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Iowa History Daily: August 29 - The Roland Rocket

Iowa History Daily: On August 29, 1997, Gary “The Roland Rocket” Thompson went into the Iowa State University Hall of Fame. A legendary scorer who once held the Iowa high school and Iowa State total points titles, Thompson stood small in stature but tall on the court.

Born in Story County, Thompson first gained the attention of Iowans as a 5’6” sophomore leading the Roland Rockets to the title game of the 1951 Iowa high school basketball tournament. For three years, Thompson led his team to the tournament while racking up an incredible (and state-record setting) 2,042 points.

After high school, “The Roland Rocket” landed in Ames where he quickly became a star for the Cyclones. During his three-years for Iowa State, Thompson continued to score and set the high-water mark for the program with 1,253 points. The most notable night of Thompson’s career came during his senior season when the Cyclones played host to Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks in the Ames Armory during 1957.

With the Jayhawks riding a twelve game winning streak, the Cyclones knew a win would take everyone. With the score tied 37-37 as time wound down, Kansas keyed on “The Roland Rocket” while leaving Don Medsker open to hit the game winner. Although Thompson didn’t take the winning shot, the small man from Story County slayed the proverbial Goliath in scoring, 18-17.

Thompson, Iowa’s first ever 1,000 point high school scorer and became Iowa State’s first 1st Team All-American in basketball. Following a brief career with the Phillips 66s of the Amateur Athletic Union, Thompson continued to entertain Iowa hoops fans as a broadcaster for decades.


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