When blue and gray leads to gold

Longhorn legend, Olympic champ, NBA vet, Jay Arnette to be have Mac jersey retired at tonight’s alumni game


File photo from 1956 Knight

Jay Arnette scored two points against rival Austin High. File photo from 1956 Knight.

Kennedy Weatherby, staff reporter

Against the Corsicana Tigers, Mac alumnus Jay Arnette tallied 47 points  (19 from the field and nine free throws) to lead the Knights past the Tigers, 73-46. Arnette toppled the 3-A scoring record by eight points. File photo from 1956 Knight.

It was a sweltering summer day in Rome and the emotions ran high in the 1960 Summer Olympics games. After the U.S men’s basketball team dominated previous opponents by an average of 42.2 points per game there was one idea in the heads of the red, white and blue wearing, Converse clad Americans: redemption.

After the 1959 World championships where the losses to Brazil and the Soviet Union had cost the U.S both the gold and the silver, a new approach was taken. Led by collegiate heroes and (until the arrival of Michael Jordan in the ’80s) some of the best guards ever to play for their country, the team selected for the 1960 Olympics is considered one of the greatest amateur basketball teams of all time. The beginning of the tournament held whispers and rumors of the fall of the U.S basketball Olympic oligarchy, those claims were silenced as the U.S left the Rome Olympics adorned in gold.

Jay Arnette, a McCallum HS alumni, was a member of this team. Following his graduation from the University of Texas, he joined the Olympic basketball team, which practiced all around the world before making the trip to Rome.

“We went to training camp at West Point, and then we traveled around the northeast U.S., then we went to Ireland, France, and Switzerland and played exhibition games there,” said Arnette, who in addition to being an Olympic gold medalist and a former NBA player is also an orthodontist.

I loved playing at UT because I grew up in Austin, and I went to all the home basketball and baseball games

— Jay Arnette

It took years of training and hard work for Arnette to get to the Olympics. But he said one of the reasons for his successful basketball career was that McCallum had one of the best coaching staffs in the state.

“The basketball coach was Jimmy Viramontes, who played basketball for Texas, and I used to go watch him play when I was in junior high,” Arnette said.

Arnette went on to achieve many other accomplishments throughout his career at McCallum. In 1956 he was chosen for the 1st Team All-State for basketball and baseball, as well as setting the single-game scoring record at 47 points. After his graduation from McCallum in ’56, he continued to the University of Texas, where he lettered in three varsity sports: basketball, baseball, and track.

“I loved playing at UT because I grew up in Austin, and I went to all the home basketball and baseball games,” Arnette said. “I never even considered going anywhere but Texas.”

Longhorn hoops teammates Jay Arnette (right) and Albert Almanza (left). Both Arnette and Almanza are two of only three players from the University of  Texas that have played in the Olympics; Arnette in ’60 games for the U.S and Almanza. for Mexico in ’60 and ’64.

During his time at UT, he enjoyed many accomplishments in athletics. He set the single-game scoring record for the freshman team at 39 points and was selected to the All American and the All-Southwest Conference (All-SWC) basketball team, where he averaged 19.9 points per game. After he batting .347 for the Longhorn baseball team, he also made the All-SWC baseball team and led UT to the 1958 and ’60 SWC baseball titles. In 1960, he was voted the Texas Amateur Athlete of the Year and led the UT basketball team to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

After his graduation, Arnette was drafted the first pick in the second round, or ninth pick overall to the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960 NBA draft. Despite this offer, Arnette decided to pursue a different dream: baseball. In the early fall of 1960, he signed with the L.A. Dodgers to give pro baseball a try.

“I felt like I might have a better chance to have a longer career in baseball,” Arnette said. “I played four years in minor leagues with the Dodgers. After the third year, I decided I was going to try to play basketball again.”

That’s right, Arnette did not have one professional sports career. He had two. After three years playing for the Dodgers, Arnette decided to make the switch back to basketball, playing guard for the Cincinnati Royals. He played for the Royals from 1963-65, averaging 3.8 points per game over three seasons.

Outfielder Jay Arnette, shown here catching the ball while playing for Mac on the practice field, was drafted by and playing minor league baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. File photo from 1956 Knight.

“I hadn’t played basketball in three years, and I never really got my shot that I had when I was in college,” Arnette said.

Although his athletic career had come to a close after his third NBA season, he has continued to receive honors for his long, distinguished athletic career. In 1973 he was inducted into the University of Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He will receive one more honor tonight when McCallum will honor Arnette at tonight’s annual alumni game.

The jersey retirement ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. preceded by JV and freshman team scrimmages starting at 5:45 p.m. The game between the varsity and alumni will cap the night off.