Gophers' first black scholarship basketball players included a hidden gem
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Gophers' first black scholarship basketball players included a hidden gem

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Don Yates (left), Lou Hudson (center) and Archie Clark (right) were three of the Gophers’ promising sophomores heading into the 1963-64 season.

In 1962, Archie Clark went from the Army to making Gophers history as one of the program’s first three black scholarship basketball players.

Clark was a self-proclaimed afterthought in that class of Minnesota hoops pioneers, alongside Lou Hudson and Don Yates. Coach John Kundla hadn’t seen Clark play but offered a scholarship based on a recommendation from a coach at Andrews Air Force Base, former Gopher Buzz Bennett.

“The University of Minnesota was the only school that even thought about me playing basketball,” Clark said in a telephone interview last week.

A two-sport standout, Clark played Gophers baseball, too, and was the starting center fielder on their 1964 national championship team.

In basketball, Clark didn’t have the spotlight as much as Hudson, who was known as “Sweet Lou” to Gophers fans. But the 6-2 Clark picked up a catchy nickname of his own as “Shake and Bake” in the NBA. By the late 1960s, he was known as the first player to routinely use the crossover dribble in the pros.

“I had moves nobody could stop,” said Clark, a two-time NBA all-star. “I could really get to the basket.”

Growing up around poverty and violence in Detroit as one of 12 children, Clark joined the Army as a teenager hoping that could pay for college one day.

When the Gophers came calling after his third year of military service, Clark was grateful. In the midst of segregation, young African Americans had few opportunities to play major college sports at the time.

“I understood what Minnesota was about,” said Clark, who became friends with several standout black Gophers football players, especially Sandy Stephens and Carl Eller.

Big Ten schools were national leaders in integrating college sports back then, largely because of Minnesota’s colorblind recruiting. In the late 1950s, Gophers football coach Murray Warmath struck gold in North Carolina with future Hall of Famers Bobby Bell and Eller.

Hudson was from Greensboro, North Carolina, and his former high school teammate, Hall of Fame football player Charlie Sanders, followed him to Minnesota in 1964.

“Coach Warmath realized the value of having black players,” Clark said, and the same was eventually true of Kundla.

Freshmen were ineligible to play then, but Hudson, Clark and Yates were major contributors as sophomores when they made their Gophers basketball debut in 1963-64.

A 6-5 forward, Hudson led the team in scoring with his silky smooth jumper. Clark was Kundla’s heady starting point guard who was already age 22 when that season began. Yates was an athletic sixth-man guard. All three averaged double figures for a 17-win team that finished third in the Big Ten, highlighted by an upset over No. 2 Michigan at the Barn.

The Gophers won 19 games and finished runner-up to the Wolverines in the Big Ten in 1965. The following season, though, they fell to fifth place after Yates was ruled academically ineligible and Hudson broke his right wrist.

Hudson famously was still dominant at times wearing a cast and shooting with his left hand. But Clark carried the team offensively to the tune of 24.5 points a game.

“I didn’t mind feeding Lou the ball because he could really shoot,” Clark said. “When he was injured, I had to take more responsibility.”

Hudson, the No. 4 pick to the Atlanta Hawks in the 1966 NBA Draft, would go on to become a six-time NBA All-Star. His jersey hangs in the rafters for the Hawks, just as it does at Williams Arena.

Clark rose from a fourth-round NBA pick in 1966 to a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie and became an All-Star in Year 2, joining teammates Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

In 1968, the Lakers traded Clark and two other players to the Philadelphia 76ers — for Wilt Chamberlain. Clark’s lasting impact, though, was as a founding member of the NBA’s retired players association.

Still living in Michigan, Clark remained close with his former college roommate until Hudson’s death from a stroke in 2014.

“We realized we were pioneers,” Clark said. “We were good friends until the end. He was like my younger brother.”

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