Imagine this today. The outstanding player of the Final Four gets the honor without even playing in the final game. It's all but impossible since there is no third-place game anymore. The 1956 third-place game, that's when Hal Lear, Temple University, scored 48 points, then an NCAA record.
In the semifinal, Lear merely scored 32. (Remember, no shot clock, no three-point line.)
While the records show that Bill Russell and the University of San Francisco won the national title that year, there also is a place in the books for a scoring magician from Overbrook High.
Hal Lear passed away Saturday at age 81. His passing must be an occasion to note that for all the great backcourts there have been in the Big Five, the historians still consider the best one to be right at the start — Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear, the quintessential point guard and a shooting guard for the ages.
If Lear was the master of the mid-range jumper, imagine what he could have done with a three-point line. Start adding buckets of points to the 745 Lear scored as a senior paired with Rodgers.
"He also could get to the basket," said former Penn great Ernie Beck, who was a few years ahead of Lear in college but played with him in the Eastern league. "He had a beautiful touch going to the basket."
Another thing Beck remembered about Lear: "He was a gentleman."
Sonny Hill, who has seen a few games in his time, said Sunday that he still considers Rodgers and Lear the best college backcourt he's ever seen, anywhere, any time.
He's got a case.
It's way too easy to let the greats from another age recede. This weekend, the Economist proclaimed LeBron James the greatest player ever, while noting it was only looking at statistics since the early 1970s. Huh? If this was a statistical determination, let's guess that Wilt Chamberlain (speaking of Overbrook High) would have blown its doors off. (And Oscar Robertson would have shown the Economist a few things.)
That's another argument for another time. It just speaks to the need to give Lear his proper place, even if he was finished before most of us were born. Temple did its part. There are four retired men's basketball jerseys on North Broad Street. The pantheon, chronologically, is Bill Mlkvy, Hal Lear, Guy Rodgers, Mark Macon.
Go rifling through the history. Go to Dec. 10, 1955. Temple University, unranked, at the University of Kentucky, second in the country. The records show Adolph Rupp's Wildcats lost at home, 73-61. Rodgers had 24 points, Lear 19, " to overcome the Wildcats tremendous height advantage," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, which noted that the home team had dropped its first home opener in Rupp's 26 years of coaching and that Temple's 41-27 halftime lead was the biggest faced by Kentucky at home in nearly a decade.
The Herald-Leader failed to note that Temple's stars were believed to be the first black players to ever stay in a hotel in Lexington when they played the all-white Wildcats. Palestra Pandemonium by Robert Lyons quotes a Temple player noting it.
At home, the Inquirer would refer to the homegrown star as "spring-legged 5-11 Hal Lear." He usually was listed as 6 feet tall. Lear's NBA career was limited to three games with the Warriors, but again, different era. He was an Eastern League great back in the days when greats of the Eastern League equated to today's NBA starters.
But it's the Temple numbers that are indisputable, and even though it's tough to rank backcourts, Rodgers and Lear have their place with any of them, any era. They played together for only a single season, but it was magic and the Final Four was the result.
The loss to Iowa in the national semifinals always stayed with Lear.
"I think we had the best shot at beating Bill Russell," Lear told the Daily News when his Temple jersey was about to be retired in 2013. "Because we played against Wilt all the time. You couldn't press Guy. We played a 2-3 zone. Both of us were pretty quick. We took advantage of people who didn't pass the ball correctly out front.
"I think they did a number against us in the Iowa game. They called seven charges on me and Guy. Took away seven baskets. We'd go up for a layup and a guy would run under you. It's why they had to change the rule."