Loyola could still use Jim Lacy today

March 18, 1994|By John Steadman

From another time frame, when the game was more conservative, emerged an extraordinary talent named Jim Lacy, who demonstrated an inherent ability that could have made him a dominant figure in any era of basketball. He had the mobility, durability and, yes, this astonishing touch to do what was required. Then or now.

His career scoring record at Loyola College has been challenged but not surpassed during the four decades that have elapsed since he put imposing numbers, 2,199, on the scoreboard. It should be further explained that this was before the bonus foul arrangement was introduced or the three-point shot.

So try to contemplate, on the basis of measuring his worth, what the totals might have been had he played under rules that would have been made-to-order for vastly increasing personal production. In a game where shooters often become incorrigibly selfish, Lacy was the exact antithesis. "Basketball isn't a one-man show; it's a team game," he once remarked.

At 6 feet 2, 185 pounds, he could crash the middle or hit from outside. How far away? Try York, Pa., because his two-hand style of set shot, which he unloaded with a trigger-like snap of his wrists, was either in the middle of the net or accurate enough to catch part of the rim and drop through the hoop.

When Lacy was at Loyola, which faces Arizona today in a first-round West Regional game, the team played some of the best in the East, including Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marshall, La Salle and Scranton. Even Maryland, the much larger state

university, couldn't handle the two "L's" -- Lacy and Loyola.

One of his most bona fide testimonials came when the esteemed Frank Keaney, coach and athletic director at Rhode Island, was speaking before the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association in New York and was asked to name the best player he had observed in the entire nation. Keaney replied, "Why, Jim Lacy of Loyola College in Baltimore."

After Loyola upset Seton Hall, with Lacy accounting for 22 points, Hall of Fame member Bob Davies, then coaching the Pirates, said flat out, "The best college player I have seen anywhere this year is Lacy."

When a junior, Lacy was second in the national scoring race to Cliff McNeely of Texas Wesleyan. In a "dream" matchup of the nation's premier scorers, Lacy tallied 20 and McNeely, guarded by Bill Johnson, could only get seven points.

"Believe me, Lacy could have been a standout for any team anywhere," said Charley Eckman, the prominent referee who handled major college games and also worked in the pro leagues.

His draft rights were owned by the Washington Capitals of the then Basketball Association of America and the Syracuse Nationals of the National Basketball Association. But Lacy wasn't interested. The pro game then lacked prestige and stability. There was little inducement, so Lacy became a broker with the insurance firm of Riggs, Counselman, Michaels & Downes Inc. -- and he's still there, which underlines his business capabilities.

NBA coaches Eddie Gottlieb, Harry "Buddy" Jeannette and Arnold "Red" Auerbach agreed if he had signed he would have been a standout. Ed Hargaden and Emil "Lefty" Reitz, his coaches at Loyola High and Loyola College, insisted they never knew a more complete player.

In a game at Seton Hall, the scouts turned out to watch backcourtmen Frank "Pep" Saul and Bobby Wanzer but left talking about Lacy. He scored only four points in the first half, but in the final half hit 12 of 15 field goal tries and, at one stage, put up 16 straight points. Sid Roche, ex-FBI agent and once a teammate, says, "You have no idea what a pleasure it was to be associated with someone of his ability. He far exceeded the rest of us in skills. We fellow players were his greatest fans. That tells much about his character and the respect we had for him."

At 17 and a Loyola freshman, in 1943-44, he led the state in scoring, surpassing Johnny Norlander, who was then playing for the Bainbridge Naval Training Station. When Jim became 18, he enlisted in the Navy and became the youngest player on the Bainbridge team, comprised of older pros and collegians.

Lacy believes the current Loyola representatives, by qualifying for the NCAA tournament, accomplished more than the teams he played on were able to do. That's to be expected from Lacy, who never had an ego problem.

With or without a basketball, he doesn't know how to be selfish.

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