Jan. 29, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – One of the greatest rebounders in college basketball history and one of the most accomplished coaches in basketball history have … well … their own history.
On Wednesday night, SMU comes to the Cam Henderson Center to face Marshall in a Conference USA game. Mustangs Coach Larry Brown can glance to his left from the SMU bench up at the west end zone wall of retired Marshall uniforms and see a name with which he has a long-ago hoops acquaintance.
After Charlie Slack was finished putting his name into an NCAA record book in which his Thundering Herd rebounding from 1952-56 still stands tall today, he went to play for the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots in AAU basketball.
Slack started as most NBA-eschewing star players did in those days, settling into a job while still playing-high level hoops in the National Industrial Basketball League, which in 1960 became the NABL (National Alliance of Basketball Leagues).
The 6-foot-5 Slack played 4 1/2 seasons for the Wingfoots from 1956-57 through 60-61, and came back briefly to play a part of the following season. And a year after Slack left the hardwood, the Wingfoots landed a 5-9 guard from North Carolina … Brown.
“I knew him well enough,” Slack said Tuesday from his home in Massillon, Ohio. “I knew him pretty well, even though he came along to the Wingfoots after I retired. The Wingfoot players were all required to coach (youth) teams, called the Sons of Goodyear.
“Larry coached my sons, age 7 (Chuck Jr.) and 5 (Joel). That was a long time ago. You didn’t know back then what he was going to do, but Larry was always very, very knowledgeable about it.
“I guess if you had stopped and thought about it, you’d have figured what he’s become. I’ve followed his career. Needless to say, he’s been a great coach. I’m proud of what he’s done.”
Slack, 81, figures that Sons of Goodyear courtside work may have been Brown’s first coaching job.
And in Brown’s two years as a Wingfoot player (1963-64 and ’64-65), he helped the team to an AAU national title and won a gold medal at guard with the U.S. Olympic team in the 1964 Tokyo Games. He went on to star in the ABA, too.
That work with Slack’s sons was 14 coaching jobs ago for Brown, 72, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
He is the only man in history to play for and then be a head coach (bronze medal, 2004 Athens Games) of a U.S. Olympic team. He’s alone, also, in coaching an NBA (Pistons 2004) and NCAA (Kansas 1988) championship teams.
Slack said he hasn’t seen Brown in a “long, long time,” although he did visit Brown during one of the nomadic coach’s NBA visits to Cleveland. Slack called Brown’s coaching accomplishments “tremendous, and he’s been versatile, obviously … I was kind of surprised he took the SMU job.”
During last season, one bleacherreport.com columnist ranked Slack at No. 75 among the top 100 “most important players” in college basketball history. He was an AAU All-America selection in 1959-60. Brown received the same distinction in his two years with the Wingfoots.
Both were NBA draft picks, too – Slack in the fourth round by the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1956, and Brown by the Baltimore Bullets in the seventh round in 1963.
Slack’s Marshall numbers still resonate as astounding for a player who today would be a “three” (small forward) at 6-5.
His junior and senior rebounding seasons of 25.6 and 23.6 still rank first and fourth, respectively, in major college history. His 1,916 career rebounds rank third, and his 21.8 career average in four years ranks second (to 22.7 by Jacksonville’s Artis Gilmore, who played only two Division I seasons after junior college ball).
“They (the Wingfoots) brought me out of retirement for one year,” Slack said, “because while they had enough shooters, they needed someone to rebound.” He also made a foreign tour in 1961-62 with the Goodyear club to land that these days wouldn’t fly – to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more.
Slack’s fellow Herd alums Walt Walowac and Cebe Price also played for the Wingfoots. Slack said those who went into AAU industrial hoops often made a career out of the life off the court … Brown being an exception.
“Usually, for the most part, players went into a two-year management training program with Goodyear,” said Slack, who retired from the rubber giant in 1991 as director of personnel and management. “Some would go into engineering, into finance, into production management.
“Some got factory jobs. Some got office staff jobs. On the basketball side, I probably played longer than anybody, then got into human resources.”
Slack’s connections to his old college city continue. Last week, he said he drove to Walsh University in North Canton to watch Huntington Prep win two games in the Dunk4Diabetes event. He left “very impressed,” he said.
He hoped to drive to Huntington on Wednesday to watch the Herd-SMU game and visit with Brown, “but I’m not going to make it … You never know what the weather is going to be these days. We’re supposed to have snow and ice up here again.”
The visit to “The Cam” will be the 2,861st for Brown as an NCAA, NBA or USA Basketball head coach. And to think it all sort of started during those ‘60s days in northeast Ohio coaching the Slack boys.