Georgetown Basketball History: Historical Features
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The following features were written in 1998 and predate this web site.

Basketball's Roots at Georgetown

The successes of the Georgetown University men's basketball program have prompted many to place it alongside such legendary college programs as UCLA, the University of Kentucky, and the University of North Carolina. But the Georgetown success story didn't just "happen" upon Patrick Ewing's arrival at the Hilltop, nor did it begin as John Thompson stepped out on the McDonough Gymnasium floor for the first time. In truth, the Georgetown basketball story is one that stretches over nine decades, with scores of players who have fought for the Blue and Gray through nearly 1,900 intercollegiate contests.

And before there was any great figure in Georgetown's basketball annals, there had to be a man named Maurice Joyce.

Maurice Joyce (1851-1939) is the father of basketball not only at Georgetown University, but throughout the Washington DC area.. A jack-of-all trades through his eighty-eight years, he held jobs ranging from a circus trapeze artist to that of a commissioned United States Marshal. Yet he is best remembered as the man who introduced basketball to Washington in 1892, a year after the sport's invention by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, Mass.

Joyce arrived in Washington to assume the post of Physical Education Director at the Carroll Institute, a facility not unlike today's YMCA centers. Introducing this new sport in Washington, Joyce found interest in the new game among the men of the city, and teams began to form among military personnel, industrial workers, and the like.

It must be said that basketball in 1892 was a far different game than what we know today. The original rules of Dr. Naismith allowed nine players per side (three forwards, three guards, and three centers) in a contest that would be closer to indoor rugby than the sport we know today. Yet the sport found growing interest soon after its introduction, and the Carroll Institute was the center of Washington basketball activity for the next fifteen years.

In the fall of 1906, Joyce accepted an offer from Georgetown to become its Director of Physical Education, and the school's basketball program was about to begin. The selection of Joyce to oversee Ryan Gymnasium, the school's new indoor facility, offered hope that an intercollegiate team could be fielded that year. With the exception of an obscure 1904 intramural clash between the "Sub-Freshmen" and the "First Academics", basketball was completely foreign to the University at this time.

Tryouts were held following the 1906 football season to select a varsity squad. The names of the students selected were all well known lettermen at the time for the school. The original team consisted of Gerhard (Sam) Simon, Harold Schumm, Herb Munhall, and McDougall (Doug) Pallen from the undergraduate College, and law students Bill Rice, Richard Downey, and William Lavelle. Collegian Lou Murray was elected student manager and arranged games against Virginia and George Washington.

It must be noted that until the late 1920's, the basketball coach at Georgetown was more a moderator of the team than the floor leader he is today. At this time, the student manager was responsible for the arranging of schedules, practices, and finances--all tasks expected of today's coaches and athletic directors. The early basketball coach was expected to be an instructor (a teacher, if you will) who taught fundamentals and lent his advice when requested by the team.

With a month of practice completed, the Georgetown basketball team met its first opponent in the University of Virginia, February 9, 1907. Before a large crowd at the Washington Light Infantry Armory at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Georgetown's inaugural quint upended a highly regarded Virginia team by the count of 22-11.

The Blue and Gray held a 10-9 lead after the first half of play, but the defensive play of Simon and Schumm held the visiting Virginians to one field goal in the final twenty minutes of play. Richard Downey, GU's starting center, led all scorers with eight points, holding his opponent without a field goal the entire game.

If for some reason fans were not convinced as to the excitement of the new game, the Feb. 27th battle with George Washington would be a different story altogether. Known in this era as the "Hatchetites", GW was led by local star Fred Rice, an elusive forward who played offense and defense with equal skill. As his team prepared for their cross-town battle, Rice was felled by illness and persuaded by a physician to avoid the contest. Adding more headaches for George Washington coach E. Blanchard Robey was the loss of another starter to academic difficulties days before the game.

Robey knew that his team could expect trouble from the Hilltoppers if a 16-11 halftime deficit was any indication. During the intermission, Robey caught sight of Fred Rice himself, seated amidst the GWU student section. The coach called Rice to the floor and persuaded him to don the Buff and Blue for the second half.

"It was a wise move for the George Washington coach,", wrote the Washington Post, "for the way that Hatchetite team fought after the lithe forward had entered the game caused its supporters to go almost frantic with enthusiasm."

With Rice on the court, George Washington's five could do no wrong. Georgetown's men found very few opportunities to score against Rice and the Hatchetites, and Georgetown did not manage a field goal the entire half. Rice tied the game at 16 before a late basket earned GW an 18-16 win.

