The number is astounding, all things considered.
Fifty years ago, the length of a high school basketball game was still the same as it is today: 32 minutes.
These days, a prep team registering 80 points in that amount of time is considered to have a high-scoring day.
And it doesn’t really happen all that often. Consider that the winning team in the last seven New Mexico big-schools boys championship games has scored no more than 61 points.
Now, for that number:
That is the average points per game the 1969-70 Hobbs Eagles scored.
It’s been 50 years since that landmark year, and those Hobbs boys remain the benchmark for prolific scoring in state history. For many years, until Houston Yates averaged 116.2 in 2009-10, that Hobbs championship team was the record-holder for how fast high schoolers could put the ball in the hoop.
The 1970 Hobbs state champions will be honored Saturday during halftime of the 2020 Class 5A boys basketball final at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit. (The 1995 Albuquerque High boys champions also will be recognized that day, and the New Mexico Activities Association will hold a lunch banquet for all of its reunion teams Friday.)
It was an era when no 3-point arc existed and no weak competition against which Hobbs piled up big numbers. Withering opponents with a trademark full-court press, the Eagles did it to everybody.
In the 1970 Class 4A (large school) championship game, Hobbs beat Albuquerque High 123-87.
“Let’s say this: It was like a hurricane hit me,” said Albuquerque coaching legend Jim Hulsman, who was coaching in his first title contest. “They started pressing us when we were in the parking lot. They took it to us.”
Of course, Hobbs had its own coaching legend in the late Ralph Tasker, who was in the process of leading the Eagles to the school’s seventh championship. In fact, so lofty was his status in town that the Hobbs gym was rededicated as Ralph Tasker Arena for the first game of the 1969-70 season.
DEC. 2, 1969: Hobbs 133, Midland Lee 102
Hobbs had the players, too.
Larry Robinson was a 6-foot-4 senior for the Eagles. He would go on to play at the University of Texas. As a Longhorn, Robinson was named the Southwest Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore and as a senior.
Another Larry, Larry Williams, was a 6-8 senior who would play at Kansas State and eventually earn All-Big 8 Conference status his senior season.
“Coach Tasker always stressed team effort. He always told us that an assist was worth more than two points. We passed the ball pretty well. The ball really moved,” said Robinson, who has lived in Sweden since he moved there to play professionally after college. “We ran 24-7. When the ball went up, we started running.
“We were always in better shape that the teams we played.”
And that translated to buckets. Lots and lots of buckets.
The only time Hobbs seemed to resemble a normal – albeit very good – high school basketball team was immediately after that season-opening win over Midland Lee.
In the next four games, which included the only loss of the season – 96-95 at Abilene (Texas) High – Hobbs didn’t hit the 100-point level. The Eagles topped the century mark in all but one regular-season game the rest of the way.
Some of the scores were truly cringe-worthy for fans of the opposition.
JAN. 10, 1970: Hobbs 143, Lubbock Dunbar 84
FEB. 7, 1970: Hobbs 139, Española 50
“Coach Tasker started the press back in the 1950s with guys like Bill Bridges (who later played at Kansas and then 13 seasons in the NBA) and Kim Nash,” Hobbs guard Duane Henry recalled recently. “I think we had a group of athletes who were very well suited for coach Tasker’s coaching style and his style of play.
“It takes a guy like Larry Robinson, who … had a tremendous wingspan, to play the man out of bounds. It made it very difficult for someone to throw the ball in,” Henry says. “We all played by position on the press. I was the number one presser; I picked up the first person trying to catch the in-bounds pass. Robert Brooks was the number two presser. And then Larry Williams and Randall Pugh were our safeties.”
Robinson averaged 27.3 points and 12.8 rebounds a game. Brooks (16.8), Williams (15.7) and Pugh (11.1) also scored in double digits.
In college, Brooks would rise to the top of the all-time scoring list at New Mexico Highlands. That’s according to Rick Shed, a statistician and archivist in Hobbs who acquired a collection of photos and videos from the Tasker family and has two online sites he uses to display it.
