I grew up in a family that worshiped Henry Iba, the most innovative coach of basketball. My experiences of viewing the game pushed me to love the run and gun style of Abe Lemons teams at Oklahoma City University. And in time, I was a season ticket holder as I watched Billy Tubbs teams run wild as the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners
My basketball history, even before I was born, started with my father who played high school and college basketball during the heyday of Iba in the late 1930’s. Man to man defense, hold the ball and make a number of passes before you took a shot, and grind out wins as of the Oklahoma A&M teams of the Missouri Valley. My Dad went to a high school that once did have Iba as it’s head basketball coach and then off to Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana.
My uncle John Pratt was a student manager for Iba’s teams in the late 1940’s and coached that style of ball for 23 years at Midwest City High. I watched that style for many of my youthful years, viewing hundreds of Midwest City basketball games from age three in 1956 to my own playing years beginning in 1966 at Classen HIgh School in Oklahoma City.
But as I was indoctrinated in the “slow down” ball of Mr. Iba, I also was a loyal fan of the Oklahoma City University Chiefs on North Blackwielder. During the time from 1962 through my life before the Thunder came here in OKC, I never missed a home game and viewed many road games. Abe Lemons was the coach at OCU in those early years where the Chiefs were the best college team in the state and made 11 NCAA tournaments. Sure, Mr. Iba’s disciple (player) Coach Doyle Parrick began OCU’s winning traditions but he gave way to a run-and-gun style coached by Abe Lemons.
Lemons had OCU leading the country in scoring many years as the Chiefs were the first college team in America with a score board (at Frederickson Field House on the OCU campus) with a three digit scoring clock as the team would often score in the 100’s. OCU’s fast break and shoot when open style was a forerunner of Billy Tubbs high scoring “Billy Ball” Sooners in the 1980’s. And as OCU under Lemons got within one game of the Final Four (1965), Billy’s Sooners did make the Final Four and play in the National Title Game against Kansas.
What made Lemons and Tubbs teams so great was that these coaches had their players play the most exciting brand of basketball this side of the NBA. And they did it with some of the greatest college players of the day. Just look at the All-Americans that played at OCU and OU during these two coaches run as evidence.
As I got to know Coach Lemons, I did not have the pleasure of knowing Billy Tubbs personally. But I watched enough of his games to know that both were exceptional coaches, big time winners. The won many more games than they lost. They put there teams in the Top Twenty more than not.
Tubbs loved his players and his players returned the love.
He was fast with the one liners and could be called the second funniest man in coaching. Lemons holds that title even today after many years after his death. But Tubbs was quick on the court. He absolutely knew what to say and how to do it without getting tossed. Lemons was not and let his temper get to him more than once. Billy was a showman, Abe was not. Coach Lemons was a standup comic.
Tubbs had a way to go after the officials as we all were witness to. He was the real deal, as was his contemporaries in this part of the country, such as , Lemons, Sutton, and Missouri’s Norm Stewart.
Tubbs will be missed and it is a shame that OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglone has not named the court in the Lloyd Noble after him. That needs to be done immediately.
God take Coach Tubbs to the great court in Heaven and let him get his pickup team prepared to play Abe’s and Eddie’s teams.
Photo: Kansas City Star