As a youngster in the early 1940s, coordination and confidence were not Clyde Lovellette's primary attributes in athletics.
Taller than other children growing up in Vigo County, the gangly Lovellette made the basketball eam at McLean Junior High School.
But he didn't always impress his opponents.
"We beat the hell out of them," recalled Bob Skitt, who played for Deming at the time. "He was errible in junior high."
"The only reason they wanted me [on the basketball team] was because I was tall," Lovellette acknowledged last month. "But I never got enthused about basketball until I got to [Garfield] high school, where [Coach] Willard Kehrt told me I could be what I wanted to be."
Lovellette, a 6-foot-4 center as a freshman, and Skitt, a guard, became teammates at Garfield and they've been friends ever since.
Skitt, who still lives in Terre Haute, did not sound surprised when he learned Lovellette was selected No. 2 among Vigo County's 50 Greatest Athletes from the 1900s by a panel organized by the Tribune-Star.
But back in 1944, Skitt and other friends would not have expected Lovellette to receive such an honor. He was still honing his skills on the court.
"He was a really good guy," remembered Art Blakely, a sophomore on the Purple Eagles' team when Lovellette was a freshman. "But when he first played, he was a little clumsy Kehrt had him jump rope and stuff like that to improve his coordination."
"Willard had him doing different drills," Skitt added, "like jumping rope and jumping up against the wall -- things that would build his confidence."
Lovellette dressed varsity as a freshman and started as a sophomore.
"He was still learning how to play and learning how to adjust to his growth," Skitt said of the sophomore Lovellette, whose height had increased to 6-8.
But Kehrt, now deceased, didn't give up on the big teen-ager.
"He made me jump the rope," said Lovellette, now 70, retired and living in the small town of Wabash. "I'd also dance [ballroom style] in my backyard. I'd make my feet so that I wouldn't fall all over myself."
By his junior year, Lovellette had grown to 6-9 and become more skilled as a player. Surrounded by a good supporting cast, he and 6-2 forward Ron Bland led the Purple Eagles to 31 straight victories before they lost to Shelbyville 68-58 in the IHSAA championship game, despite 25 points from Lovellette.
"Ronnie Bland didn't feel well that day and we lost to Shelbyville by 10 points," Lovellette mentioned, "and we had beaten Shelbyville [52-44] in the regular season too."
That season boosted Lovellette's belief in his own talents. Although Garfield lost to Wiley in the sectional to finish Lovellette's senior year, he was starting to attract national attention.
"He was head-and-shoulders above everyone else around here," Skitt admitted. "He just didn't have much help [as a senior]."
"Clyde was one helluva good basketball player," noted Howard Sharpe, who coached Gerstmeyer against Garfield numerous times over the years. "For a big man, I never saw anyone who could hit free throws as well as he could. We didn't want to send him to the line, because he could hit from there.
"He was one of the most outstanding basketball players we ever had around here and we got along pretty well. I can't say that about everyone [from Garfield]. We had some tough competition, but I've always had a lot of respect for him."
Blakely said one of Lovellette's strongpoints was his unselfishness.
"If you were open, he found a way to get you the ball," Blakely stressed. "I remember against Wiley, he passed the ball to me for the first two baskets of the game. He easily could have shot it himself both times."
Looking back, Lovellette expressed fond memories of his Vigo County basketball experiences.
"The Wabash Valley Tournament was bigger than the [IHSAA] state tournament," he insisted. "Clinton was a tough opponent. Gerstmeyer was tough. They were our biggest rivals with Howard Sharpe as their coach."
Lovellette finished runner-up to Bob Masters of Lafayette Jeff for the 1948 Indiana Mr. Basketball award and signed to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., on a basketball scholarship.
"The only reason I went to college was Willard Kehrt and [Garfield assistant coach] Donas Dischinger," Lovellette emphasized. "All the people who said I could do it if I wanted to."
Coordinated and confident, he helped the Phog Allen-coached Jayhawks capture the 1951-52 NCAA title with a 28-3 record. In the championship game at Seattle, they defeated St. John's 80-63 behind Lovellette's 33 points and 17 rebounds.
Lovellette led the Big Seven Conference in scoring three times, earned consensus All-American honors as a junior and senior and led the nation in scoring in 1951-52 with an average of 28.4 points per game. He's currently No. 3 on Kansas' all-time scoring list with 1,888 points in three years of varsity basketball, ranking behind four-year players Danny Manning and Raef LaFrentz.
Lovellette also got picked as a member of the 1952 U.S. Olympic gold-medal basketball team that dominated the floors in Helsinki, Finland. The team's first seven games were won by an average margin of 20.1 points and it defeated Russia 36-25 in the championship game.
"Some of the teams were decent, but nothing compared with the United States team," he said in 1996. "The nucleus of our team jelled and worked well together.
"To be one of 500 athletes who went over there to Helsinki, Finland, and to bring back a gold medal was a real thrill. When I played, I was playing for my country."
Lovellette parlayed the maturation of his game into an 11-year career in the National Basketball Association (1954-64). He played on three NBA championship teams (with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1954 and with the Boston Celtics in 1963 and 1964).
Between championships, Lovellette served stints with the Cincinnati Royals and St. Louis Hawks. He retired with an average of 17 points in 704 NBA games. After that, he returned home and won election to the office of Vigo County sheriff for one term. He then left town again and worked several years as director of vocational rehabilitation and eighth-grade basketball coach at White's Institute, near Wabash.
A member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, University of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, Lovellette recently was named one of Indiana's 50 Greatest Basketball Players.
"I knew he would make it," Skitt assessed about Lovellette's
basketball accomplishments. "I didn't foresee all that he
would end up doing, though He got to where he could hit from outside
and that made a big difference."
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