Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2021 / 10:15 am
In the history of Catholic college basketball and race, there are both “heroes” and “villains,” said one author of a new book on Catholic college basketball programs.
“There are Catholic heroes and Catholic villains in that story,” said John Gasaway, author of the book “Miracles on the Hardwood,” in an interview with CNA last week. Gasaway is also a college basketball analyst for ESPN.com, and his book focuses on the history of Catholic college basketball programs and their continued success.
Some Catholic college basketball programs were ahead of their time in accepting Black players in the 1950s and 1960s – enough to receive commendation from the African-American press, he noted.
“It wasn’t always a perfect history, but they [Catholic schools] did make the right decisions enough times to earn that reputation, and there are indeed some good stories to tell,” he said.
Gasaway spoke with CNA during the 2021 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Four of the teams that advanced to the tournament’s round of 16 were Catholic schools, although as of Tuesday morning only one Catholic program – Gonzaga University – had advanced to the “Elite Eight” round.
College basketball in the 20th century mirrored the overall transformation of America, especially in race relations – and at Catholic schools this was, in many ways, no different, he said.
The University of San Francisco, which is affiliated with the Jesuits, dominated basketball in the 1950s. The “Dons” were led by Black future hall-of-famers Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. Among college basketball programs, San Francisco was relatively “early” in integrating their lineup – although some Black athletes had already been playing at secular programs since the end of the 1930s, Gasaway explained in his book.
Nevertheless, schools like San Francisco and Duquesne, another Catholic university in Pittsburgh, were lauded by African-American publications for integrating their lineups, Gasaway noted.