AllSportsTucson.com is running a series that features the top 10 games of the Fred Snowden era as Arizona’s head basketball coach from 1972-81 leading up to the 50th anniversary of his historic hire March 21. Snowden became the first African-American head coach of a major college basketball program when Arizona athletic director Dave Strack hired him March 21, 1972. “The Fox,” as he was called because of his prowess on the basepaths as a young baseball player, ignited the Arizona fan base with a run-and-gun style of basketball. The success of the program (reaching the Elite Eight in 1976) under Snowden, who was an assistant at Michigan before his hire, was a precursor to what Lute Olson developed with the program.
You can access the entire series by clicking here.
5. Bob “Big Bird” Elliott soars above ASU’s Ron “Rock” Kennedy in 1974 classic
“Big Bird” perched atop “The Rock” on Feb. 3, 1974, like an eagle stakes claim to the peak of a mountain.
Rarely has an Arizona player soared so high.
Arizona’s Bob “Big Bird” Elliott, a slender 6’10” and 220-pound freshman center from Ann Arbor, Mich., overpowered ASU’s hulky 6’11” and 258-pound senior post player Ron “The Rock” Kennedy almost 48 years ago in a performance for the ages.
Tucson Citizen sportswriter Steve Weston wrote the veteran Kennedy “resembled a boulder with roots” and that Elliott was “boyish-looking.”
The perceived mismatch added to the lore of that evening for Elliott in front of a packed McKale Center with 13,658 fans. In the previous season, Kennedy was a significant reason why ASU swept the Wildcats and knocked them out of the Western Athletic Conference race.
“‘The Rock’ blitzed Arizona for 30-some points in one of the games the year before I got here,” Elliott told me. “When we started practicing for ASU, (point guard) Eric Money said, ‘You’re going to have the ball all day long. You’re the first option.’”
Fred “The Fox” Snowden’s first option in every other game was prolific scoring shooting guard Coniel Norman, who averaged 23.9 points in his two seasons with Arizona before going pro. He was nicknamed “Popcorn” because of his propensity to shoot and make those shots from all over the perimeter.
“Even Corn was like, ‘No man, you’re the first option. You need to tear that dude up,’” Elliott said. “It seemed like every time I looked up, the ball was in my hands and every time I shot it (24 times, making 12). … You don’t have to tell a guy too many times.”
“Big Bird” swooped in for 25 rebounds and scored 38 points in Arizona’s 98-90 victory, snapping a six-game losing streak to coach Ned Wulk and the Sun Devils.
That’s a double-double two times over, almost three times over. Who does that?
Kennedy’s stat line: Six points and five rebounds. He made only one field goal and that occurred on a goal-tending call against Elliott.
“There’s no reason a freshman should dominate a senior like that,” Wulk was quoted as saying by the Citizen. “What can you say to expound on that performance? The statistics speak for themselves.”
The 25 rebounds is one shy of the school record and his scoring output ranks as the second-most by a freshman tied with Norman (against BYU in 1973) and one point behind Jerryd Bayless’ 39 against ASU in 2008.
“Kennedy was just like I thought he would be,” Elliott told the Citizen after the game. “He said himself he could not move like a guard, so I believed him. But I can move like a guard. I just said, ‘You’re not going to be able to check me.’”
When reminded of that quote, Elliott said, “Yeah, that sounds right.” The fact that he went to the free throw line 20 times and made 14 shows that Kennedy and ASU’s bigs could not keep up with him defensively and on the boards.
“You grow up in the Detroit area and you’re taught the way you play has nothing to do with your height,” he said. “If you can handle the ball and shoot from the outside, you can play guard.
“Look at the guys who came out of that area — George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Campy Russell — you can be 6’8″ or 6’9″ and it didn’t matter. If you can handle it, and shoot from the outside, you can play guard.”
Snowden, in his second season as Arizona’s coach, was quoted as saying by the Arizona Daily Star of the win over the Sun Devils: “One hell of a victory for the University of Arizona, one people in this part of the country have been waiting for for a long time.”
The win was the first in nearly four years for Arizona over ASU.
“We had to outrebound them to win,” added Snowden, who was concerned about Elliott’s inexperience entering the game. “Eric, Coniel and Ron (Allen) got (Elliott) ready. I tried to minimize Elliott’s importance in this game during the week, but they made Elliott believe.”
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.