Recently I stopped AdVantage News Vice President Eric McRoy, a Roxana High graduate, as he passed my office and asked him if he knew the name Harry Gallatin.
“No, should I?” he responded.
I replied, “Yes, he’s an NBA Hall of Famer who graduated from Roxana High School.”
Just guessing, but I figure there are a lot of younger people like Eric in the Greater Alton area that don’t realize that Roxana has produced someone in the Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF.
Now 87, Gallatin is soon to join the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Athletics Hall of Fame for his time there as a coach. It’s just another notch on Gallatin’s impressive resumé, which includes the IHSA Players’ HOF and the SIUE Athletics HOF, along with the Naismith HOF. Overall the induction into the SIUC HOF will mark the seventh HOF where Gallatin will be enshrined.
A 1944 graduate of Roxana, “The Horse,” as he’s affectionately nicknamed, also attended Wood River High School in 1940-41 due to the fact there wasn’t a Roxana High yet.
I was fortunate enough to get to sit down and do a one-on-one interview with Gallatin at his home in Edwardsville when I first started as a local sportswriter. I was honored to get to peruse old pictures from his playing and coaching days, see his original plaque from the Naismith HOF and listen to his countless awesome stories. It’s something I will never forget.
Following graduation from Roxana, Gallatin spent 15 months in the Navy until the end of World War II and then received a basketball scholarship to play at Northeast Missouri College in Kirksville, Mo., now Truman State University. His time at Northeast Missouri earned him the distinction of being the top pick for the New York Knicks in the 1948 NBA Draft.
That started an illustrious 10-year playing career in which Gallatin was named to seven All-Star squads and led the NBA in rebounds in ‘53-54 with 1,098, averaging out to 15.3 per game. For his career he averaged 11.9 rebounds per game. He was in the top 10 for rebounds per game seven times in 10 seasons.
His 33 rebounds in one game against the Detroit Pistons in ‘52-53 is still a Knicks’ record, later tied by Willis Reed.
After playing his final season with the Pistons in ‘57-58, Gallatin decided to enter the next stage of his career — coaching. That’s where SIUC comes into play.
Gallatin was hired to coach the Salukis in 1958 and coached them to a 79-35 mark in four seasons, including three straight appearances in the small-school NCAA Tournament (the Division II NCAA Tournament today). Gallatin was the first coach to lead the Salukis there. Carbondale finished third in ‘61-62.
His four years at SIUC have earned him another HOF bid, but it’s just a blip on the radar of his interesting career. He returned to the NBA as coach of the St. Louis Hawks in ‘62-63 and won NBA Coach of the Year honors. He led the Hawks to the Western Division finals two straight seasons. He had the honor of coaching Bob Pettit and Lenny Wilkens while in St. Louis.
Gallatin then returned to New York, where he coached the Knicks for a year and a half before being let go after not finding success. It led Gallatin full circle back to his roots, landing him at SIUE to finish out his career back in the Metro East, where it all began.
He was the first basketball coach and athletic director for the Cougars, beginning in ‘67-68. After three years coaching basketball he turned to men’s golf, where he coached at SIUE for another 23 years, making 16 national championship postseason appearances. And now there is even the Harry Gallatin Golf Training Facility at SIUE, erected in 2013. You can still find Gallatin today attending SIUE basketball games at the Vadalabene Center.
If that’s not enough of a list of accomplishments, Gallatin also played three years of minor league baseball for the Class B Decatur Cubs/Commodores as a pitcher in the offseason of his first three NBA campaigns. I guess you could say he was an olden-day Michael Jordan.
That gives you a little background on a local living legend and if anybody asks you who Harry “The Horse” Gallatin is, now you will know. When he’s enshrined in the SIUC HOF on Feb. 13 with the rest of the 2015 class, we can have a little pride for an all-time great who shares our Greater Alton area roots.