Herman Harris can’t believe that he can walk through most of McKale Center and not see a mention of Fred Snowden, the coach who opened the arena in 1973 to an exciting brand of basketball that rallied this community behind the program like never before.
The late Snowden, nicknamed “The Fox” because of his defensive prowess as a middle infielder during his young baseball career, holds the distinction of being the first African-American head coach of a major college basketball program when he was hired in 1972.
“There’s only one thing about Arizona that I really don’t like,” Harris said, “and that is they brought a coach in from Detroit and he applied his trade out here. He did all the best that he could.
“There’s hardly any recognition of him anywhere. His name should be up in the rafters. He should have a picture there. The only thing they have is down the hallway by the coach’s office, a picture of him with his name, like everybody else.”
A sense of disappointment could be heard in Harris’ voice.
“I thought Arizona taught you to do the right thing. But are they doing the right thing? Hell no,” he said. “You have to fight just to get them to think about Coach Snowden.”
One of Harris’ teammates, Bob Elliott, believes a show of respect for Snowden and that era of Wildcat basketball in the early 1970’s — which put Arizona on the national map in terms of recruiting and exposure — could be shown with a throwback uniform.
On the front of Arizona’s jersey in Snowden’s first two years the word “ARIZONA” was vertical to the right with the number on the left. Here’s an example with Elliott pictured:
“I have thought for years — that’s your throwback jersey for Arizona,” said Elliott, who has owned an accounting firm in Tucson since 1983. “I think ‘ARIZONA’ with a vertical would be nice. I’m not saying full-time but definitely try it for a game or two.
“The NBA has shifted to numerous jerseys to sell more. I would think that Arizona could get something out of that.”
Snowden, who passed away at 58 from a heart attack in 1994, recruited Harris and Elliott in his second recruiting class in 1973 (as featured in our Next Cats series). The ability to draw Harris from Chester, Pa., and Elliott from Ann Arbor, Mich., shows how Snowden converted Arizona into more of a national program than the regional operation under previous coaches.
With Harris and Elliott as starters, Snowden coached Arizona to the 1976 Elite Eight, the furthest the Wildcats would go in the NCAA tournament until Lute Olson led the program to its First Final four in 1988.
Harris, who followed through on a promise to his mom and earned a degree at Arizona in 2017, is a monitor at Copper Creek Elementary School in the Amphi School District. He previously worked in the Pima County Superior Courthouse for more than two decades.
He is also dismayed that Arizona does not have video from the Snowden era.
“Couple of years back, I wanted to get some basketball film from when we played and there were none. … where’s our films at?” he said. “How come there is no film from Fred Snowden’s teams? Mysteriously, everything disappeared from the Fred Snowden years.”
Harris wants to coach
Harris, 65, was one of the more accomplished four-year players in the Snowden era. As a 6-foot-5 guard, he played mostly on the perimeter and made 46.1 percent of his shots in his career — many of which would have been 3-pointers if there was a line back then. He had 1,158 points and 357 rebounds in his career.
Harris had one of Arizona’s historically best individual performances against UNLV in a 1976 Sweet 16 game scoring 17 of the Wildcats’ last 25 points in regulation in a 114-109 overtime victory. He played all 45 minutes and scored 31 points with nine rebounds and nine assists.
With such a rich background as a player, Harris wants to now offer his expertise to young players locally.
“I’m looking for a basketball job now, so put that out there,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll work for a coach and teach his players how to shoot the basketball. They don’t even have to pay me. It’s just a joy to be around kids.”
Sahuaro’s Alyssa Brown, a UNLV commit, has Arizona legacy
The verbal commitment of Sahuaro senior forward Alyssa Brown to UNLV on Friday brought to mind her late grandfather Gene Moore, who played basketball for Arizona and coach Bruce Larson in the 1971-72 season — a year before Snowden arrived.
Moore, a forward, joined Arizona for his senior season after serving in the Air Force. The Arizona Daily Star reported that Moore had minimal playing experience but impressed Larson with his athleticsm.
“He’s the best jumper on the team,” Larson told the Star. “He needs a lot of work, but we’re going to stay with him.”
Brown’s mom Lisa Moore was a basketball standout at Tucson High and her father Alawnzo Brown excelled in basketball and football at Canyon del Oro.
Elliott held his own against Robert Parish, Maurice Lucas as freshman in 1973-74
As a freshman playing substantial minutes in 1973-74, Elliott played against future NBA All-Stars Maurice Lucas of Marquette and Robert Parish of Centenary.
Arizona lost to No. 6 Marquette 76-62 in the Milwaukee Classic on Dec. 28, 1973. The Wildcats, ranked No. 12, trailed by only 4 points with about 11 minutes left before Marquette pulled away. Lucas, a sophomore, had 29 points and seven rebounds. Elliott, playing in his ninth college game, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
Marquette, coached by Al Maguire, went on to play in the national championship game that season against North Carolina State. Lucas left early for the 1974 NBA Draft and was selected in the first round, the 14th pick overall.
In Arizona’s 97-88 win over Centenary at McKale Center on Jan. 25, 1974, Parish, a 7-foot-1 sophomore who passed up a lucrative contract offer by an ABA team before the season, finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. Elliott, 6-foot-10, had 19 points and 15 rebounds. His frontcourt mate Al Fleming finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Parish, nicknamed “The Chief” when he was winning NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, became a first-round pick, ninth selection overall, in 1976.
“After playing Lucas and Parish, I thought that maybe I might get a chance at the next level,” Elliott said. “In the Robert Parish game, Sports Illustrated was here to do a feature on Robert Parish and they ended up doing a feature on me. Talk about a breakout moment — that was a breakout moment for me.”
Elliott was a second-round pick in 1977 by the Philadelphia 76ers but he never played for them. He spent half a year playing basketball in Europe and three seasons with the New Jersey Nets. Following his NBA career, Elliott briefly played with the Detroit Spirits of the Continental Basketball Association during the 1982–83 season. When he returned to Tucson after playing with the Spirits, he started his accounting business.
Another former Arizona football player passes away
Less than a week after a heart attack claimed the life of former Arizona running back Leo Mills, former Tucson High standout Richard Dodson, who went on to play linebacker at Arizona from 1969-72, passed away Wednesday.
Two weeks ago, former Arizona punter Mitch Hoopes, who went on to play in the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, passed away at his California home.
Three other former Arizona players have also died in 2020 — linebacker Sterling Lewis (played with the Wildcats in 2008 and 2009), receiver Mark Neal (1971-73) and lineman Ken Giovando (1962-64).
Dodson was an all-state football player with the Badgers who also set the city record with a shot put of 56 feet, 1 inch, as a senior in 1969. Exhibiting his athleticism, Dodson, a tackle at Tucson before switching to linebacker for the Wildcats, also kicked the ball off for Bob Weber’s team in 1971 and 1972. He was 68.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.