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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Grady Glynn Saulters, Jr.

Sport: Basketball

Induction Year: 1981

Grady Glynn Saulters, Jr. summed it up when he said, “A lot of things were happening in 1968.”

It was the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed, and President Lyndon B. Johnson threw in the towel because he couldn’t do anything against Vietnam.

A lot of basketball experts thought the social unrest that was shaking up the establishment would result in the United States finally getting its come-uppance in the Mexico City Olympic Games.

Whether it was because of Dr. Harry Edwards’ proposed black boycott, concern about their pro careers or a general lack of interest, three of the five players on the Associated Press All-American team – Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA, Elvin Hayes of Houston and Wes Unseld of Louisville – didn’t bother showing up for the Olympic Trials in Albuquerque (which were held during the week King was murdered in Memphis).

The other two, national scoring leader Pete Maravich of LSU and runner-up Calvin Murphy of Niagra, went to the Olympic Trials at Albuquerque, but didn’t make the team. Neither did a couple of future AP All-Americans – Dan Issel of Kentucky and Rick Mount of Purdue.

Six collegiate players made the team. One of them was Glynn Saulters, who had just completed a record-breaking senior year at Northeast State College in Monroe, La. After a season in which two Louisiana products (Hayes and Don Chaney) led Houston to the No. 1 position in the final wire service polls and LSU’s Maravich set a national scoring record,  Saulters was the only Louisiana product who was selected for the United States Olympic basketball team.

For most of the nation, the only recognizable names on the U.S. Olympic team were Jo-Jo White of Kansas and Charlie Scott of North Carolina. But Spencer Haywood of Trinidad, Colo., Junior College won a berth on the All-America team at Detroit the following year.

Sports writers called it a “no-name” team, and weren’t surprised when the Americans struggled during a tour or Europe – splitting four games with the Soviet Union, and losing their only two games with Yugoslavia. But Oklahoma State coach Hank Iba was satisfied. He said it was a better team than the group he coached to a gold medal at Tokyo in 1964.

When they returned to the United States, Iba gave the players a week off before reporting to Colorado Springs for a month of high altitude training. “He ran the fool out of us,” recalled Saulters. “We got in shape. We were ready to lay when we went to Mexico.”

Before it went South of the border, the U.S. team tuned up for the Olympics with exhibition victories over the New York Knicks and Denver Rockets, and a two-point loss to Oscar Robertson and his Cincinnati Royals teammates.

The United States crushed Spain 81-46 in its Olympics debut as Haywood scored 12 points and Saulters, White, Scott and Bill Hosket of Ohio State added 10 apiece.

After cruising past Senegal 93-36 and the Phillipines 96-75, the Americans faced Yugoslavia in Game 4. On the same day that Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave gloved black power salutes after the 200 meter dash, they opened up a 36-28 halftime lead and rolled to a 73-58 victory as white poured in 24 points.

Saulters scored eight points in the next game, a 95-60 rout of Panama. After a 100-61 rout of Italy, Puerto Rico threw a scare into the Americans before bowing by 61-56 – the only game in which the U.S. team’s winning margin was less than 12 points.

In the semifinals, America’s Team rolled past Brazil 75-63 and Yugoslavia eliminated the favored Soviet Union 63-62.

An overflow crowd of 25,000 spectators at the Sports Palace was cheering for Yugoslavia when the championship game got under way. Leading by three points at the half, the Americans took charge in the second half as Yugoslavia went nearly eight minutes without scoring a field goal and the crowd quickly shifted its allegiance. The final score was 65-50, keeping the United States’ perfect record intact for four more years.

For Saulters, winning the gold medal in Mexico City was the highlight of a career that started when he and his younger brother, Larry, tossed ball into bottomless washtubs and hoops in their back yard in the tiny North Louisiana community of Libson.

Like Maravich, their father was a basketball coach. Grady Saulters had many outstanding teams at Libson High, but the best was the one he raised. Glynn Saulters averaged 21.4 per game in leading the Eagles to 52-4 record, including 31 in a 62-60 Class C semifinal loss to eventual state champion Holden in the Top Twenty state tournament.

Glynn Saulters was selected “Outstanding Player” on the Class C All-State team. He also won “Mr. Basketball” honor in the Louisiana High School All-Star game in Baton Rouge, as his 18 points led the West past the East 78-75.

He also was a three-time All-Stater in baseball, leading Lisbon to three state titles. Later, he set a Northeast record by driving in 35 runs in one season.

He was recruited by all of the state schools and several Southeastern Conference schools, including LSU and Mississippi State, with Northeast getting the not because of its pharmacy school and Coach Lenny Fant. Babe McCarthy of Mississippi State would get his turn later, when Saulters played one season with McCarthy’s New Orleans Buccaneers in the American Basketball Association after the Olympics.

At Northeast, he was redshirted his first year because of a knee injury (a mishap that made him eligible for the Olympics five years later) and led the Gulf States Conference in scoring his last two years, setting a GSC career record with a career total of 2,134 points including a 31.3 point-per-game average as a senior. But nothing in his college career could match the thrill of the Mexico City Olympics.

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