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Jimmy Blacklock: Longhorn Basketball Trailblazer

A former Longhorn is bringing the Harlem Globetrotters to Austin in June. You probably don't know who it is - but you should.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Scipio's insightful reverie into his childhood experience with the Harlem Globetrotters sent me back in time as well.

As I mentioned in his post, my childhood experience with the Globetrotters was in the Old Palmer Auditorium here in Austin.

My interest piqued, I did a little research and discovered that the Globetrotters are coming back to Austin -- but not to the Erwin Center. They will be in town for a week holding youth basketball camps at various sites and a former Longhorn will be here with them.

Jimmy Blacklock was named the Globetrotters coach in 2011. Blacklock had joined the Globetrotters as a player after his career at Texas and has been identified with the organization ever since. And while it's been 40 years since he wore the orange & white uniform, his legacy is still a part of Texas Basketball.

Last fall I wrote about Darrell Royal's relationship with Julius Whittier and how they helped change the face of UT football. The process in basketball was basically along the same timeline.

Leon Black is a Longhorn through and through. A three-year letterman at Texas, Black became an assistant coach under Harold Bradley in 1965. When he took over the program in 1968 he was fully aware that he needed to tap into the as-yet untouched pipeline of African-American players.

Black, from deep East Texas, had played on a racially mixed team in the military, so race was a non-factor for him.

During Black's first year as head coach, Sam Bradley came to Texas as a track athlete, but was given a combo scholarship to also play basketball. In 1970 Bradley became first black to letter in basketball at Texas.

Coach Black appreciated Bradley, but he needed a true impact player to make real headway on the recruiting trail.

Jimmy Blacklock had been a star at Houston Wheatley HS, and started out at Tyler Junior College. Black had been coach at Lon Morris Junior College, and worked hard at getting Blacklock to come to Texas. When he signed on the dotted line it was big news.

Quiet, even-tempered and dedicated to the game, Blacklock was perfect for his historical role. He quickly established himself as a starter and finished his junior season as the leading scorer for the 1971 squad, averaging 17 points a game.

Never mind his numbers, Blacklock proved his true value when, through a vote of the players, he became the first black athlete to be a team captain on any UT team.

1972 - A Season of What Could Have Been

When Leon Black convinced Blacklock to come to Texas, he also struck gold with a couple of freshmen. Two players coming up from the shorthorn squad in 1972 had an immediate impact, with one becoming the first African-American athlete to be a true star at Texas.

Larry Robinson, a 6-6 beanpole was so pigeon toed you wondered how he didn't stumble over his own feet. Out of Hobbs, New Mexico, Robinson didn't start in high school until he was a junior. Hobbs was a powerhouse back then and Robinson quickly became a force on the team. Kansas State was recruiting a teammate of Robinson's and they offered him as well.

So how did he end up at Texas? Coach Black just concentrated on Robinson and convinced him that the education he would get in Austin was worth it. Robinson's parents has always stressed education and he later admitted that the competition was so strong at his high school (10 players played quality minutes every game) that he wasn't all that convinced of his ability until he got to college.

All Robinson did his freshman year was average 34 points and 17 rebounds a game. The point guard on that team, Harry Larrabee, would shake the varsity up as well. Larrabee, 5-10 from Shelbyville, Ind, looked like the Pillsbury doughboy but played like an assassin.

B.G. Brosterhous was a skinny 6-11 center from Oregon. Lynn Howden had been a star in high school in Houston, signed with LSU, and then transferred back to Texas. Scooter Lenox was the off-guard who thought passing was illegal, while Eric Groscurth and Jack Louis provided quality forward depth.

What should have been a stellar senior season for Blacklock faded away early in conference play. Still the starter, he had split time with Larrabee in non-conference games, but turnovers plagued him when conference began. Leon Black was convinced it was the other SWC coaches who helped fuel the calls.

Black believed that other coaches complained early and often that Blacklock was getting away with traveling, that he was quickly moving before starting to dribble. After a couple of games into SWC play, Black decided to start Larrabee. The turnovers went down, and the wins piled up.

Blacklock could have taken it personally, sulked and poisoned the locker room. He never said a public word about the benching and became a quality sub, averaging 7 points a game.

With the new lineup, Texas tied SMU for the SWC championship. That meant a one-game playoff for the NCAA berth.

Texas won a 91-89 overtime thriller, with Robinson, the conference MVP, putting up 30 points and 12 rebounds.

The game was played in Waco at the barn laughingly referred to as the Heart of Texas Coliseum. They had just installed a tartan floor, and after the game Robinson was discovered to have a hairline fracture his foot.

Texas was sent to Las Cruces, NM to play the University of Houston. They weren't Phi Slamma Jamma, but they were damn good. Guy Lewis had the Double D's - Dwight Davis and Dwight Jones, power forwards who were lethal parts to a full court press. The Cougars, 20-6, jumped out to a quick lead after getting Texas to turn the ball over several times.

Coach Black then took one of the best timeouts of his coaching career. He decided to simplify matters by getting the ball to Larrabee and have everyone else get the hell out of the way. Larrabee so frustrated the man press that Houston began to make mistakes and Texas stunned the Cougars 85-74.

Robinson played 35 minutes on the broken foot, scoring 23 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.

Robinson had plenty of company in the whirlpool after the game. B.G. Brosterhous (shoulder), Lynn Howden (ankle), Scooter Lenox (ankle), were all banged up going into the Midwest Regional.

Texas joined Louisville, Kansas State and Southwestern Louisiana in Ames, Iowa.

Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick wrote in his preview that the Midwest Regional "is the battle of the four C's - the Cards, Cats, Cajuns - and Cripples."

Any chance that Texas had was left in the training room. Coach Black resorted to a zone defense, which he abhorred, in order to play Howden and Robinson for any length of time. The Wildcats, with Lon Kruger at the point, finally pulled away in the last 4 minutes for a 66-55 win.

Leon Black would coach another 4 years before resigning and moving to an administration position in the department.

Robinson would again be the conference MVP in 1974 and Texas would again make the NCAA's. He ended his college career with an average of 21.5 points per game, and scored 30 or more points 12 times. Robinson was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1989.

Drafted by Boston, he was among the last cuts, and they shipped him off to Europe. Robinson found a home in Sweden, where he was a star for 10 years, averaging 35 points a game one season. He then had a long, successful stint as an executive for Converse in Europe.

Blacklock played for the Globetrotters for 13 years, traveling to 62 countries and playing in over 2,500 games and obviously has remained involved with the team over the decades.

Despite the disappointment of the end of the 1972 season Jimmy Blacklock's career at Texas was a success. He and Larry Robinson helped paved the way for the full integration of the University of Texas Athletics program.

I hope Jimmy gets some time while here to walk around Gregory Gym and that memories it generates for him are good ones.