Jack Egan was the only white player and the only Chicagoan on Loyola’s starting five. He didn’t look much like a basketball player. He was 5-10 and stocky. But he was the team’s floor leader. He was quick and pugnacious and he could score. He was also good at drawing fouls, especially charges. He had such a taste for contact that he used it as a way to get into his rhythm at the start of a game. “For me, to get hit or hit someone physically, it makes you feel better, it just loosens you up a little bit. It’s just a regular game now.”
Egan played his high school ball at St. Rita, which was all white. He was recruited by colleges that would not have touched most of his black teammates: Duke, Houston, Illinois. In all he had letters or contacts from 15 or 20 schools, he once said. He liked the idea of the Big Ten; it was major basketball and good exposure for a Chicago kid. He thought he would play for Sharm Scheuerman at the University of Iowa. They had been watching him since his junior year of high school and he had visited the campus a couple times. He would have been a freshman there with Connie Hawkins. But his last trip to Iowa did not go the way he expected.
“I worked out there, with their freshman team and other recruits. And after the scrimmage was over, I felt good because I thought I probably played about as well as I could play. We went to Sharm Scheuerman’s house with the other recruits and he and the assistant coach would talk to each guy about their plans for him. I wasn’t terribly concerned about what he was going to say to me, because a center from my high school team was also recruited by Iowa, and he came out of that meeting and indicated to me that he had gotten everything—room, board, books, tuition, 60 bucks a month—whatever it was. He had gotten the full scholarship. So when it was my turn to go in there—and I liked Sharm Scheuerman, he was a nice person—he told me some nice things, which made me suspect, and then he said we’re prepared to offer you a one-year scholarship, which would be renewable every year. I guess I must have shown how shocked I was. I said are you kidding? I said do you think there are guards out here that are playing better than I played? I said I would never go here. There’s places I can go with a four-year scholarship. I don’t go there and renew it. Renew it! I said absolutely not, I won’t do it.”
Like many of Egan’s stories, this one ends with a twist: “And so then Loyola winds up playing Iowa at the Stadium a couple years later. I get 20 points, and then I go over and talk to Sharm afterwards. Not rubbing it in completely, but just…”
And then there’s a twist back. “We’ve talked since I graduated. He turned out to be a very nice guy.”
In the late 1950s, many coaches were still recruiting in the gentlemanly style of John Wooden, who once wrote about Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell: “While I would have been interested in having either, or both, of them join us at UCLA, I was not contacted by them or by anyone speaking in their behalf.” Egan was recruited in the old style by DePaul’s Ray Meyer. Meyer knew the coach at St.Ignatius High School, and that coach had a son Egan’s age. The son called and said if Egan was interested in DePaul he should give Coach Meyer a call. He didn’t.
On the other hand there was Guy Lewis at the University of Houston; he recruited in the new style. “He’s the one who sent the letter, and he’s the one who met you at the plane. He was impressive. I really liked that guy. He showed, I don’t know, call it respect or whatever it was, but he recruited you, he wanted you. I didn’t even work out at Houston. My first time ever on a jet plane was going down to Houston around March of my senior year. So I go down there and we’re going into this restaurant and evidently I was fawning over this car, this brand new 1960 Pontiac Bonneville. At that time that was the big car. He says you like it? Yeah, of course I like it, how could you not like it? The next day, we’re not going to work out, we’re going waterskiing! We’re going waterskiing with some freshmen and sophomores and all these girls, maybe about four or five carloads. They throw me the keys for a new Pontiac convertible! I said oh shit, this is wonderful. And then we had this wonderful day, night, I mean it was just a party.
“And so the next day, Sunday, I meet up with Guy Lewis, we’re going out to breakfast and then he and I are going for a walk on this beautiful campus. And I mean I was sold on that place, OK? And all I said to him, the only thing I need is some sort of commitment for law school.” Egan had known he wanted to be a lawyer since he was in grade school. He liked Perry Mason. “I said if I could get some sort of commitment for law school, I’m done. I’m here. But Guy Lewis, he said I can’t do it. He said I’m not gonna tell you I can do what I can’t do.
“At that time it was all white, Houston was. And it turned out to be the most bigoted place we ever played!”
Egan played in a high school all-star game at Loyola’s Alumni Gym. His father’s cousin was Robert Quinn, the city fire commissioner and a personal friend of Loyola coach George Ireland. Quinn called and told Egan that Ireland wanted to meet him. Egan thought Loyola was a step below the Big Ten, but it had its advantages. He figured he’d probably end up living and working in Chicago. Loyola had a law school, and they played a few big games in the Chicago Stadium every year. Egan calculated that it might be a good place to make a name for himself. Ireland could not promise him a law school scholarship either, but by the time Egan was ready for it Loyola University was only too happy to oblige.