December 16, 1995 in Sports

It’s High Time Hall Of Fame Welcomes Friel

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R
 

It came as no shock to learn that on the evening he died, Jack Friel had planned to watch whatever basketball game the tube deigned to send his way.

Retired from coaching nearly four decades ago, he never retired from the game.

It thrilled and occasionally maddened him to the very end, which came this week at the age of 97. Few enough basketball survivors remain from the days when dribblers were allowed but one bounce of the ball; it’s hard to imagine any keeping themselves as current as did Jack Friel, the godfather of Washington State University hoops.

Today, he’ll be laid to rest during a private gathering at the Pullman IOOF Cemetery. No memorial service, no public ceremony. With characteristic self-effacement, Jack Friel felt past ado over his retirement and the dedication of Friel Court had been quite enough.

On this point, we differ. More ado is due, or at least a satisfactory answer.

Why isn’t Jack Friel in the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Well, it isn’t from a lack of testimonials. Enough to fill a peach basket have accumulated in the past few days - from former players, colleagues, old rivals. One we solicited seems particularly relevant.

“Of the coaches I’ve observed,” said John Wooden, whose second UCLA team won two epic tangles with Friel’s Cougars in the 1950 Pacific Coast Conference playoffs, “I think Jack came about as close as anyone to getting the maximum out of his players - of getting them to play to their potential.

“At Washington State, he didn’t always have the best material, but he got the most out of what he had. And he did it without being a martinet.”

The highest of all compliments from college basketball’s high priest.

Of course, by the time Wooden came to UCLA, Friel already had 20 years in at WSU 30 if you go back to his days as an undergraduate. His passing leaves only Ike Deeter, the boxing guru, as a living link to the pre-World War II “golden age” of Cougars coaches, whose names are now attached to fields and gyms.

That age extended beyond Wazzu.

“I felt I was lucky to get in on the tail end of what I call the romantic era of sports,” said Marv Harshman, who succeeded Friel at WSU. “The basketball coaches of that time - Slats Gill at Oregon State, Jack, Hec Edmundson - were unique people. Their egos never got in the way; they never tried to pump themselves up at the expense of their teams.”

They also stayed - and were encouraged to stay because they were recognized as natural resources.

But not every venerable campus basketball legend belongs in the big house in Springfield, Mass.

The Basketball Hall of Fame is singular among the shrines of sport for its Wal-Mart scope: everything under one roof. Pros, collegians, men, women, refs, promoters - all have their place in Springfield.

Membership is now 208, not including four teams, and we’ll try not to disparage the merits of anyone already in - though, come on, would the entire starting five of the ‘73 Knicks be enshrined if they’d had to carve out their legends in Milwaukee and not Madison Square Garden?

Jack Friel won 494 games (the NCAA’s official count; WSU lists his record at 495-377) at one of college basketball’s most remote outposts, which at the time of his retirement placed him eighth on the all-time Division I list. Of his 10 20-win seasons, the jewel was, of course, the 1941 team that finished second in the nation.

Coaches with more victories (Edmundson, for instance) aren’t in and some with less are (Stan Watts?) - but the standard isn’t just games won or Final Fours attended.

“The way it’s written is ‘contributions to the game of basketball,”’ said Harshman, himself a Hall of Famer and for many years a member of an old-timers’ committee that nominated candidates.

Friel has those, too - his painstaking research that led to adoption of the one-and-one foul shot, his use of two platoons (“the only reason,” Jud Heathcote recalled, “that I got to play”) and, indeed, his example that the terms “coach” and “gentleman” were not mutually exclusive.

“Jack was put up by me for induction three times,” Harshman reported. “Once I thought he was in for sure, but the honors committee took someone else and I don’t know why to this day. I do know that there have been people on that committee who weren’t basketball people.

“I’ve seen a lot of modern guys go in - guys who were great players but many of them didn’t make what you might call a contribution like men who spent a lifetime in the game. As a coach, I can’t see anybody from his era that deserves it more than Jack.”

Make that any era.

“The game,” Heathcote insisted, “never passed Jack by.”

And it’s time the Hall of Fame stopped.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


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