Olympians' Almanza and Arnette look back at a century of Horns hoops
It all began on March 10, 1906, when the University of Texas men's basketball team defeated Baylor by a football-like score of 27-17.
The Horns would defeat Baylor three more times that month -- all on the road -- en route to a 7-1 inaugural season of basketball. The other victories came at the expense of the Temple YMCA and San Marcos Baptist (twice).
Only a loss to San Antonio High School marred Coach Magnus Mainland's first season. The season lasted only 42 days.
Four years later Texas would play its first game outside the state -- a 59-26 loss at Oklahoma -- and the following year (1910-11), the Longhorns went to Auburn for their first game east of the Mississippi River. Auburn downed UT, 45-27.
But four seasons after that, Texas captured the first of three straight Southwest Conference Championships -- two of which found the Horns completing the season unbeaten at 14-0 and 12-0.
Today as the 100th season of UT men's basketball moves into its second month, no one is predicting an undefeated season, but many of the pundits are predicting a championship for Coach Rick Barnes' outfit.
"Oh my gosh, 100 years," remarked Albert Almanza, who was a standout performer for the Horns just past the midway point of those 100 years.
"I'd never even thought about that," he added, with a laugh.
Dr. Jay Arnette, a teammate of Almanza's as the 1950s ended and the '60s began, likewise, is taken aback by the years.
"Of course," Arnette began with a hint of a laugh, "I find it hard to believe it has been 45 years since I last played for Texas."
Almanza and Arnette, who both still live in Austin and remain faithful followers of their alma mater, were in the starting lineup together for the 1958-59 and 1959-60 seasons. Arnette also started in1957-58 prior to Almanza, who started in 1960-61, the year after Arnette graduated.
Almanza and Arnette are two of only three University of Texas men's basketball players to compete in the Olympics, with Arnette playing for the U.S. in 1960 and Almanza playing for Mexico in 1960 and 1964.
The two also played together during a coaching change that righted the Longhorns' fortunes, ending a run of five consecutive non-winning seasons as the '50s ended and the '60s began. Both men also credit the work of assistant coach Jimmy Viramontes, who was on staff during their UT careers.
"I remember we were 4-20 in 1958-59 under Marshall Hughes,'' Almanza said. ''Harold Bradley came in and we went 18-8 and won the SWC title and we made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA in 1959-60."
Almanza laughed and continued, "Of course, they only took 16 teams in the NCAA tournament then, but I still tell people we made the Sweet 16 because we did."
Curiously, there only would be two more outright SWC titles for Texas between that one in 1959-60 for Almanza and Arnette and the first for then-Coach Tom Penders in 1993-94.
"When I played at UT, the basketball team certainly wasn't a stepchild," Arnette said of the national perception that Texas was a football school.
"Coach (Darrell) Royal had come in and gotten the football program going well," Arnette added, noting that Royal won his first national title in 1963.
Arnette, who grew up in Austin, admitted he really never considered going anywhere but Texas.
"We had big crowds in Gregory Gym," he recalled. "That was a great place to play. I had a great college career."
Certainly the highlight personally also was the 1959-60 season when Arnette's 31.5 points-per-game scoring average in the NCAA Tournament was second behind a guard from West Virginia University named Jerry West.
"Then, I got to be a teammate of West's and Oscar Robertson's on the 1960 Olympic Team," said Arnette, who has had an orthodontics practice in Austin for 32 years.
"Playing with Jerry West and Oscar Robertson -- two of the best ever," he continued. "That was something."
Arnette was honored by UT in 1999-2000 when the inaugural Jay Arnette Coaches Award was given to Chris Ogden. The award in Arnette's name is selected by the coaches and given to the player for his behind-the-scenes efforts and contributions to the team.
Almanza, who is retired after 35 years with New York Life, didn't come to the United States until 1954, arriving in El Paso. He played at Jefferson High School there.
"Jimmy Viramontes talked to my dad for 30 minutes and then my dad said that I decided to attend Texas," Almanza said, laughing as he recalled the recruiting process.
"But, it really was the right choice for me," he continued. "I have some tremendous memories. I really did make the right decision, even though it was my dad who chose for me.
"I loved playing in Gregory Gym. There always were 7,500 people cheering us on. It was always packed."
Almanza also has great memories of his Olympic team experience with Mexico, serving as co-captain of the 1960 team in Rome, leading the team in scoring (19.8 points per game). He represented Mexico again in 1964 in Tokyo where he again paced his team in scoring (14.7 points per game).
"I also represented Mexico in the Pan Am Games in 1959," he said.
Almanza was recognized by UT last fall with his induction into the Hall of Honor.
"It's such a different game today," Almanza said. "Guys can jump out of the gym. Now, we had good athletes when I played, but the game has evolved. Today it's played above the rim."