Induction Year: 1986
Before Dale Brown came along, many LSU basketball fans thought the Tigers skipped from one era to another – going from Sparky Wade to Bob Pettit to Pete Maravich.
Wade, Pettit and Maravich got the most attention, but there were other outstanding basketball players.
One of them was Frank Brian, whose college basketball career was interrupted by World War II.
In 1941, Brian led Zachary High to the Class B state championship with a 47-29 victory over French Settlement in the finals of the state rally at LSU.
He visited Louisiana Tech and Southwestern Louisiana Institute, but coach Harry Rabenhorst made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: a scholarship to LSU.
By the time Brian was eligible for the Tigers’ varsity, the United States was at war and Rabenhorst was in the Navy. He turned the coaching reins over to Dale Morey, who played for LSU in 1942-43 and was the head coach one year later.
Morey’s first team lost only three regular-season games. It fell to Rice, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech. A one-point loss to Georgia Tech was the Tigers’ only setback in a string of 15 consecutive games before eventual champion Tennessee defeated the Tigers 52-38 in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals at Knoxville.
Brian, 6-1 and 175 pounds, was an all-tournament selection at Knoxville and led the team in scoring with 391 points, a school record average of 17.7 per game. He entered the Army a few weeks after the season ended.
Did he make a difference? LSU was 8-7 the year before he played, 18-4 in Brian’s sophomore season and 10-15 the following year.
After the war, he returned to lead the Tigers to another successful season. He scored 340 points in 21 games, an average of 16.2 per game, for an LSU team that rolled up a 17-4 record. But Tulane caught the Tigers looking forward to Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC tournament and ended their season with a 63-50 upset.
“Brian could out jump anyone,” recalled Joe Adcock, a teammate on that squad. “He had more spring in his legs than anyone I ever saw, and he could run like a deer.”
He also participated in track and field at LSU, anchoring the mile relay and competing in the long jump and low hurdles on a team that won the SEC title.
Brian was a second-team selection on the all-tournament team in 1947 as the Kentucky Wildcats scored an unprecedented sweep of all five positions on the first team and put another player, Alex Groza, on the second team.
Another second-teamer that year was Frank Boyles of Georgia Tech, who later became head football coach and athletic director of the University of Arkansas.
Brian made an even bigger impression with pro talent scouts than he made with the all-tournament selection committee. As soon as the SEC tournament ended, he joined the Anderson, Indiana, Packers of the National Basketball League and passed up his final year of college eligibility to finish the 1946-47 season as a pro.
“There was no draft at that time,” he recalled. “They told me they would match the top salary in the league, and that’s what they did.”
Pro basketball was in its infancy then. The NBL had been operating since the late 1930s, and 6-10 George Mikan of the Chicago American Gears was the highest paid player with a salary of $7,500. Most of the franchises were in small Midwestern cities – Oskosh, Sheboygan, Fort Wayne, Anderson, Tri-Cities, etc. But in 1946-47, the Basketball Association of America was competing for talent – and establishing itself in big cities.
Brian put much of his $7,500 into real estate. “At that time,” he recalled 30 years later, “$7,500 was like a half million today.”
The war between the leagues ended in 1949 when the NBL merged with the BAA to form the National Basketball Association, with 17 teams divided into three leagues.
Brian averaged 11 points per game in his first full season with the Anderson Packers, winning “Rookie of the Year” honors. After the leagues merged, he scored over 1,000 points three years in a row with three different teams – averaging 17.8 per game with Anderson in 1949-50, 16.8 with Tri-Cities in 1950-51 and 15.9 with Fort Wayne in the 1951-52 campaign.
In the first NBA season (1949-50), he was the No. 3 scorer in the league behind Mikan (then playing with Minneapolis) and Alex Groza of Indianapolis. The following year, he was fifth. That was the first year black players appeared in the NBA, as the New York Knicks obtained Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton from the Harlem Globetrotters and the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper of Duquesne.
Brian was a league all-star seven times in nine pro seasons, scoring 6,679 points in 561 games – an average of 11.9 per game.
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