STARKVILLE – (AP) Leland Mitchell, a former Mississippi State basketball star who played in the renowned MSU-Loyola game in 1963, died Saturday, July 6 at the age of 72.
Mitchell died at his home in Starkville.
Officials with Welch Funeral Home in Starkville said services were held on July 11.
The 6-foot-4 Mitchell starred at guard on the MSU team that won the Southeastern Conference championship and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. State law prohibited the all-white Bulldogs from traveling to East Lansing, Mich., to face an integrated Loyola University of Chicago team, but MSU coach Babe McCarthy sneaked the team out of town to play the game.
“We wanted to play,” Mitchell later said. “We had just won the SEC championship for the third year in a row and we hadn’t been allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament the past two years. For us the biggest thing was getting the opportunity to play in the tournament because it was something we felt we deserved.
“It was much more than a basketball game. We were making history. We were ambassadors for the South, though none of us realized it at the time.”
Eventual national champion Loyola won 61-51 with Mitchell scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a losing cause. The two schools played this past December in Chicago to mark the game’s 50th anniversary, with Loyola winning 59-51.
Mitchell was drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1963, and later played one season (1967-68) with the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers, which were coached by McCarthy. He then went into the real estate business, and eventually developed interests in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
Survivors include his wife, Mary; a daughter, three sons, a sister, two brothers and three grandchildren.