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At the height of amateur basketball's "golden age," the Peoria Cats managed to win five AAU national championships in the 1950s. R., in 1958, and placed players on gold medal-winning U. "The Phillips 66ers won more national championships (11) than Peoria," Grundman said of the Phillips Petroleum Company-sponsored team often referred to as the "New York Yankees of basketball" for winning six national titles in a row from 1943 to 1948. The difference is Peoria won their titles in the '50s when there were more good teams out there. They dominated the game when it was at its competitive peak." Building a champion In his book, which reads like a highly detailed media guide for the top amateur teams of that period, Grundman outlined the process of molding Peoria into a national basketball power.

The Cats also won the 1954 World Championship in Brazil, became the first team in the Cold War era to tour the U. According to Caterpillar archives, employees formed the company's first team, Holt-Caterpillar, in 1915.

After playing the 1948-49 season, Womble expressed a desire to Caterpillar executives to move back to Oklahoma to pursue a coaching career.

That's when Cat plant manager Jim Monroe made easily the best move in Peoria's AAU program.

"I developed a network that helped me," Womble said of his quest for talent.

"I knew you've got to have so much size, speed and shooters - things all the painted faces in the stands today don't always consider - to compete for a championship." Womble found pay dirt with the major building blocks of Peoria's champions - sharp-shooting guard Howie Williams (Purdue), 6-foot-9-inch Frank Mc Cabe (Marquette), 6-foot-11-inch center Marcus Freiberger (Oklahoma), speedy 5-foot-10-inch guard Dan Pippin (Missouri) and 6-foot-2-inch guard Ron Bontemps (Illinois), who played for Illinois' first undefeated high school state champion, Taylorville, in 1944.

So near the Iron Curtain, Bontemps said, the mood of the championship was somber.

After steamrolling its way to the semifinals, the United States survived a scare from Argentina to meet the Soviets in the final.

20, 2005 By JOE SPENCER of the Journal Star One of the greatest amateur basketball programs of all time once played in Peoria. Grundman argues in "The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: The AAU Tournament, 1921-1968," that the Peoria Cats, a traveling Amateur Athletic Union basketball team sponsored by Caterpillar Inc.

from 1945-60, was perhaps the most accomplished group in an era pre-dating the legitimacy of professional basketball.

"We had an Olympic village, but the Russian government didn't allow their athletes to stay there. They didn't want any of their athletes to hear any of our ideas about freedom." The Cats' national crown in 1954 earned them a berth to the World Championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Womble's team, consisting of 6-foot-6-inch Richard Gott (Murray State), 6-foot-5-inch Forrest Hamilton (Southwest Missouri State), 6-foot-8-inch Bill Johnson (Nebraska), 5-foot-11-inch Al Kelley (Kansas), 6-foot-6-inch Kirby Minter (Southeast Oklahoma State), 6-foot-9-inch Don Penwell (Oklahoma City University), 6-foot-7-inch Dick Retherford (Baldwin-Wallace), 6-foot-2-inch Kendall Sheets (Oklahoma A&M), 6-foot-5-inch Ed Solomon (West Virginia Tech), 5-foot-10-inch Joe Stratton (Colgate) and Born, easily out-sized all of its competition.The Cat Diesels placed among the top four only twice - a third in 1949 and a fourth in 1951.

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