March 2, 2013

Loran Smith: Even opponents revered Zippy


— Sixty years ago in Knoxville, Tenn., something good happened for the University of Georgia’s men’s basketball team. The Bulldogs’ Zippy Morocco — who will be honored at halftime of Georgia’s game against Tennessee today in Athens — scored 38 points and led his team to a pulsating 87-86 victory.

There was more good news. With his offensive magic, Morocco broke the Southeastern Conference single-season scoring record with 590 points, breaking the mark set by Kentucky’s Cliff Hagan. Also a halfback for the football team, Morocco often electrified crowds.

A fine football player with punt-returning expertise without peer — a 90-yard return versus Furman between the hedges in 1950 and a dash of 65 yards against Texas A&M in the 1950 Presidential Cup are examples of his ability to make tacklers miss and go the distance — Morocco had opportunities to play pro basketball and football, but military duty cut short his professional aspirations.

Following his service obligation, he briefly tried high school coaching and later operated a restaurant and bar. Ultimately, he settled on a real estate career in his adopted hometown, where you still see him at the Varsity, his favorite restaurant since enrolling at Georgia in 1948.

In our society, Zippy Morocco stories were commonplace, dating back to the times when immigrants like his father and mother made their way to America for the better life. Still, there were many times when the good life was not so good.

Just recently Morocco recalled that he and his brother slept in a double bed in the same room with his parents, while his four sisters shared the other bedroom with two double beds. A couple of boarders slept in the living room, so you can imagine there was always a line for the bathroom, which was downstairs in an unfinished basement.

Youngstown, Ohio, offered job opportunities if you wanted to work in the steel mills. Morocco’s father signed on and didn’t complain. He went to work to support his family, but his son, Georgia’s first basketball All-American, wanted no part of the steel industry, which is why he was eager to sign the scholarship offer from Bulldogs football coach Wallace Butts.

Morocco knew he would have a roof over his head and three meals a day to play a game.

“Those are the kinds of things,” he said with a smile, “that people from the old country never took for granted. My parents never thought that I would get a college education, and they sure didn’t think I would get one for free.”

Youngstown sent to Athens three of its immigrant offspring who would become All-Americans. George Poschner and Frank Sinkwich in football were the others.

“They still revere Sinkwich back in Youngstown,” Morocco said.

As remarkable as his 38 points in Knoxville six decades ago were, there was a reaching out on Morocco’s behalf by the Volunteers, which is a reminder that rival teams should make an effort to expunge the hate factor we hear about so often.

Gus Manning, the University of Tennessee’s sports information director at the time, called — among others — Furman Bisher (who was then the sports editor of the Atlanta Constitution), to trumpet Morocco’s outstanding play.

“I just wanted to tell you that that performance he put on was the greatest that’s ever been seen on a Tennessee court,” Manning said.

When is the last time you heard of one team’s drumbeater promoting another team’s player?

Bisher was taken by the call and wrote a column, but it didn’t end there.

A day later, Volunteers coach Emmett Lowery sat down and wrote Morocco a letter that began, “Although we hated losing the ballgame last night, the team and myself, as well as the fans of Knoxville, all admired your outstanding performance. I don’t believe I have ever seen a finer individual performance that you put on here last night.”

Morocco was a two-handed set shot artist with an alacritous ebb and flow on the court, which is what led to his nickname as a youngster.

It is good to see Zippy honored in his sundown years, an accomplished basketball player who was the best of his time.



Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.