CUBuffs.com begins a 12-day series profiling each member of the 2012 Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame, leading up to the induction ceremonies on Thursday, Nov. 15. Today's profile is on Leason "Pete" McCloud, a basketball All-American who helped CU to its first two NCAA Tournaments and the 1942 NCAA Final Four. Click here for more information and to register for the 2012 induction ceremony.
The tradition of championship basketball at the University of Colorado dates all the way back to before World War II and the little town of Newton, Kan.
It was in Newton where the 2012 CU Hall of Fame inductee Leason "Pete" McCloud grew up, and it was legendary Colorado head coach Forrest B. "Frosty" Cox, who also grew up in Newton, who offered McCloud a scholarship to play in Boulder.
Frosty knew he had found a hidden gem in McCloud when Frank Lindley, the Newton High School basketball coach, recommended that McCloud play for the Buffaloes. Lindley had actually coached Cox and provided the future coach an immense knowledge of the game at a young age.
While playing at CU from 1939-42 McCloud became Cox's "go-to-guy" as he could make every pass and shot there was to be made on the floor, while also bringing enough physicality to grab rebounds under the rim.
McCloud was loved by his teammates who had dubbed him with a variety of nicknames, most notably the "Great American Eagle of the Hardwood" due to his large nose. Even more unique than his nickname, however, was the way Pete shot the ball.
It was the era of the two handed shot in basketball, which nearly all players used at the time. But not for the "Great American Eagle of the Hardwood" who always insisted on using his silky-smooth one handed shot.
What he was displaying for all those who packed Balch Fieldhouse to watch was the genesis of the modern day jump shot. McCloud said he would "always jump as high as I could" before shooting the ball which defenders did not know how to stop. His teammates often said that McCloud could jump like a kangaroo.
Early in his high school career Lindley tried to convince McCloud not to use the one handed shot until he realized how accurate it was and finally said, "Go ahead and shoot anyway you want".
That was only the second best thing his high school coach ever did for him.
Originally McCloud had planned to attend the University of Kansas and play for Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen, even though Kansas did not offer McCloud a scholarship. Just before he was scheduled to graduate from Newton, his father tragically passed away and McCloud said he could not afford to go to college because he needed to take care of his mother.
It was then that Cox - who began his coaching career at Kansas as an assistant under the legendary Allen - got a call from coach Lindley about a special kid from his hometown. Frosty excitedly offered McCloud a scholarship, unlike Allen who would later regret the decision.
Not only did Lindley make the call to Cox but he also called a meeting with McCloud and the Newton principal in which they told him his future laid underneath the flatirons in Boulder. Pete was not exactly thrilled with the idea of leaving his mother and hometown behind, but Lindley promised that he would take care of the boy's mother, and everything else for that matter.
"I went home and told my momma, and she cried her eyes out," McCloud recalled. "But she said, 'that's what you oughta do.'"
So, McCloud was on his way to Colorado with a fresh set of shoes and a new wardrobe courtesy of coach Lindley.
The decision to come to Boulder proved to be a wise one as McCloud would terrorize opponents for the ensuing four years. He became a three-year letterman and helped Colorado maintain a 43-12 record during his time as a Buff.
When he was only a sophomore, the talented guard would lead the Buffs to their third consecutive Mountain States Conference title as they finished the season 11-1 in league play. During the 1939-40 season Colorado did not lose at home - winning all eight contests - and had a streak of 12 consecutive wins during the middle of the year.
After building such an impressive resume during the regular season, Colorado became the first ever school to receive invitations to both the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) as well as the NCAA Tournament. Only 12 other schools accomplished that feat, during the era teams could play in both events.
First, the Buffaloes packed their bags for the big lights of New York City and Madison Square Garden to face DePaul University in their first NIT game.
McCloud did not exactly enjoy being in a city as large as New York; he felt out of his comfort zone and said the city was "too busy for my small town ways." Yet, if there was one place the kid from Kansas did feel comfortable it was on the court, no matter what city he was in.
As McCloud set the NIT Madison Square Garden scoring record, the Buffaloes would defeat the Blue Demons of DePaul handily, 52-37, in the semifinals and then advance to claim the championship against Duquesne with a 51-40 victory.
Colorado was now 17-2 overall and had rightfully earned the attention of the nation from coast-to-coast. According to the 1940 Coloradan, CU was the No. 1 ranked team in the nation after winning the NIT title.
In the NCAA Tournament the Buffs would face two tough and experienced opponents in Southern California and Rice. They lost the two games by a combined 10 points, with the shortcoming against Rice coming in a four-point overtime defeat.
The following season McCloud became the co-captain with George Hamburg of a young team comprised of four juniors and seven sophomores, with only one starter and one letterwinner returning from the previous year.
McCloud became one of the leading scorers in the country, collecting 225 points for a team that would finish third in the Mountain States Conference.
He finished the 1940-41 season as the league's scoring champion, and was named the most outstanding player of the conference. McCloud and his fellow captain, Hamburg, would also be named to the All-Mountain States Conference team that year.
McCloud entered his senior season knowing he had already accomplished a great amount; however, the dynamic player knew he had one last season to do something truly special.
Colorado began the 1941-42 season with 14 consecutive victories - with the first four all coming on an east coast road trip against the likes of St. Joseph's, St. John's, St. Bonaventure's, and Loyola-Chicago - surging to the No. 1 spot in the rankings just as they had two years prior.
In the 15th game of the season the Buffs would slip at Wyoming, yet it served as the team's only loss in the regular season, and the Buffaloes finished with an 11-1 Mountain States Conference record earning their fourth league title in five years. McCloud once again finished as the team's leading scorer.
In a 1942 Denver Post article, sports writer Frank Haraway described the elegance of McCloud's play throughout the remarkable season:
McCloud's one-handed shot was the most phenomenal in these parts in some time and absolutely unstoppable when he was having a good night -- which was practically every night he played.
In addition, he was cool, heady and saved his shots for the most important moments. It was his hot streaks that broke the backs of C.U.'s opponents more than anything else.
Colorado made their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament, drawing a first round match-up against none other than Allen and the Kansas Jayhawks. It was exactly who McCloud wanted to face in one of his final games as a Buffalo with everything on the line.
The game was played in Kansas City, Mo., 190 miles northeast of where Cox and McCloud both grew up. As usual, Kansas had an extremely talented team, living up to the tradition of basketball that had already been well established even at that time.
For the two men from Newton, it was time to teach Allen and the Jayhawks a little something about the pride and tradition of the Buffalo. Cox prepared a beautiful game plan and McCloud did what he always did scoring 19 points with the stroke of just one hand.
Allen - who was once cited saying that McCloud would have never made his team - watched in disbelief as the "Great American Eagle of the Hardwood" led the Buffaloes to a 46-44 victory.
When asked of the victory McCloud says, "Yes. I loved it. I remembered we played pretty good as a team. With Phog on the bench that was pure joy. That settled the score."
Settled the score indeed, and set the Buffs up for their first ever Final Four appearance where they loss to eventual national champion Stanford, 46-35.
Colorado finished with a 16-2 record overall; including nine road wins, which are the most in a season still to this day. McCloud was honored as an All-American, becoming just the third basketball player and sixth athlete to garner the accomplishment in CU history.
Leason "Pete" McCloud joins an elite group of CU athletes as he enters the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame, and he represents an era of basketball that would shape the tradition of Colorado basketball for years to come.
He credits the accomplishment to, "All of those who played beside me and coached me along the way in order to help make me what I came to be," McCloud said. "This is a great honor to be in the hall of fame, yet I was simply doing what I knew best."