Other key players were Randall Pugh’s younger brother Easy, Charles Hutchings and Tim Tasker, the coach’s son. The entire team, according to a record that Shed provided for this story, included James Ward, Duane Henry, James Dickerson, Dicky Speegle, Mike Clampitt and Tommy Tydings.
Robinson said that because Hobbs quickly swapped players in and out to keep fresh legs on the court, neither he nor any of the other starters played the minutes that opposing teams’ starters did. And, as the Hobbs’ press became a finely tuned instrument of harassment in early 1970, nothing seemed to work in trying to break it.
“We ran into all sorts of methods. Alamogordo was stacked with a lot of talent and they used to line up four across, kind of, at the free throw line. They would send somebody deep, they’d run people all over the place from that position – they were trying to hit the home run ball,” Henry said.
“We practiced that against each other all the time. We knew what people were going to try to do, so it was a matter of who could execute a little bit better.”
FEB. 14, 1970: Hobbs 124, Alamogordo 86
Even teams that regularly played Hobbs never figured out how to stop the Eagles that year.
Carlsbad gave up 135 and 132 points in its first two meetings. The Cavemen won a consolation game and eventually finished in third place at state in 1969-70.
But not before facing Hobbs one more time in a district championship game.
MARCH 7, 1970: Hobbs 170, Carlsbad 104
“We were averaging almost 120 points a game. I think we were up to 119-something,” said Robinson of the Carlsbad win that put Hobbs in the record book for single-game scoring – only to be beaten by Hobbs’ 176 against Roswell in 1978.
Next up: the state tournament in 1970, the first to be played in Las Cruces at the new Pan American Center.
That’s when the opposition found a new way to combat Hobbs: Take the air out of the ball.
“We played Mayfield in the quarterfinals and they were a running team as well. They figured if they kept the score low, they could beat us,” Robinson remembered. “They slowed the game down and held the ball for two minutes, three minutes.”
MARCH 12, 1970: Hobbs 72, Mayfield 56
West Mesa High, only in existence since 1967, was next in the semifinals. The Mustangs, contrary to Mayfield’s strategy, seemed intent to play the way Hobbs wanted them to play.
“That coach said they were going to run with us. He said they could outrun us. We had a pretty big lead at half – 20-plus points,” Robinson said.
“They came out in the second half and slowed the ball down. They didn’t want us to score a hundred points.”
MARCH 13, 1970: Hobbs 98, West Mesa 63
In the championship game, a precursor to many memorable state tournament contests between Hobbs and Albuquerque High, the senior-led Eagles were seeking their third straight basketball crown.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, were new to the business.
“It was the first time Albuquerque High had played in the state championship game since 1946,” Hulsman said recently. “We were elated just to be there. It was my first time I took a team to the state tournament.
“It was a rare experience just to coach against Coach Tasker. Even though we got clobbered, we made it there.”
MARCH 14, 1970: Hobbs 123, Albuquerque High 87
Talent, the tenacity of the full-court press and experience were the basic reasons the Hobbs 1969-70 title team stands out – even among the Eagles’ many triumphant moments on the hardwood.
“Having the two Larrys in there, we were stacked in the post,” Henry said. “One of them would pop out, catch and look for the other one inside.
“That and the magic of the press, we were pretty stout.”
But both Robinson and Henry believe that something else was at work: The Hobbs players had been playing with each other since they were kids. The last one to move in and be part of the group came into the Hobbs school system in the seventh grade.
By the time everyone reached high school, the young men had spent years running, practicing the press, looking for each other on passes and admiring Hobbs players of the past.
In March 1970, this group of Eagles became part of the lore and is still regarded by many Hobbs hoops aficionados as the greatest in school history.
“It was a special time,” Henry said. “There were great athletes before us and I think we had some very good athletes – and the press made it very special.”