Howell: 27 points, 17 rebounds for a career!
(Writer’s note: The C Spire Howell Trophy, named for Bailey Howell, goes to the most outstanding college basketblall player in Mississippi each year. It is named for the most outstanding college basketball player in Mississippi history. In Bailey Howell’s case, the incredible numbers don’t lie. This column was written in 1997, on the occasion of Howell’s induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame.)
Larry Templeton was a high school kid working the scoreboard at Mississippi State back in the late ’50s. Bailey Howell was the best basketball player Templeton or most everybody in these parts had seen.
Nearly four decades — and countless basketball hotshots later — Templeton believes we haven’t seen the likes of Howell since.
“Last season’s Mississippi State team will go down as the best team in Mississippi history, but Bailey Howell is still the best basketball player ever in this state,” says Templeton, who has graduated from clock operator to athletic director.
He’s right. The numbers don’t lie. Howell averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds over three seasons at State. Nobody before or since has been close.
“He was just so dominant,” Templeton says. “He was head and shoulders better than everybody else. To us back then, he was like Brett Favre in the NFL and Michael Jordan in the NBA are to kids now.”
Howell wasn’t bad in the NBA himself. He went on to score more than 17,000 points, grab more 2,000 rebounds and pass out more than 2,000 assists over a 12-year NBA career, which included key roles on two championship teams.
And now, for all those achievements, Howell will become the first male basketball player in Mississippi history to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
MSU’s McCarthy got the prize
As a teen, Howell was a tall, skinny basketball prodigy in tiny Middleton, Tenn., just five miles above the Mississippi-Tennessee line. Middleton was home to only about 300 people, but basketball was huge there.
“It was the only sport played at my high school, and we started playing when school started in August,” Howell said. “We’d play up until when school let out for cotton picking in September, and we’d start back as soon as the cotton was picked.”
News of Howell’s skills spread far and wide.
Kentucky’s legendary Adolph Rupp wanted him. So did Tennessee, Memphis State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and State. Ole Miss was the closest university, but State got the prize because of Babe McCarthy.
“Babe McCarty was unique,” Howell said. “Babe was way ahead of his time in the time and effort he put into recruiting. Most schools would come by and watch you play, then offer you a scholarship and that was about it. But every time I turned around, Babe was there, either him or somebody he sent to see me.”
He won SEC, NBA titles
Howell led State to a 61-14 record over three seasons. He once scored 47 points in a game. He once got 34 rebounds in a game. Little wonder, he was the second pick in the 1959 NBA draft behind another pretty fair player you might recognize. Wilt Chamberlain.
“People tell me that it’s too bad I was a senior that year because if it hadn’t been for Wilt, I’d have been the first player picked,” Howell said. “Well, the year before the first pick was Elgin Baylor. The next year, it was Oscar Robertson. I wasn’t going ahead of any of those guys.”
But Howell belongs right alongside them. He was that productive, that consistent.
Howell says there’s no doubt his biggest thrill as a player came in 1968 when the Boston Celtics won the world championship and he averaged 20 points per game. His biggest thrill as a collegian, he says, was winning the SEC championship in 1959. And that brings us to his biggest disappointment.
State was chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi government leaders barred the Bulldogs from participating because State would have faced integrated teams.
“It was a thrill to win the SEC, but it was like we had cold water poured on it,” Howell said. “I was never so disappointed. In America, no matter what you do, you have the opportunity to go as far as you can go and be whatever you can be. We were denied that opportunity.”
Nobody in the SEC ever stopped Howell.
It took a governor to do that.
The C Spire Howell and Gillom Trophies will be awarded at a luncheon March 11 (next Monday) at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Famed coach Van Chancellor will be the keynote speaker. Tickets are still available by calling 601 982-8264.