The Dandy Dons


The Dandy Dons

Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball's Greatest and Most Innovative Teams

James W. Johnson

284 pages
14 photographs


June 2009


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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June 2009


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In the mid-1950s three unrecruited black basketball players, coached by a white former prison guard who had never before coached a college team, led a small Jesuit university in San Francisco to two national titles. The Dandy Dons describes for the first time how the unprecedented accomplishment of the Dons, led by coach Phil Woolpert and future hall-of-famers Bill Russell and K. C. Jones, paved the way for black talent in major college basketball and transformed the sport.

James W. Johnson traces the backgrounds of the coach and players, chronicles the heart-stopping games on the road to the championships, and details the Dons’ novel techniques: a more vertical game, more central defense, and intimidation as part of game strategy. He also gives a textured picture of life on an integrated basketball team amid a culture of racism and Jim Crow in mid-twentieth-century America.

Author Bio

James W. Johnson is an emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the author of several books, including The Wow Boys: A Coach, a Team, and a Turning Point in College Football, available in a Bison Books edition.


“UCLA’s many championships and Texas Western’s single dramatic win over Kentucky have perhaps obscured larger truths. As James Johnson shows so very well, the University of San Francisco's NCAA champions of 1955 and 1956 may not only have very well been the finest teams ever to win, but they surely endured the most racist anguish. And Bill Russell’s legacy only looms more majestic with time and the telling.”—Frank Deford, NPR commentator, author of The Entitled, and senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated

“James Johnson has executed a literary slam dunk worthy of Bill Russell in proving that those USF Dons of 1955 and 1956 were the most frighteningly dominant college basketball team ever. This book is well researched, well crafted, and well worth any hoop junkie's curiosity.”—Dave Newhouse, columnist of the Oakland Tribune and author of Old Bears

"This is a carefully researched and passionately written account of one of the greatest amateur teams ever assembled. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of college basketball."—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist starred review

"The Dons may not have been from the largest school, but Johnson makes it clear their impact was far-reaching."—Robert S. Brown, Sports Literature Association

Table of Contents

Preface: The Changing Game    000

Acknowledgments   000

Introduction      000

1. Russell's Coming of Age    000

2. A Road Trip to Discovery   000

3. On Catholic Schools and Race     000

4. Another Surprise Recruit   000

5. A School He'd Never Heard Of     000

6. Roommates and Friends Forever    000

7. Time to Produce      000

8. A Disappointing Season     000

9. An Unlikely Coach    000

10. A Surprising Move   000

11. The Trail to the Title    000

12. Russell Brings about Rule Changes     000

13. The Machine Rolls On      000

14. Into the Deep South 000

15. Holiday Travel and the Stall    000

16. Two in a Row  000

17. A New Sport for Russell   000

18. The Aftermath 000

19. Epilogue      000

Notes 000

Bibliography      000

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