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Live Updates: Men’s Final Four Coming to Houston

Jacksonville’s Artis Widmore takes on UCLA forward Sidney Wicks in the 1970 championship game.Credit…Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos, via Getty Images

Prior to this year, the last time three men’s college basketball programs debuted in a Final Four was in 1970, when Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure and New Mexico State joined UCLA tournament regular.

The idea of ​​three newcomers for the semifinals “was the furthest thing from my mind at the time,” said Artis Gilmore, the former ABA and NBA star from the University of Jacksonville, in a phone interview Friday.

Most of the time, he said, he and his Jacksonville teammates were just focused on their own underdog story while trying to win a title.

“There was so much going on during that time, especially with the racial issues,” said Gilmore, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. “It was just a really tough time. You look at the “Kentucky, they didn’t have black players. It was very different. But it was an exciting time for us. Really special. No one expected Jacksonville University to come to this.”

The tournament brought together 25 schools in 1970, against 68 today. Jacksonville, which was not in conference and received a general offer, beat the all-white Kentucky team of Western Kentucky, Iowa and Adolph Rupp to reach the Final Four. There, 7-foot-2 Gilmore and his teammates took on St. Bonaventure, who had featured another future pro in the 6-foot-11 Bob Lanier. But Lanier, who died last May, injured his knee in the regional final against Villanova and was unable to play.

“I was really disappointed,” Gilmore, 73, said. “Everyone was talking about this Bob Lanier guy. I hadn’t seen him play. They said, ‘He’s big and strong, like you.’ I was looking forward to the game.”

The Dolphins eliminated the St. Bonaventure team without Lanier, 91-83, before losing to UCLA in the championship game, 80-69. Sidney Wicks, a 6-foot-8 forward, blocked five of Gilmore’s shots, and the Bruins shot 27 more free throws than Jacksonville.

“That aspect I’m not going to get into except that they just had more experience than us,” Gilmore said.

Jacksonville was also the first school in Florida to qualify for the Final Four. Now, two of the four teams this weekend are from the state: debutants Florida Atlantic and Miami, joining upstate newcomer San Diego and former champion UConn.

“It’s special, isn’t it?” said Gilmore, who is retired and lives in the Jacksonville area. “Florida Atlantic is really a team a bit like Jacksonville. Underrated, unexpected and just really stepped up and got the job done.

Gilmore will be home to watch the games on television, he said, with a clear interest in each of the semifinals.

“I shoot for my Florida teams,” the Chipley, Fla. native said. “I’m a true Floridian.”

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