History of the Early S.I.A.A. Atlanta Basketball Tournament
- 1921 -


First Round: (Friday, February 25, 1921)

Second Round: (Saturday, February 26, 1921)

Semifinals: (Monday, February 28, 1921)

Finals: (Tuesday, March 1, 1921)


The initial Southern Intercollegiate Invitational Tournament was held in late February of 1921 in Atlanta Georgia. Al Doonan, of the Atlanta Athletic Club, was the driving force behind organizing the tournament. $3000 was spent on a temporary elevated floor which was built in the middle of the Atlanta Auditorium.

Fifteen teams were entered into the tournament. Drawings for the bracket were held by A.A. Doonan along with Coach Stegeman (University of Georgia) and Coach Alexander (Georgia Tech) with representatives from Mercer, Clemson and the University of Kentucky in attendance to observe. Alabama drew a bye in the first round.

1921 First Round Schedule

Georgia, from nearby Athens, was the favorite entering the tournament. The squad was led by Coach Herman Stegeman and captain "Buck" Cheeves. Another highly touted team were the Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats were the first to arrive in town and registered at the Ansley Hotel. Kentucky was coached by George Buchheit and led on the floor by fleet-footed Basil Hayden.

Atlanta Journal's Morgan Blake
Morgan Blake of the Atlanta Journal predicted that Kentucky and Georgia would eventually meet in the finals. Wrote Blake:

According to Fuzzy Woodruff of the Atlanta Constitution:

Further wrote Woodruff:

Above are the basketball warriors of the University of Georgia, favored to cop the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic association's championship tournament which stars this afternoon at the auditorium. Left to right, back row are: Coach Stegeman, Gurr, Frost, Pew and McCraney, student manager.  Bottom row, left to right: Anderson, Rawson, Cheeves, captain; Owen and Bennett.
1921 Georgia Bulldogs

But even with the advent of the tournament, it was always in mind that football was the main attraction of these schools. Noted Woodruff at the end of his article: "And it out not to be mentioned in this connection, but anyhow, the basketball tournament is furnishing the finest opportunity for a discussion of football prospects that coaches, athletes, and alumni have enjoyed in many a day."

More to the point, football was still king even then. According to an article before the tournament began:

Individual Games

Friday, February 25, 1921

Atlanta Journal's O.B. Keeler
"Long articles have been printed about the first day being bargain day, but the full heft and extent of the bargain did not appear, because it was not set out that the price of a single admission was only one dollar, or iron man - one single dollar, hard or soft, for each time you went through the outer portal. If you carry your dinner in a pail, known as a bucket south of the Smith and Wesson line, you can stay in all afternoon and evening and get just as much basketball as your system will absorb. If you go out to dinner and come back in the evening, you will have to put out another smacker." - ("Stable Gossip by O.B. on Horses, Dark and Light, in Tournament," by O.B. Keeler Atlanta Journal February 25, 1921.)

Lavish Decorations for Collegians - When the college fives take the Auditorium floor today they'll be greeted by a decorative scheme of draperies and dingbats in green and white that has been placed for the automobile show which will succeed the tournament in the big building. When the crowds begin wearing various ribbons of their respective favorites, the scribes can ring in old "riot of color" without straining even an eyelash." - ("Gossip of S.I.A.A. Tournament," Atlanta Constitution February 25, 1921.)

"Referees Yates and Sutton, Timers Tichenor and Voorhis, and Scorers Danforth, Wheatley and Blake are reported trained to the minute. From personal observation I can state that Mr. Blake ate a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs, after which he read a chapter in Spalding's basketball guide. He appeared perfectly calm." - ("Stable Gossip by O.B. on Horses, Dark and Light, in Tournament," by. O.B. Keeler Atlanta Journal February 25, 1921.)

Carolina Colleges Have Hard Sledding:

Newberry Outshines All Rival Schools

Saturday, February 26, 1921

Monday, February 28, 1921

Tuesday, March 1, 1921 - Championship Game


Kentucky hero William King
The basketball tournament proved to come down to the wire, literally. In the closing moments of the championship game with the score tied at 19-all between Georgia and Kentucky, Georgia's Buck Cheeves fouled Kentucky player Paul Adkins on a shot attempt under the basket. Freshman Bill King was chosen to shoot the foul shot for the Wildcats. Just as he readied himself at the foul line, the timer shot his gun signaling the end of regulation. Although he had been frightened by the gun shot, King was allowed to take the free throw and he made good.

According to Guy Butler of the Atlanta Georgian:

1921 All-Tournament Team

The Atlanta Athletic Club presented a loving cup to the champions of the tournament. In addition, gold medals were presented to each member of the winning team, with silver medals presented to the runner-up.

Front and back of gold charms given to Basil Hayden (top) and Gilbert Smith (bottom) of the Kentucky 1921 "Champions of the South" team. Note the misspelling of Hayden's name.

With the victory, the Kentucky team received an invitation to participate in the 1921 American Athletic Union (AAU) National Championship tournament held in Kansas City. This offer was turned down, however, likely because of the additional losses in class time that such a trip would entail.

The victory was very important in the history of the school. Noted athletic director S.A. "Daddy" Boles: "I think I'm pretty safe in saying it is the first time any Kentucky team has ever won the undisputed championship of the South in any sport. For a team to go down in Atlanta and beat all other teams in the South, well, I think it was about the biggest honor we ever have won." - ("Great Welcome Awaits Wildcats Here Tonight," Lexington Leader, March 2, 1921.

In the end, the tournament was deemed a success. Most importantly, the finances had been met:

Celebration of the Win on the UK Campus


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