The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Men’s basketball more than half century removed its from only Final Four

It has been a half century since the glory days of SMU men’s basketball.

Back in those days, the Mustangs clashed with basketball legends Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin in the postseason and were the toast of the Southwest Conference. Those were the days when the Mustangs played in front of a packed house at Perkins Gymnasium-now Perkins Natatorium-and didn’t disappoint fans with a single loss.

On Dec. 23, this year’s Mustangs return to Evanston, Ill., the site where, SMU in 1956, played its only Final Four. They face the Northwestern Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena, which was McGraw Memorial Hall when the Mustangs played perhaps the biggest game in the program’s history.

SMU blitzed through the Southwest Conference in the 1955-1956 season, winning all 12 contests and finishing with a 23-2 overall record. No SMU team since has come close to duplicating that winning percentage or advanced farther in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, 20 wins in a 30-game schedule are cause for celebration these days.

In 1955-1956, the Mustangs won three games in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional against Texas Tech University, the University of Houston and Oklahoma City University. Their reward was a matchup against the defending national champion San Francisco Dons in Evanston.

The Dons were led by Russell, who went on to a Hall of Fame career both in the NCAA and in the National Basketball Association. The Dons were undefeated, and they weren’t going to disappoint.

“We supposedly had no chance,” said Tom Miller, a Houston retiree who was a senior center for the Mustangs that season.

The Mustangs were led by scoring machine Jim Krebs, a St. Louis native who is considered one of the greatest players ever to set foot on campus. He had a silky smooth hook shot that was impossible to stop.

Earlier in the season, he scored the first 50-point game in program history, and he averaged 19.1 points and 10 rebounds.

“We were built around Jim Krebs, and everybody else was secondary,” said team captain Joel Krog, who also lives in Houston. “Everybody on the team accepted that, and that’s what made it work.”

Krebs held his own, finishing with 24 points and nine rebounds, compared to Russell’s 17 points and 23 rebounds. However, the Dons escaped with an 86-68 victory.

“We had a very good team-a great team-that year,” said forward Rick Herrscher, a Dallas resident who was a sophomore on the 1955-1956 squad. “We just happened to come across one of the greatest teams in NCAA Tournament history.”

The Mustangs didn’t get a break in the third-place game, either. Temple University’s Hal Lear notched 48 points, and the Owls downed the Mustangs 90-81.

Miller said that professional scouts were at the game, and Lear earned a $5,000 bonus with his performance. “We thought he should’ve given some of that money to us,” he said.

Krebs had 29 in the contest and averaged 21.8 points in the tournament.

The glory days

The basketball team’s coming out party in the mid ’50s could not have come at a better time. The football team had steadily slid off the map after the graduation of star running back Doak Walker in the late ’40s, and the school was building a new basketball arena to be completed in 1957.

If you asked the players on the 1955-1956 team, they would’ve told you that they liked Perkins better. In 1954, the school started a remarkable 44-game regular season home winning streak, which did not end until 1958. Most of the games were played in Perkins.

In addition, the team didn’t deal with the expectations that the football team did, since the program had never experienced success on a national stage. The Mustang’s football team won a national championship in 1935 and dealt with the pressure of being the toast of the town in an era before professional sports became king. In those days, Dallas didn’t have an NFL team, an NBA team or an NHL team.

see “final four” on page 8

“It was a good time and a nice era,” said Krog. “It was different than things are today. We were not under any sort of pressure.”

Miller remembered being on the freshman team in 1953 with future stars Ronnie Morris, Larry Showalter and Krog and beating the varsity team in a scrimmage that year. (In those days, freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity squad.) For the rest of the season, the freshman team played in front of bigger crowds at Perkins and rewarded fans with an 11-1 record.

“We had athletes from all over,” said Miller. “We had no idea how good we were and as talented as we were until we played together.”

That was the beginning of basketball fever at SMU, and it lasted until Krebs graduated in 1957. In his second-to-last collegiate game, Krebs and the Mustangs squared off against Chamberlin and the Kansas Jayhawks in a 1957 NCAA Tournament regional game at SMU Coliseum-now known as Moody Coliseum.

Moody had opened that season, and fans were ready to see the Mustangs march on to their second straight Final Four with a pair of home victories. However, the Mustangs’ hopes were shattered in a 73-65 overtime loss.

Krebs fouled out late in regulation on a controversial call, and fans littered the court with seat cushions. Chamberlin dominated the overtime period with the Mustangs’ tallest player on the bench. He notched 36 points and 22 rebounds, and the Jayhawks went on to advance to the Final Four.

“Fans saw nothing but positive things from us that year, and they expected us to take [the game],” said Herrscher.

Krebs tallied 18 points in the game, and he pounded the St. Louis Billikens for 33 points and nine rebounds in his final collegiate game-the regional consolation championship. He was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1958 NBA Draft and played in three championships with the team. However, Russell’s Boston Celtics knocked the Lakers out each time.

Krebs died at the age of 29 in a freak accident while he was helping a neighbor saw a tree limb.

The fading star

Since Krebs and his teammates disappeared on the horizon, the Mustangs have not duplicated the success that they saw during those few brief years. SMU won or shared eight conference championships between 1955 and 1967, which was the era of legendary head coach Doc Hayes.

Since Hayes departed in 1967, the Mustangs have managed only three conference titles and have been through seven head coaches.

Currently, Matt Doherty is in his third year as head coach and is trying to rebuild the school to its formidable years. He struggled to a combined record of 24-37 in his first two seasons, but this year’s Mustangs squad shows promise, despite a meager 2-3 start.

Perhaps the Mustangs will hear the echoes of yesteryear-of Krebs and Russell dueling in the low blocks at the old McGraw Memorial Hall-and recapture the glory that once electrified the campus and defined a program.

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