 1953.
Yale basketball star Tony Lavelli playing the accordion
The 6' 8" Jerry Lucas (above, in 1960) is still regarded as one of the best big men in the history of the game. In three college seasons with Ohio State he averaged 24.3 points and 17.2 rebounds and led the Buckeyes to three NCAA title games. They won it all in 1960.
Mixing basketball and boxing at UCLA, 1945.
Bradley vs. St. John's, Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1951.
New York's Madison Square Garden (the old Garden, built in 1925 and razed in '68) was the mecca of college basketball, hosting every round of the NIT for 40 years and home to the Final Four for much of the 1940s. Above: Bradley vs. St. John's (in white, still the seventh-winningest program in NCAA history), 1951.
The legendary Kansas coach Forrest Allen, nicknamed "Phog," is often referred to as the "Father of Basketball Coaching," although these days not too many people mention him when discussing the greatest college coaches in history. Allen (here demonstrating some sort of funky move in 1957) coached Dean Smith; he recruited Wilt Chamberlain to Kansas; the Jayhawks' famous Allen Fieldhouse is named for him, and a banner hanging in the fieldhouse reads, "Pay heed all who enter, beware of the Phog."
Yes, they play basketball at MIT, but success has been fleeting: In 2005-06 the Division III Engineers won 20 games for the first time in school history. Dimitry Vergun (above, in 1956, the year he graduated) is now an expert on designing buildings to withstand earthquakes.
One of the first big guards in basketball, 6' 5", 220-pound Oscar Robertson (above, in 1959) led the nation in scoring in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati and left school as the top scorer in college history. His 33.8-point career average is still the third-highest in NCAA history. The Big O was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1980 and in 1996 was voted one of The 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
La Salle's Tom Gola (above, driving to the hoop in 1954) was one of the college game's earliest superstars, a do-it-all forward who still holds the Division I record for career rebounds (2,201). The four-time All-American also scored 2,462 points, for career averages of 20.9 points and 18.7 rebounds.
In the eight-team 1958 Dixie Classic, the Michigan State Spartans (in the dark uniforms) made it all the way to the final before falling to host North Carolina State (in white). At the end of the season, N.C. State was ranked sixth and Michigan State seventh in the final AP poll.
Bob Cousy (above, at right, in 1950 when he was with Holy Cross) brought a showman's flair to the sport before it was an accepted part of the game, regularly dribbling behind his back and throwing no-look passes. Known as the Houdini of the Hardwood, he was basketball's first great pure playmaker.
Legendary North Carolina State Wolfpack coach Everett "The Gray Fox" Case cuts down the net after winning the Dixie Classic title in 1959.
Pete Maravich (LSU) fires off a fade-away jumper against Alabama in 1969.
Art Rickerby—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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LIFE Shoots Old-School College Hoops

Mar 07, 2012

The college experience — the fads; the controversies; the ever-changing expectations of students, parents and faculty members; and especially the sports — that experience was always a central element of LIFE's stated mission to "see the world." And with the (utterly unsurprising) exception of football, no other college sport captured the magazine's attention quite like basketball.

Ralph Vaughn, USC Trojans, Jan. 15, 1940, cover of LIFE Ralph Vaughn, USC Trojans, 1940

Here, LIFE.com presents a gallery of photographs from the '40s, '50s and '60s featuring college legends (Lew Alcindor, a.k.a, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Oscar Robertson; Pete Maravich; Wilt Chamberlain; Bob Cousy; Jerry Lucas) as well as other players who made brief splashes in their time and then — like so many athletes, great and small — quietly faded from the public's view.

A prime example of the latter, albeit with a far more interesting story than most: Yale's Tony Lavelli (see slide #7 in this gallery), a terrific 6' 3" forward in the late 1940s who scored close to 2,000 points as an Eli and graduated as the fourth highest-scorer in college history. (Note: He's no longer in the all-time top 30.) Lavelli was selected as the Boston Celtics' first pick in the 1949 draft. But as music was his true passion and he had hoped to study at Julliard in New York, Lavelli agreed to sign with Boston on one, unusual condition: that the Celtics pay him an extra $125 per game to play his beloved accordion at half-time at the old Boston Garden.

Lavelli played two years of pro ball, but ultimately returned to his first love, going on to a long career as a performer and songwriter.

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