The Shot Heard 'Round Wyoming, by Robert W. Black

Authors, Broadcasters, Filmmakers, Sportswriters

Farm near Hillsdale was site of great leap for basketball

By Robert W. Black,
Albany Times Union (Albany, NY),
Associated Press, June 1, 2003

 

Kenny Sailors dribblingHillsdale, Wyo. (AP) – It started out as just another one-on-one game between two farm boys.  But this one, on a warm spring day nearly 70 years ago, changed the world of basketball.

As usual, 13-year-old Kenny Sailors was being dominated by his older, taller brother, Bud, as they battled on the dirt next to a windmill supporting a homemade wooden backboard and netless rim.

“When we played each other, he’d just slam it down my throat,” recalls Kenny, now 82 and living in Gooding, Idaho.  “I got to thinking if I could jump high enough, I could get the shot off him.”

Jumping to shoot, though, was unthinkable in 1934.  Coaches harped on never leaving the ground to shoot or defend in the game invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith.  Two-handed set shots and a few hooks were the norm.

Kenny didn’t care.  Out of frustration, he leaped to keep Bud from swatting away his shot.

It worked, to both boys’ surprise, and Kenny went on to perfect that stop-and-go, straight-up shot.

After their mother sold the farm and moved her boys to Laramie, Wyo., Kenny Sailors earned All-State honors and twice led Laramie High School to runner-up finishes in the state tournament.

Sailors, who was also a superb ballhandler, was named All-American in leading Wyoming to the NCAA championship in 1943.  The Cowboys capped a 31-2 season by defeating Georgetown 46-34 for the title, with Sailors scoring a game-high 16 points.

“Kenny Sailors was their star, their gun,” remembers Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, a freshman for the Hoyas that year.  “He had a deadly shot.”

Longtime Wyoming sportscaster Larry Birleffi was dazzled by what Sailors simply called “my shot.”

“I hadn’t seen anything like it,” Birleffi said.  “He had the only one.  He could stop on a dime and shoot…a one-hander.  That shot was terrific.”