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29-Jan-2020 11:34

The Cat Diesels placed among the top four only twice - a third in 1949 and a fourth in 1951.

However, Peoria would turn a corner without knowing it in 1948 with the acquisition of an obscure 29-year-old guard from Southeastern State College in Oklahoma named Womble.

Basketball became part of the employee activities program in 1937 and the Cat Diesels became a charter member of the NIBL in 1947.

Caterpillar's team, funded by nickels and dimes it collected from vending machines inside company break rooms, just began to scratch the surface of its potential in the annual national AAU tournaments at Denver from 1945 to 1951.

We had some pretty big crowds back then." Despite its unusual look, Boozer, who later enjoyed an 11-year NBA career, including a three-season stint with the Chicago Bulls (1966-69), said the Field House was a fun place to play and watch games.

"They called it the old World War II Quonset hut," said Boozer, who currently lives in Kansas City and had his Kansas State jersey retired at halftime of a game on Feb. "But it was fun to play on because it had a lot of bounce to it. "I made friends with (Bradley players) Bobby Joe Mason and Joe Billy Mc Dade, and I enjoyed watching a lot of their games there.

The Cats went on to defeat Los Alamitos Naval Air Station (73-62) and Grihalva Buick (63-55), both of California, for titles in 19, respectively.

With the addition of 6-foot-9-inch Bert Born, a member of the Kansas Jayhawks' 1952 NCAA national champion and MVP of the 1953 Final Four for a national runner-up, Peoria added another AAU national title in 1958 with a 74-71 four-overtime classic over the Denver-Chicago Truckers. 1 overall choice of the 1959 draft, Bob Boozer, an All-American from Kansas State, spurned Cincinnati's pro franchise to play in Peoria, the Cats tacked on their last championship.

After steamrolling its way to the semifinals, the United States survived a scare from Argentina to meet the Soviets in the final.Peoria's renaissance The Cats ushered in a basketball renaissance in Peoria with a 66-53 victory over the Phillips 66ers in the 1952 AAU national championship game.Williams drained nine of 11 shots for a game-high 20 points and Pippin added 17 in what proved to be the first of three consecutive national titles for Peoria.Peoria High made the state championship game (1953 runner-up) and Bradley played in the national championship game (1954 runner-up)." In their first games, the Cats played at the Peoria Armory.

But when their reputation and national titles began rolling in, their new home, Robertson Field House, could barely contain all of their adoring fans."Monroe came to my office and offered me the coaching job," Womble, now 86 and living in Arkansas, said of replacing the Cats' first coach, Marv Hamilton. He came to me." Womble assisted Hamilton, who was promoted to a position within the company that didn't allow him to coach anymore, for the 1949-50 campaign before taking over as head coach the following year.

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