Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Legendary Coach Began Career at Rider

In researching a recent blog entry about conference men's teams facing their formal head coaches in a game, your blogger discovered an informative, interesting piece of history, courtesy of Rider sports information director Bud Focht.

Focht reminded me that Clair F. Bee was once the coach at Rider.

So, who was Clair Bee?

Certainly one of the sport's all-time great coaches (he was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1968), one of its early innovators and, almost assuredly, the most accomplished individual ever to grace the sideline of a school that would eventually be a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member.

My guess is that all but the most-astute college basketball historians have never heard of Clair Bee. But, that's because most of his coaching days predate World War II (he last coached at the college level in 1951) and was a contemporary of the likes of Knute Rockne in college football, or Connie Mack in major league baseball.

But Clair Bee coached basketball at Rider for three seasons, 1928-29, '29-30, and '30-31. His record there in those three seasons was 52-8. While at Rider one of his teams became the first college team to score 1,000 points in a season.

After Rider he coached from 1931 through 1951 at Long Island University. There, he had two undefeated teams (1935-36 and 1938-39). His LIU teams also won two NIT titles (1939 and 1941) when the NIT was the sport's most-prestigious post-season tournament.

Overall he recorded a 412-87 record on the college level. His .826 winning percentage remains the highest of any college basketball coach with more than 200 career victories.

Bee also coached in the mid-1950s in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets. While affiliated with the NBA he is credited with the first use of the 1-3-1 zone defense and was one of the primary proponents that brought the 3-second rule and the 24-second clock to the professional game.

Bee was also a worldwide ambassador of the sport and a well-respected clinician.

His talents transcended the sport, too. He wrote the Chip Hilton Sports Series, widely acknowledged as the best sports-related book series for young readers ever written.

But his early days came after he was hired as an accountinng professor at a small school in Lawrenceville, N.J. where he founded the varsity athletics program.

For one of the sport's legendary pioneers and innovators ... it all began at Rider.

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