Excerpted from Chapter in book The Rupp Years by Tev Laudeman, The Courier Journal (1972).
New York's Madison Square Garden was buzzing with excitement as tipoff time neared for what the newspapers had billed as "the game to decide the national championship."
A crowd of 16,500 waited eagerly to see what their New York University Violets could do against the Southern upstarts from Kentucky, led by brawny Leroy (Cowboy) Edwards. Adolph Rupp, coach of the Kentuckians, was confident. He thought he had the finest team and certainly the greatest center in Edwards, imported into Kentucky from bordering Indiana.
Rupp's only misgivings were about officiating. Would Eastern officials interpret the rules as officials did in the South and Midwest? Only a few days earlier Rupp had received a telegram from Notre Dame coach George Keogan urging UK to take a Midwest official to the Garden "or you won't have a chance." Notre Dame had lost 25-18 to NYU only a week before and a furious Keogan had blamed it on officiating.
Rupp's worst fears were realized from the opening whistle. Edwards and the UK players were unable to run their normal screening plays without drawing blocking fouls, and Edwards couldn't score against the defensive tactics of Irving (Slim) Terjesen and Irwin (King Kong) Klein. Edwards' foul enabled guard Sid Gross to drop in the winning point as NYU won 23-22. Only seconds before Gross had sunk a layup to tie the score.
A stunned Rupp wasn't at a loss for words.
"I can't understand why it's a foul when one of my boys moves toward the basket on a screening play and it isn't a foul when a New York boy drapes him- self over the back of one of my country kids and hugs him around the arms." Most of the New York sports writers agreed. The New York Post report was typical:
"The score says that NYU is the best college basketball team in the country and that the East still is supreme. But if Frank Lane, the ref from the Midwest, had worked the game, it's safe to assume big Leroy Edwards would have been given a fantastic number of foul shots. Minor mayhem was committed on the person of Edwards by Terjesen and Klein. Something will have to be done or the game will become entirely too rough."
Something was done. This game as much as any single incident pointed up the need for a rule limiting the time a player can stay in the area under the basket. Eventual result was the three-second rule.
Despite what seemed to be a personal setback, Edwards' prestige was higher than ever after his appearence before the New York reporters. Most of them were convinced that he was, indeed, the nation's top center and potentially the best of all time. He went on his sophomore season to make All-America and followed in Aggie Sale's footsteps as Helms Foundation's Player of the Year.
Edwards first played basketball at the YMCA in his birthplace of Crawfordsville, Ind. His earliest instruction came there from former Wabash College players. Later his family moved to Indianapolis where he played for Tech High. As a sophomore at Tech he didn't have the shots to be a really high scorer. But when a touring pro team from Texas came through Indiana, Leroy went to nearby Martinsville to watch them.
It was a profitable trip for young Edwards because from watching the pros he picked up the hook shot. By his junior year at Tech he was scoring with the hook, and it was one of his bread-and-butter shots until he quit pro basketball in 1947.
Keogan Tips Rupp
Had Leroy shown more interest in attending college, it's doubtful if Rupp could have got him for UK. However, coaches in Indiana were convinced the happy-go-lucky youth never would attend college. Rupp's old friend at Notre Dame, George Keogan, tipped the UK coach off on Edwards.
"He's as big and tough as they come," Keogan told Rupp. "If you can just get him in school.. . ." As it turned out, keeping him was a bigger problem.
As a freshman at UK Edwards scored more than 400 points in 16 games, a terrific pace in those days of the center jump. Edwards, forward Ralph Carlisle and guard Warfield Donohue led coach Len Miller's freshmen to an unbeaten season and long-time UK rooters were certain it was the best frosh team in the school's history.
When UK opened the 1934-35 season with a tuneup against the Alumni, two players up from the freshmen were in the starting lineup: 6-foot-5, 200-pound Leroy Edwards at center and 6-2 Warfield Donohue, former Louisville St. Xavier captain, at guard. Returning regulars were Dave Lawrence and Jack Tucker at forwards and Andy Anderson at guard. This was the lineup that started most of the season as UK won 19 of 21 games.
