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.
8. Arizona subdues future Hall of Famer Robert Parish and Centenary at McKale
Before the Shaq Show came to McKale Center in 1991 when LSU visited Arizona, another team from Louisiana brought a future Hall of Fame post player to Tucson.
Centenary College of Shreveport, La.., featured 7-foot-1 and 230-pound sophomore center Robert Parish when the Gents played the Wildcats at McKale in a late regular-season game Jan. 30, 1974.
Larry Little’s team came to Tucson 14-1 with Parish, who later became known as “Chief” during his NBA career with the Boston Celtics from 1980 to 1994. He was a four-time world champion with the Celtics, who comprised one of the best frontcourts in NBA history with him, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird.
You can access the entire series by clicking here.
Parish reportedly turned down a $750,000 contract from the American Basketball Association to return to Centenary after his freshman season despite ruled as ineligible by the NCAA because he took a standardized test out of high school that did not fit the NCAA’s formula.
Parish and four other players in the same circumstance sued the NCAA over their eligibility but lost the case. They continued to play and the NCAA put the program on probation for six years. The governing body did not recognize Centenary’s wins and statististics. Parish became known as an “Invisible Man” for never playing an official game throughout his four-year career with the Gents.
In Arizona’s 97-88 win over Centenary, Parish finished with 18 points (on 8-of-18 shooting from the field), 14 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Arizona freshman Bob Elliott, 6-foot-10, had 19 points and 15 rebounds. His frontcourt mate Al Fleming, 6-foot-8, finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. They each shot 6 of 12 from the field.
“After playing Parish, I thought that maybe I might get a chance at the next level,” Elliott told me. “In the Robert Parish game, Sports Illustrated was here to do a feature on Parish and they ended up doing a feature on us. Talk about a breakout moment — that was a breakout moment for me.”
Snowden, in his second year at Arizona, had his team at 13-5 overall after the victory in front of 9,119 fans at McKale Center.
“Bob did an outstanding job tonight,” Snowden was quoted as saying by Arizona Daily Star assistant sports editor Chuck Kramer. “It was one of his best games. I knew he was going to play well. His pride was involved. He and Al knew they had a job to do on the boards and they did.”
Arizona guards Eric Money and Coniel Norman backed up their bigs combining for 56 points on 24-of-43 shooting from the field.
Elliott and Fleming told the Tucson Citizen’s Steve Weston after the game they had a strategy going against the statuesque Parish in the paint.
“In the first half, I tried to keep him off the boards and let Al rebound,” Elliott said. “In the second half, it was the opposite.”
“That’s all we could do,” Fleming said with a grin.
“He got up on everything,” Fleming continued. “I’ve never seen a center any better.”
“He can get up there,” mused Elliott.
Shaquille O’Neal had a similar fate as Parish in that 1991 game at McKale Center against Arizona’s Sean Rooks and Ed Stokes. O’Neal had only 10 points and four rebounds in Arizona’s 87-67 win over the Tigers. Rooks finished with 16 points and five rebounds and Stokes 11 points and five rebounds.
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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.