The Nation's Best Player, Seen On A Stanford Basketball Court

Dec. 3, 2008

STANFORD, Calif.- Twenty-five years ago this month, the greatest basketball player of the second half of the 20th century, Michael Jordan, came to Maples Pavilion with his North Carolina Tar Heel team. That Stanford-North Carolina game, won by the Tar Heels 88-75, was played before the largest crowd (8,000) in Maples Pavilion history.

Almost 75 years ago, the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century played before a similarly record-breaking crowd. That player was a Stanford player, and the arena was the world's most famous arena in New York City.

Guard Angelo 'Hank' Luisetti's appearance with his Stanford team in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 30, 1936, was greeted with even more anticipation in Manhattan as Michael Jordan's was in Palo Alto two generations later. Well over 17,000 fans were in attendance at MSG to see Luisetti and his revolutionary one-hand shot. In Luisetti's time, the standard way of shooting a basketball was the two-hand set shot.

Luisetti's one-hand shot was a major step forward in the evolution of basketball. A greater variety of shots--release points, body angles, locations on the floor--became possible with the one-handed shot as opposed to the two-handed shot.

For the smaller, faster, more athletic player, such as Hank Luisetti and the millions who would follow in succeeding decades, the one-handed release presented the possibility of much more scoring. And Luisetti's and Stanford's success in the late 1930s would prove this truth again and again.

That December 1936 evening in New York City, Luisetti wowed the large crowd with his array of shots, and Stanford halted Long Island's 43-game winning streak, winning 45-31.

One year later, Luisetti had a similarly-memorable scoring performance, also in a big eastern U.S. city. Luisetti scored 50 points--still the Stanford single-game scoring record--in Cleveland as Stanford destroyed Duquense 92-27 on Jan. 1, 1938. It was the first time anyone had scored as many as 50 points in a basketball game. The 92-27 final score remains the greatest single-game margin of victory in Stanford basketball history.

In Luisetti's three varsity seasons, Stanford compiled a stellar 68-12 record. In Luisetti's junior season--the year Hank and Stanford took Manhattan--Stanford won the Helms national championship with a 25-2 record. Luisetti earned first team All-America honors in each of his three varsity campaigns. And at the conclusion of the 1938 season, as at the end of the 1937 season, Hank Luisetti was named college basketball's national player of the year.

The nearby Galileo High School (San Francisco) graduate finished his glorious and revolutionary Stanford career with 1,596 points, then the most career points ever scored by a college basketball player. In his three seasons, Luisetti fouled out of a game only one time--in an era in basketball in which disqualification came on the fourth foul, not the fifth foul as is the case today. Luisetti's uniform #7 was retired following the conclusion of his Stanford career, and his statue today graces the northwest mezzanine corner of Maples Pavilion.

From any angle you look, Stanford has been the place for a national college basketball player of the year to take the stage. Michael Jordan, Stanford opponent. Hank Luisetti, Stanford player. And don't forget to add a Stanford coach to that special list: current Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins was college basketball's national player of the year in 1986.

- John Platz

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