Remembering the Sports: New Orleans’ first professional basketball team

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Since there is much uncertainty in the sports world moving forward, I thought that we’d travel back in time to look at a piece of basketball history in the city that care forgot.

Before Pistol Pete Maravich dazzled the Municipal Auditorium audience with his basketball wizardry and prior to the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers, gracing the basketball court in the Crescent City were the New Orleans Sports, also called the Hurricanes. They are a distant memory of basketball history in the Crescent City.

The team carved out a brief memory that was neither long standing or successful (3-5 record in a shortened first campaign and 7-24 the following season) but they were the pioneers of pro basketball in this area. For that, they deserve credit for their efforts

The New Orleans Sports played from 1946-’48 in the Southern Basketball League, consisting of eight squads – the Bessemer ( Alabama) Whiz Kids, Birmingham Vulcans, Jackson (Miss.) Senators, Laurel Oilers, Mobile Bears, Montgomery Rebels and the Nashville Vols.

The New Orleans representation was liberally sprinkled with local stars.

Alex “Greek” Athas was an all-star, averaging 20.1 points per game in 31 contests to lead the league. While at Tulane, he led the SEC in scoring during the 1943-’44) season with 14.1 points per game. The Green Wave posted a 72-14 record during his tenure there. Athas, a Warren Easton product, was such a superior athlete that he won five events in a single track meet against a talented LSU squad.

Jim “Red” Hultberg, another former Warren Easton standout, played for the 1945 National champions at Loyola-New Orleans and earned second-team All American honors.

Rags Casteix, a Jesuit grad, was co-captain of Loyola team of ’45. He scored the winning bucket over Southern Illinois in the national semi-final. An excellent defender, Casteix was usually assigned to the opponent’s best shooter whenever he stepped on the court. Rumor has it he was the team’s best dresser as well.

T.J. Whittaker played American Legion baseball at Jesuit prior to signing with the New York Giants of MLB as a right-handed pitcher and infielder. He was another superb defender for Loyola and the Sports.

Sam Trombatore, a key member of the Sports’ squad, was an AP All American at Loyola in 1943-’44. He had graduated from St. Aloysius in 1941 where he averaged 25.7 points per outing. Trombatore possessed impressive moves on the court and was considered ahead of his time. The Loyola staff was building what would be the eventual National Champions around him but his path to the title game was short-circuited when he was drafted by the U.S. Army during World War II.

Jim Bonck, yet another Warren Easton and Loyola national championship team product, was joined by college teammate Milton Jackson along with Bill Dwyer, Larry Parkerson and Sterling Scott to complete the Sports’ roster. Dwyer was a highly successful basketball coach and instructor in New Orleans.

Herb Pailet and Cliff Wells (former Tulane coach) collaborated with the coaching duties.

LAGNIAPPE: Brilliant college hoops recruiter Rick Pitino was just named head coach at Iona College, which reminds me of a story when a young, aspiring coach named Jim Valvano had just been hired to run the Iona program. The 29-year old was on a recruiting trip in 1975 and found himself at a tournament where there was a collection of elite prospects.

The Queens, New York native realized that he couldn’t recruit against powers like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky so he came up with a ploy.

As Valvano approached a group of key prospects surrounded by the national blue-bloods of college basketball, he stuck out his hand into the crowd and announced, “Hi, I’m Jim Valvano, Iona College,” and walked away. The conversation immediately halted. The prospects stared as Valvano departed and wondered aloud,” Did that guy say he OWNS a college?”

It reminds us of one of the keys to successful recruiting: It’s not what you say. It’s how you say.

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Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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