I was only 25 days-old when Canada took to the hardwood at the Royal Exhibition Building Annex in Melbourne, Australia for its first men’s basketball game of the 1956 Summer Olympics.
With 15 teams competing in four groups, Canada was booked in Group B against France, Singapore and the Soviet Union,
November 22, 1956
Canada 59 Russia 97
Canadian coach Lance Hudson referred to the huge loss as “stage fright.”
Hudson had scouted the Russians prior and had stated before the game “If everybody plays the way I think we can, we can beat them.”
It was Canada’s biggest loss on the international stage up to that time.
Despite the concerted efforts of team doctors and trainers from the USA men’s team lending a hand, Canadian starting centre 6-7 Ed Lucht only played a few minutes and had to sit out the rest of the match due to an injured ankle he had suffered in practice the previous day.
The USA would also supply Canadian players with “better quality” sneakers. Anything to assist against the dreaded Russians.
Also sitting out the game for the Russians was Jānis Krūmiņš a 24 year-old 7-2 ½, 320 pound centre.
A relative newcomer to the sport with only two years practice, Krumins was “feeling ill” according to the Russian coach.
Krumins would assist the USSR to three consecutive Olympic silver medals 1956, 1960 and 1964…each time losing to the USA.
In this matchup against Canada, the Russians played their starting five the entire first half and were up 26-7 after only 10 minutes of play.
“Even the folks who came determined to cheer only for Canada, had to give credit where credit was due. The Russians were swifter and surer on attack, their shooting was sharp and they got most of the rebounds off their own backboards, “wrote sportswriter Milt Dunnell.
“Canada fielded a taller line up, but fast, clean drives under the basket gave Russia a marked advantage. In addition, a tight Soviet defense kept Canada out of range,” read another newspaper clip.
Stanislovas “Stasys” Stonkus lead Russia with 19 points.
Bob Pickel, who sportswriter Al Fotheringham wrote of “one of the greatest players in Canada from 1948 – 1955,” had 26 for Canada.
This Canadian unit consisted of eight members from British Columbia (Ronald Bissett, Doug Brinham, Al Brown, Bob Burtwell, John McLeod, Bernard Pickel, Ronald Stuart, Ed Wild) two from Ontario (George Stulac, Coulter Osborne) and an additional two from the Alberta (Edward Lucht, Donald MacIntosh).
Head coach Lance Hudson, Jack Pomfret assistant coach and Manager Norm Gloag.
November 24 1956
Canada 85 Singapore 58
Canadian coach Lance Hudson was not impressed with the 27-point victory as he said afterwards in the locker room, “Who do you think you are representing? Lower Slobovia?”
John McLeod had a game-high 20 for Canada. Pickel added 15
Yee Tit Kwan led Singapore with 25 points with only five players on scoreboard.
Yee Tit Kwan would score 33 points against Korea in Group B play.
November 25 1956
Canada 62 France 79
In a previous Group B game, France had upset Russia 76-67.
So in order for Canada to advance out of their group, they had to beat France by at least 26 points.
“I am sure we can beat France. We are not playing as we should but I think the boys will snap out of it by Monday,” said Hudson after the Singapore 85-58 decision.
Canada had gotten the best of France a few days prior by winning an exhibition game by three points.
In this game though, a close game throughout, “France pulled away steadily towards the end of the game,” to knock out Canada from the medal rounds.
“What really finished us was France upsetting Russia,” recalled Hudson. “That meant we had to beat France by 25 points to stay in the running. We had been using a zone defense but you can’t use a zone when you want to win by 25.”
Henri Grange dropped 25 for France and Pickel replied with 19 for Canada.
November 26 1956
Canada 74 Korea 63
Canada opened consolation pool play by defeating Korea in overtime…the first game of these Olympics to go past regulation.
Canada led 32-21 at the half with regulation ending at 62-62.
Pickel had a game high 27 points with An Yeong-sik 20 for Korea.
November 29, 1956
Canada 73 Japan 60
The win placed Canada at the top of consolation pool action.
Pickel swished 17 points in a balanced attack while Hiroshi Saito had 18 for Japan who only had six players getting court time
November 30, 1956
Canada 83 Australia 38
Leading 20-18 at the half, Canada shot .500 from the floor in the second half and dominated the boards.
Bob Burtwell had 20 points for Canada and George Dancis 15 for Australia,
With the majority of the 3,000 fans cheering for Australia, Canada received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the game for their excellent teamwork.
December 1, 1956
Canada 75 Japan 60
Leading 39-34 at the half John McLeod scored a game high 30 for Canada. Takeo Sugiyama led Japan with 17. With the win Canada finished 9th overall.
Team USA led by future Boston Celtics’ legends Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, captured gold by defeating Russia 89-55.