DALLAS — The beginning of the end of racial barriers in college basketball started with a handshake 55 years ago Thursday.
Loyola senior Jerry Harkness, an African-American, extended his hand to Mississippi State senior Joe Dan Gold, a white player, before tipoff of the Mideast Regional semifinal. Flashbulbs popped and nearly blinded both as they made history.
Neither of them smiled, but Harkness remembers they were glad to be a part of the “Game of Change.”
“It was a long time coming,” Harkness said. “After the flashes, I knew that this was something special. That the game was something special. I thought that was history being made. The atmosphere was overwhelming.”
Before that game in 1963, governor Ross Barnett barred Mississippi teams from playing opponents with African-American players. But the Bulldogs, who were known as the Maroons at that time, defied Barnett’s order and snuck out of the state to meet the Ramblers in the Mideast Regionals in East Lansing, Michigan.
Loyola coach Porter Moser said he has used the milestone as motivation for his players.
“The past is part of our future,” Moser said he has told his team. “What they did in the past, the ’63 team, and what they went through and persevered has been something that’s been talked about with our guys and our program.”
Advice from former Ramblers
Ahead of Loyola’s game against Miami, several former Ramblers offered tips for handling the pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“Best advice I could give them … sometimes when the pressure is great, players sometimes get tight,” said John Egan, a member of Loyola’s 1963 national championship team. “They attempt to be too precise in everything they do instead of the natural way they do it. You don’t want to make too much out of the big game.”
Alfredrick Hughes, who was on the 1985 squad that reached the Sweet 16, advised the team to embrace the moment.
“You’re about to be a part of something, to make history,” Hughes said. “For the first time since you played basketball, the whole world is watching you. Let the world know who you are. You have to live in the moment.”
Players support school walkout
In the wake of school walkouts across the country Wednesday to demand action on gun violence and school safety, several players, including Loyola’s Donte Ingram, said they support gun reform.
“I think there needs to be rules, who can be owners of guns,” Ingram said. “I think they need to tighten down on that. There’s a lot of people, especially in the city of Chicago, who own guns that shouldn’t.”
Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.