UK quickly reeled off five victories. Edwards' best games were 24 points against Oglethorpe and 26 against Chicago. Bill Haarlow, Chicago scoring ace who later would become superintendent of Big Ten basketball officials, was limited to six points.
Then came the loss to NYU.
While in the big city Rupp proposed that the leading college teams from each section meet in a post-season tournament to decide the national championship. He believed it would do away with the conflicting claims for the "mythical" title and also do much towards standardizing officiating. Four years later, 1939, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) would hold its first tournament along the lines suggested by Rupp.
Back home UK rolled by Tulane twice, Chattanooga and Tennessee. In those games Rupp was able to use most of his reserves, including Ralph Carlisle, Garland Lewis, Jim Goforth, Russ Ellington, Courtland Bliss, Bruce Davis, Ed Tierney, Bob Taylor, Charles Gates, Sam Potter and Jim McIntosh. Tulane had a good player, Monk Simons, who scored 10 points in one game against UK.
UK hit the road for its next three games, having its closest call in edging Alabama 33-26 Only a 21-point performance by Edwards saved UK. After the game in Birmingham, a woman walked up to Edwards and said, "You were wonderful. You never missed."
"Lady, I'm not supposed to miss," replied Edwards laconically.
UK swept by Vanderbilt and Xavier of Cincinnati before returning home to defeat Georgia Tech and Alabama.
Tucker Is Hurt
UK's second loss of the season came at Michigan State, 32-26, to a Spartan team which was beating most of the Big Ten squads. A broken hand suffered by Jack Tucker hampered UK. A stocky guard, Bob Herrick, scored 14 points for Michigan State. Dave Lawrence always called Herrick "the toughest player I ever paired off against."
Garland Lewis moved in at forward to replace Tucker against Tennessee and UK won 38-36 on Lewis' long shot from the sideline.
Creighton was defeated 63-42 and 24-13 on successive nights in UK's Alumni Gym. Edwards made headlines over the nation when he scored 34 points in 34 minutes in the first game, breaking the gym record held by Frenchy DeMoisey. Leroy insisted it wasn't one of his better games.
"I missed too many shots under the basket," he complained "I never play a good game when I shoot that much, anyway."
Dave Lawrence also had a fine game in the opener, hitting most of his shots in scoring 17 points. Emil (Box) Engelbretson, greatest Missouri Valley scorer of his time, tallied 22 for Creighton.
In the rematch Creighton tried to stall and abandoned a pressing defense which had failed the night before. Edwards scored 14 points and Warfield Donohue 10 for UK. Donohue held Engelbretson to two points.
UK finished the season with easy victories over Vanderbilt and Xavier. Since the SEC had abandoned its annual tournament, UK had to share the conference title with Louisiana State on a basis of season records.
Edwards and Lawrence were named to the All-SEC team. Edwards made all the All-America teams, and referee Frank Lane picked both Edwards and Lawrence to his All-America. Andy Anderson was selected as the best guard to play that season in Madison Square Garden.
The 1934-35 campaign was important for Rupp and UK because it broke Kentucky out of the mold of being just a good Southern team. Rupp got together his toughest schedule for the next season, and he was looking forward to it.
He was losing Jack Tucker and Dave Lawrence, but the coach had Edwards for center, Warfield Donohue and Andy Anderson for guards, a good crop of reserves, plus Joe (Red) Hagan, Bill Spicer and J. Rice Walker moving up from the freshmen.
When school was out Rupp urged Edwards to stay in Lexington and make a tour of coaching clinics. The coach said he wanted to use Edwards to demonstrate playing techniques. More important, the coach wanted to keep an eye on the most valuable piece of basketball property in the country. Edwards declined and went home to Indianapolis.
Next word from him was that he was married and would not return to school.
Some of the players offered to chip in and pay living expenses for Edwards and his bride if he would come back to school. But Edwards got a job and played semi-pro basketball for a year. The following season he went into pro basketball with the Oshkosh (Wis.) All-Stars.
In ability there are strong cases to be made for several players as Rupp's best. But for sheer effectiveness against the opposition of his day, the Hoosier Cowboy stands below no one.