While it was Georgetown's first loss of the season, the game carried a far greater local significance at the time. This was the first time any George Washington team was known to have defeated Georgetown in an intercollegiate contest. Not unexpectedly, bedlam erupted in the stands upon the cessation of play, and partisans spilled into the streets. Later that week, a photo of the GW squad was featured at the head of the Post's sports page, under the headline "First To Lower Georgetown's Colors".

The two teams met again within a week, this time at the Light Infantry Armory. Before a crowd of 1,100 (a figure unheard of in local athletics to this time), the two teams staged a controversial battle on and off the court. The game itself was delayed over an hour as the two schools could not agree on the rules. (Since the sport was in its infancy, such disputes were altogether common.) As Messrs. Robey and Joyce debated over the use of sidelines, the restless and antagonistic crowd traded cheers back and forth across the hall.

The cheers were quite audible next door, where a performance at Chase's Theatre was underway. The theatre management entered the Armory hall to ask for silence, claiming such rancor would disrupt its performance. The collegians' response was, as could be expected, to cheer even louder, causing the theatre to repeatedly threaten to have the contest stopped if the noise did not abate. This was to no avail, however, as the game (and noise) went on.

As sidelines were agreed to (thanks to Mr. Joyce), the game commenced, with GU holding an 8-4 lead after the first twenty minutes. Fred Rice was held without a field goal and missed seven free throws in as many attempts. Rice did come alive in the second stanza, hitting the first five points of the half to cut the Georgetown lead to one at 10-9. As Georgetown led 15-13 with under a minute to play, GWU held for a last shot, which sailed through the basket, but after time had expired. As its opponents had done a week earlier, this time it was Georgetown's fans that swarmed the floor to celebrate the victory.

The third game was delayed into mid-March, and by that time some of the team had gone on to play other varsity sports. Archival records confirm a 24-10 George Washington victory, with Rice again the star.

Fred Rice's career at George Washington was altogether brief. To his disappointment, GWU failed to sponsor basketball the following year. Knowing an opportunity when he saw it, coach Joyce convinced Rice to enroll instead at Georgetown's law school in the fall, where the nucleus would soon be in place for Georgetown's first great team, the 1908 "Champions of the South".

Next...

 

The Original Hoya Five?

The impact of Maurice Joyce on the foundation of Washington basketball cannot be understated. It was Joyce who spearheaded the movement towards five man teams, organized numerous amateur and college teams from Annapolis to Charlottesville, and served as the sport's first coach at Georgetown from 1907 through 1911.

Two retrospectives of his career in 1935 provide a glimpse into these early years.

Early in 1892, Joyce read in a magazine of the new game called basketball. He traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts to meet its creator, Dr. James Naismith. After meeting Dr. Naismith and learning the game, Joyce introduced basketball to the physical training regimen of the Washington Light Infantry Armory.

The Evening Star wrote that in the early years, Joyce had no peach baskets from which to serve as a goal--and instead hung chairs upside down across the ends of the hall as the goals.

Later that year, Mr. Joyce assumed a similar post at a local athletic club known as the Carroll Institute and began to refine the art of the game.

In correspondence with Dr. Naismith, Joyce held that the original rules--nine men per side--failed to achieve sustained physical fitness for the players. Joyce ultimately suggested five men per side, and this was approved by Naismith and a national rules committee by 1897.

By 1895, Joyce had already assembled the first such five man team in Washington, and perhaps in the nation. The club traveled and played numerous exhibitions, and it was reported the club was undefeated in five-on-five play for three years.

While the Carroll club was not affiliated with a college, perhaps this team should be called the "original" Georgetown five, because as many as four--and perhaps all five--of the men attended the University.

The team captain was Joe Daly (LLB 1895, LLB 1897), joined in the frontcourt by Robert C. Howard, of whom it was claimed was a Georgetown student and whose college-age photo was presented in the Post.

At one guard was Frank Saul, who attended classes briefly in the 1890's and received an MA degree in 1920. Saul was the founder of B.F. Saul & Company, a leading Washington real estate firm. His brother John Saul (LLB 1891, LLM 1892) completed the backcourt.

Of note in these retrospective accounts was the team's center, a gentleman named W.F. (Dick) Downey, "of whose whereabouts no one seems to know anything".

There is a noted similarity of Mr. Downey in name and appearance to Richard Downey (LLB 1909), Georgetown's first center from 1907 through 1909.

It is unclear whether the two men were related or perhaps, one and the same. If so, Downey was truly Coach Joyce's first Georgetown recruit--even if it took twelve years to make it to the varsity.


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