A career, life cut tragically short
Monday, September 13, 2004
More Info on Maurice Stokes
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
March 17, 1955 - In an era when the National Invitation Tournament - and not the NCAA Tournament - was the more prestigious postseason event, unranked St. Francis was not given much a chance against second-seeded Dayton in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. But Maurice stoked the flames of a possible upset with what The New York Times called "one of the most dazzling individual exhibitions ever seen here."
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound center poured in 17 points in the first 10 minutes on the way to scoring 43 of the Frankies' 73 points. The senior made 14-of-26 field-goal attempts and 15-of-17 free throws in attaining the most points by a player at the Garden during the 1954-55 season.
"A thoroughly unselfish player, he was equally outstanding for his playmaking, defense and rebounding [he had 19]," The New York Times reported.
Stokes' foul shot on a technical gave St. Francis a one-point lead with 51 seconds left. Another Frankies' free throw put them up by two before a late Dayton basket sent the game into overtime tied at 67-67. In the extra session, the bigger Flyers scored six of the last eight points to post a 77-73 victory before 16,485 fans.
Odds 'n' Ends
In an ironic note, Stokes' future benefactor, Jack Twyman, lost in the other 1955 NIT semifinal when Cincinnati was routed by top-seeded Duquesne, 65-51. Twyman scored 12 points.
The high scorer in that game with 21 points was Duquesne's Dick Ricketts, the only player who would be selected before Stokes in the regular portion of the 1955 NBA draft.
The Rochester Royals had seven first-year players when Stokes and Twyman were rookies in 1955-56. They finished 31-41, failing to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
One of the seven was Ricketts, who had been drafted by Milwaukee. After joining the Royals, he became Stokes' best friend on the team. Ricketts, who left the NBA in 1958, pitched 12 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959.
Normally a forward, Stokes started at center in the 1957 All-Star Game; he scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 31 minutes.
In his other two All-Star appearances, Stokes scored 10 points and had 16 rebounds in 20 minutes in 1956, and 10 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes in 1958.
Stokes tied for fifth place in the NBA's MVP voting in 1957. The next season, he finished fifth again, receiving two first-place votes.
Stokes, one of the greatest collegiate rebounders in history when he played for St. Francis (Pa.), was named to the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Stokes was overwhelmed when told in 1969 that St. Francis was going to name the athletic center it was planning to build after him.
The actual basketball gym within the center is now the DeGol Arena, in honor of two college benefactors.
Stokes, who never made the all-state (Pennsylvania) team, credited a Westinghouse High School teammate, Eugene Phelps, with teaching him how to play the pivot.
"Maurie," the 1973 movie about Stokes and Twyman, was originally known as "Big Mo." Upon release, the final death scene was cut and a more upbeat ending was inserted.
Twyman, one of the top scorers of his era, on how he's remembred: "What happened to Maurice put everything in perspective for me. If people want to remember me for that and not what I did on the court, that doesn't bother me at all."
The Maurice Stokes Foundation, which was set up by Twyman, raised more than $300,000 to help with medical expenses.
After Stokes' death, Twyman ended his involvement with the Stokes charity game (first played in 1959) at Kutsher's resort. The contest, though, continued to be played through 1999, helping former NBA players who fell on hard times.
In the summer of 2000, the basketball game was canceled because of rising insurance costs. However, there remains a Maurice Stokes/Wilt Chamberlain Celebrity Pro-Am golf tournament to raise funds.
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