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Canada Basketball at 1952 Olympics games in Helsinki, Finland. Canadian basketball player Bob Phibbs grabs rebound versus Italy
Canada Basketball at 1952 Olympics games in Helsinki, Finland. Canadian basketball player Bob Phibbs grabs rebound versus Italy
Canada Basketball at 1952 Olympics games in Helsinki, Finland. Canadian basketball player Bob Phibbs grabs rebound versus Italy - Photo: Getty Images

FIBA

Canada at the 1952 Olympic Games

Although Canada does not have a men’s basketball team represented at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics… it did show well internationally during the 1950s’ with appearances at the Olympics, Pan American Games and FIBA Basketball World Cup. In a five-part series, we start off with the 1952 Summer Olympics.

1952 Olympics.

Helsinki, Finland.

Messuhalli Olympic Basketball Arena.

9th place tied with Czechoslovakia. 

Roster: Ralph ‘Woody’ Campbell, Bill Coulthard, Jim Curren, Charlie Dalton, Benny Lands, Bill Pataky, Glen Pettinger, Bob Phibbs, Bob Pickell, Carl Ridd, Bob Simpson, Henry Wade, George Wearring, Roy Williams along with manager Eddie Bowering and coach Paul Thomas.

Canada will continue to go with the format that the winner of the Senior Men’s Canadian National Basketball Championships will represent at major international events with the team allowed to round out the roster with a few players from other teams.

At these 1952 Olympic, Canada is represented by the Tillsonburg Livingstons who had bested the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 79-65; 75-69; 82-83; 87-75.

The Livingstons roster was supplemented by Carl Ridd and Roy Williams from Winnipeg and Bob Pickel from Vancouver.

Livingstons player/coach Paul Thomas, 24, would become Canada’s youngest ever basketball coach at Olympic competition. He was ineligible to compete as a player though, in that he had played semi-pro basketball during the summers in the Catskills.

Canadian basketball head coach Paul Thomas leading Canada to a ninth-place finish at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Canadian basketball head coach Paul Thomas leading Canada to a ninth-place finish at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. – Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

Opening Qualifying for Pool Play (3-0)

Canada 68 Italy 57

Canada Top Scorer: Bob Pickell 13

Italy Top Scorer: Sergio Stefanini 13

Canada led 30-25 at halftime but went cold with the Italian squad coming within 51-49…the clock showing seven minutes remaining in regulation.  Canada was erratic at the free throw line missing 25 free throws.

Canada 72 Romania 51

Canada Top Scorer:  Henry Wade 26

Wade shot eight-of- 12 from the free throw line as the 6-foot-4 centre dominated the boards.

Romanian Top Scorer:  Liviu Naghi 14

Canada 63 Egypt 57

Canada Top Scorer:  Bill Coulthard 17

Egypt Top Scorer:  Hussain Montasir 11

Canada led 38-31 at the half.

Pool A play (0-3)

Canada 55 Brazil 57

Canada Top Scorer:  Bob Pickell 12

Brazil Top Scorer:  Mario Jorge 15.

Brazilian Angelo Bonfietti scored the winning basket with five seconds remaining in regulation.

“We had a game against Brazil and we were down early… 20 points all game and we came back in the last quarter and tied it up with 29 seconds to go and one of their players came down. Came across the centre line and shot from the hip and ball hit top of back board and the ball plopped in.” recalled Coach Thomas in an interview with this writer in 2017.

Canada 81 Argentina 82

Canada Top Scorer: Bill Coulthard 25

Argentina Top Scorer: Oscar Furlong 21

Canada’s leader in tournament scoring Harry Wade (12.8 points per game) and Bob Phibbs both fouled out in the first half.

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“We lost the previous game by two points to Brazil. This time it was by one to Argentina who was ranked in the Top 5 in the world. They had great athletes… all 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-7 that could run. This was supposedly the greatest game in Olympic basketball competition and those were the words of Dr. Jones (Renato William Jones one of the founding fathers of the Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) in 1932).“ praised Thomas.

canadian basketball legend carl ridd inducted manitoba basketball hall of fame
Canadian basketball legend Carl Ridd inducted into the Manitoba basketball hall of fame

Canada 65 Philippines 81

Canada Top Scorer: Carl Ridd 15

Philippines Top Scorer: Pons Saldana

Gold: USA Silver: Soviet Union Bronze: Uruguay

Thomas reminisced with this reporter a few months prior to his death in 2017 about the overall experience and the talents of some of the players on the Canadian team.

“We had only three practices in Montreal before we went overseas. That’s how bad things were. When we got there, they were using a ball with laces on them like a soccer ball. Every time you put the ball on the floor it would roll away. But the States brought over enough regular basketballs for every team to use.

“The backboards were made of some plastic material and it was extremely dead. You could hit the board from anywhere and the ball would plop in. It meant that the poor shooters could score. They could fire a line drive at the basket and they would plop on. But us…the Canadians and Americans…had high arching shots.”

“Bob Phibbs was like Canada’s Hank Luisetti (a USA star who popularized the running one-hand shot). Bob was an excellent one-handed shooter who would shoot first and pasts second. When Bob played, he would take 20 or more shots a game. The next day the announcer would rip him and say that Bob shot too much. Little did the announcer know is that’s where the game was going?”

Paul Thomas – Canadian basketball head coach at 1952 Olympics in Helsinki

“Bob Pickell was a raw big boned guy. One leg was shorter than the other but that didn’t hold him back.”

“Bill Coulthard could shoot the hell out of the basketball. He never gave anyone problems. In his day he was good but the best thing he did was to raise his kids.”

“Carl Ridd wasn’t a shooter but he was a scorer. I think he tried out for the Minneapolis Lakers. Carl told me that he could only see a faint line where the rim was and I marveled how he could score despite the vision problems. Having to focus hard on where the rim was his success. Surprisingly he did not play with his glasses on always.”

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An interesting side bar.

The gold medal match was held August 2, 1952 as the USA prepared to take on the USSR for a 4 p.m. tipoff.

Thomas and the rest of Canada’s men’s hoop squad are literally running late in getting to Messuhalli Olympic Basketball Arena to watch.

Thomas, who had been a four-time U Sports All Star at the University of Western Ontario, earning him a tryout with the New York Knicks, spotted an open space on the sidelines.

His daughter Misty Thomas, who attended University of Nevada-Las Vegas where she was named at two-time All American in basketball, continues with the rest of the story.

“As you know my dad was the coach of the 1952 team and they were late arriving to the gold medal match,” said Thomas, who was a member of Canada’s National Women’s Basketball team when they dribbled their way to a bronze medal at the 1986 World Championships and a fourth place finish at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

“The place was packed but my father spied some open space on the floor and directed his players there. Apparently everything got very quiet as they sat down and they noticed everyone staring at them.

“Turns out the reason there was some open floor space was because the Duke and his entourage were seated in the front row.”

Misty Thomas – Member of Canada’s National Women’s Basketball team

Now…when Misty is referring to the Duke, it is not in regards to legendary USA basketball coach Hank Iba, the “The Iron Duke of Defense”, who coached teams to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946 along with Olympic medals in 1964, 1968 and 1972, but the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

“My father had unknowingly sat down directly in front of him which was obviously a major faux pas.

“The Duke took things in stride and invited everyone to stay put and enjoy the match. Apparently he spent quite a bit of time asking my father about various tactics throughout the match and, as you know, my father certainly enjoyed teaching the Duke about the sport.”

The USA went on to claim gold in a low scoring 36-25 final while Paul Thomas explained the Dunk to the Duke.

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