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MSU, Loyola meet in rematch of landmark game

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MSU, Loyola meet in rematch of landmark game

Mississippi State's basketball team had to sneak out of state to play a 1963 NCAA tournament game against Loyola of Chicago.

The travel itinerary won't be nearly so complicated this time.

Saturday's game between Mississippi State (3-5) and Loyola (6-3) in Chicago will be celebrated as a reminder of the landmark contest between that helped change race relations on the basketball court.

The all-white Bulldogs had turned down invitations to play in the NCAA Tournament in previous seasons because of an unwritten Mississippi law that forbade teams to play integrated opponents. But in 1963, after winning the Southeastern Conference championship, Mississippi State coach Babe McCarthy and others in the university's leadership helped facilitate a secret trip to East Lansing, Mich., to allow Mississippi State a chance to play Loyola.

Loyola won the game 61-51 and went on to beat two-time defending champion Cincinnati for the NCAA championship one week later.

The score was mostly a footnote compared to the historical significance of the game. Though it hasn't received the same publicity as other notable contests, such as Texas Western's win over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA championship, it's become more appreciated in recent years.

Loyola's Jerry Harkness - a guard on that 1963 team - referred to the game as ``the beginning of the end of segregation'' in 2008. The NCAA picked the game as one of the 25 defining moments in the organization's first 100 years in 2006.

Still, most of the current players from both Mississippi State and Loyola admitted they had no clue about that 1963 game until recently watching a documentary about it.

``It's unreal to think about everything those guys had to go through just to play a 40-minute basketball game,'' Loyola senior guard Jordan Hicks said. ``The amount of respect of I have for what they went through is huge ... Being African-American myself, it's a remarkable story. I couldn't imagine living in a world like that.''

Mississippi State defied intense political pressure to play in that NCAA tournament - even dodging an injunction that would have prohibited the team from leaving the state. McCarthy left for Tennessee and Mississippi State President Dean Colvard left the state for a speaking engagement in Alabama days before the game - and also before the injunction could be served. After the coach and president left town, a group of trainers and the team's reserves quietly slipped away to an airport in Starkville, Miss.

When that group met no opposition at the airport, they called for an assistant coach and the starters to join the rest of the team in Starkville. The team flew to Nashville to pick up McCarthy and head to the NCAA tournament.

``I love history and when you start really learning the dynamics - it's an incredible story,'' current Loyola coach Porter Moser said. ``Then getting to know the guys - people like Jerry Harkness - and have them talk to the team is just a privilege. You can't forget you're dealing with young people and take advantage of teaching moments.''

Players from both 1963 teams will be in Chicago for Saturday's game. Many have become friends since the first reunion of the game in 2008.

``We all shook hands after the game and then I figured we'd never see each other again,'' said Doug Hutton, who was a guard on Mississippi State's 1963 team. ``So it's been a lot of fun to get to know them a little more. It's good the game is getting some publicity - seems like it gets bigger every year.''

Hutton said the Bulldogs were simply excited to get a chance in the NCAA tournament and didn't give much thought to the significance of the game. But the dozens of flashbulbs that popped when Loyola's Harkness and Mississippi State's Joe Dan Gold shook hands at midcourt pregame certainly provided a clue.

Les Hunter, one of the four African-American starters on that 1963 Loyola team, said he remembers a clean, hard-fought game.

``Considering we were just 19, 20 or 21 year olds, I don't think we fully understood,'' Hutton said. ``We just wanted to play basketball, and it was a great game. Like most close games between two good teams, it came down to a few possessions at the end and Loyola made the plays to win.''

Despite losing, Mississippi State returned to Starkville triumphant - without having to sneak back into the state. There were no legal issues awaiting them and no Mississippi State officials lost their jobs or were punished. The team was greeted warmly at the airport by hundreds of fans. Hutton said the reaction around campus was largely positive to the decision to play the game.

Nonetheless, playing the game didn't bring about immediate change, but fifty years later there has been progress.

Mississippi State will be led by an African-American - first-year coach Rick Ray - on Saturday and the majority of the Bulldogs' roster is African-American.

``It was an honor to be a part of that game, but there are also some mixed emotions,'' Hunter said. ``It's good to know things have changed so much since that game, but sometimes you wonder why it couldn't have happened a little sooner.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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