Oldest basketball Alum Relishes DePaul Experience
Jan. 6, 2011
DePaul basketball alum Fred Knez played during one of the most prolific periods of Blue Demon history from 1935-37. Now living in Arizona with his wife Margaret, he holds the distinction of being the oldest living Blue Demon basketball player on record as he recently turned 97 years old.
Knez came to DePaul after playing basketball for Lane Technical High School. The 1936 DePaulian hailed him as "Freddie Knez, another of the famous five frosh of '33, stayed right up in fast company of his mates turning in a great defensive game and displaying the classiest of hook shots."
Fresh off the undefeated 1933-34 season in which some writers dubbed DePaul mythical national championships, Knez and the Blue Demons responded with a 15-1 mark under head coach Jim Kelly. Knez played with a litany of DePaul Hall of Famers - Ray Adams, Bob Neu, Ed Campion, Nick Yost and Clem Naughton (grandfather of current Blue Demon women's basketball player Deidre Naughton).
The following year, the Blue Demons again flourished with a mark of 18-4. DePaul headed into the fourth game of the 1935-36 season in the midst of a 36-1 mark that stretched back to the winter of 1933, their only blemish a 48-37 loss to Purdue. As Fate would have it,the "Kelly Men" hosted Purdue on their new floor in the spacious Chicago Stadium before 9,000 screaming fans.Unfortunately, DePaul dropped the historic game, 28-24.
That was followed by a 26-24 loss to Big Ten rival Illinois at the Stadium in a game in which the DePaulian wrote:
"Four thousand customers had to sit through a listless first half with neither team showing any signs of being advanced in the art of basketball."
Back-to-back Big Ten losses could have shaken the Blue Demons. "Freddie" came to the rescue for DePaul. Playing a Wisconsin ballclub that was considered the best of the Big Ten, Knez was the hero according to the DePaulian:
"The game was another of those last-minute thrillers, Freddie Knez putting through the clinching points in the final seconds with shots that brought the fans to their feet."
DePaul then closed the season winning 10 of the next 11 games. That run earned the Blue Demons a postseason qualifying tournament berth with the eventual winner competing in the 1936 Olympic Games.
Basketball's entrance in Berlin Games marked the sport's initial foray into major international competition.
DePaul swept past Indiana State, Central Normal, and Minnesota twice to qualify for the championship tournament. The Blue Demons then travelled to Madison Square Garden to face a field that included five NCAA teams and various amateur teams. DePaul was eliminated after a 54-33 loss to Washington.
In an historic sidebar, basketball was played outside as part of the infamous 1936 games that featured Jesse Owens. The United States won 19-8 behind a collection of AAU players in a game that was played on a slippery, muddy surface in the rain. The father of basketball, James Naismith, passed out the medals to the winning U.S. squad.
In 1936-37 the Tom Haggerty-led Blue Demons finished with a 15-6 mark in his inaugural coaching season. Haggerty took over for Jim Kelly, who had closed his career at DePaul amassing a 62-8 mark in his final four seasons (1932-33 through 1935-36)
Haggerty coached DePaul for four seasons prior to leaving DePaul to serve in the National Guard during World War II. Following the war, he returned to DePaul and then became the head basketball coach at Loyola-Chicago and Loyola of New Orleans. Haggerty closed his coaching career with a mark of 175-70
"Haggerty was a great coach," Knez said. "I played for him my senior season. Knez was a great athlete and was talked into playing football for one season in 1938. He was reticent about football for fear of injury. "I was afraid that I would get hurt, and sure enough, I did," Knez said. "I guess I wasn't built for football.
Fred's wife Margaret also graduated from DePaul in 1938. The two met when Fred had to share her book in German class.
"Fred came to DePaul with really not much money, so he didn't have a book," Margaret said. "He looked on mine. He was quite a gentleman. Even on later dates, despite not having much money, he always brought me a corsage."
Like Fred, Margaret grew up near Lincoln Park as her parents owned a restaurant at Sheffield and Clybourn. After graduating DePaul, Margaret worked at a local bakery.
In 1979, Fred and Margaret moved to Arizona where they currently reside. They made the decision to become snowbirds with fellow Blue Demon basketball letterwinner Nick Yost (1934-37) who lived in the same development until his death. The couple enjoys their life in Florida, but are filled with fond memories about their time in Lincoln Park.