Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Before it was March Madness.....

Of all the sports that Vanderbilt competed in while we were at the University, I think basketball generated the most support and excitement(baseball, with our 1973 SEC champions, came a close second).

We didn't win any championships in roundball while the Class of '73 was at Vandy, but the team improved every year and actually won the SEC in 1974, the year after we graduated. Just our luck, huh, and just like the Sarratt Student Center, which opened the fall after we departed. Rats!

What are your memories of Vanderbilt basketball? Is it when Pete Maravich came to Memorial and put on his show (I think that was freshman year)? How about the "oranges game" against UT and Coach Ray Mears with his unicycle show? Remember freshman guard Joe Ford beating UK with two free throws with no time left on the clock to beat the Cats in 1973? Or our last home game that senior year, when we blew Tennessee all the way back to Knoxville (after all the years of frustration against the Orange, now that was sweet)?

Do you remember how we had to get to the gym early to get our tickets to get good seats? Was it Row 9 that was most coveted because you had a wall behind you to put your coat (and rest your back)? How many of you did homework or played cards waiting for the games to begin? Too bad there were no lap tops or cell phones to help pass the time in those days!

1973 was indeed a frustrating year for Vandy basketball. We had a team good enough to win 20 games for the first times in several seasons. We beat UT once and UK twice. Yet we stumbled against other conference foes and finished second in the league.

There was no SEC tournament in those days and only the conference champion could get invited to the NCAA Tournament (that was before it was called The Big Dance or March Madness).

They had started a Commissioner's Tournament for runnerup teams in major conferences. But we didn't get invited to that either because we were hosting the Mid-East Regionals in our own gym that year and the NCAA said if you did that, your team couldn't go to any other post-season tournaments.

So not only did we miss a chance to play our way to the Final Four on our own home court, we were probably the only major college team in basketball that year to win 20 games and stay home. Double rats!!

But what a tournament they played at Memorial Gym that spring! Somehow I got my hands on some tickets (I think I got them through WRVU but I can't remember how or why). Regardless of how I got in, I watched three of the best basketball games I have ever witnessed.

And what coaches! Bobby Knight of Indiana, Al McGuire of Marquette, Joe B. Hall of Kentucky and Lake Kelly of Austin Peay (with his superstar Fly Williams and that unique Austin Peay cheer)!

After UK beat APSU in overtime and Indiana edged Marquette, it was the Wildcats and the Hoosiers at Memorial. Joe B and the Cats came up short again as IU won and went to the Final Four where UCLA, John Wooden and Bill Walton won yet another national championship. The Bruins beat Memphis State in the Finals, a team that Vandy had lost to narrowly earlier in the season in a barn burner of a game at Memorial over Christmas Break.

So for the VU Class of '73, it was that kind of year in basketball, so close and yet so far. But for our seniors like Ray Maddux, Rod Freeman, Steve Turner and Chris Schweer, they laid the groundwork for the SEC Championship that followed the next season.

With both Vandy's men's and women's basketball teams certain to go to the Big Dance this year, lots of excitment lies just ahead. The same is true for our 35th Class Reunion coming up in October. Make your plans to attend now. And share your memories of basketball seasons past by hitting the reply link below and posting your memories.


Barry Banker said...

My son, James , a sophmore at VU, just got back from 7 days at Cabo. This brings to mind for us 35 year reunion goers the following--"Where was the most exotic spring break trip you were fortunate enough to take?"

vandypitcher said...

very few vandy students realized just HOW GOOD baskets really was 1970--1974...at vandy....yeah they underachieved as a team until 1973-4 when VBK and the boys won the SEC...but if they had had the big dance back then its no telling how far each of those teams would have gone...BUT...do you realize how many of those guys played in the NBA ?? ( now remember...right now they only have 2 draft rounds and alot of second round guys DONT make the NBA and end up playing in europe etc )...but rod freeman ( 73 ) played in the NBA ( power forward ) ( he also tried our for the NY GIANTS as a tight end but that is another story...pretty good athlete i'd say ) bill ligon ( 73 ) played in the NBA as a shooting guard....( wonder how long HE would have played in the bigs if they would have had the 3 ball back then ? ) butch fhere ( 75 ) played in the NBA as a shooting guard and was maybe the best all--around NBA " athlete " of the group...VBK( 74 ) was a # 1 draft choice...SEC player of the yr..ALL AMERICAN and played about 9 yrs in the NBA as a forward...( my neighbor in columbia SC was the great scoring guard from univ of south carolina who lead the NBA in scoring i think once or more...i asked him about JAN ( in the NBA brotherhood )around 1981 and he said " jan can play the big D '..nice compliment...did you also realize terry compton( 74 ) was the last guy cut in another NBA camp...lee fowler( 74 ) made it through most of the way in another NBA camp..and jeff fosness( 75 ) might have been THE vandy guy in the NBA except he has an IQ of 210 and decided to become a doctor...and oh by the way....alex thompson(73) , doug bates(73 ) and joe ford( 75 ) werent " good enough " to play in the NBA BUT..they WERE good enough athletes to play vanderbilt basketball AND to play on the vanderbilt championship baseball teams !!!! so was jimmy conn( 71 ) who was both a starter in vandy basketball AND an ALL SEC vandy shortstop WHO was a top draft choice of the LA DODGERS and played several yrs of pro baseball...not to leave anybody out...my old chemistry lab partner ray maddoux( 73 ) was a great college center and leading rebounder who at 6ft 8 was not going to play center in the NBA so he just went about building a multi million dollar business in nashville...and my best friend hayworth parks( 74 ) was not going to play guard in the NBA at 6ft ..he DID however run our bullpen for home baseball games for years when not at basketball practice....and just to make sure everybody knew he could play...in a black--gold scrimage open to the public right before the basketball season began ( probably 1972 ) ..he lead ALL scorers with " about 25 " from range ( remember..no 3 ball) ...in front of a semi--packed memorial gymnasium...my point is...THAT group of basketball players when we were in school...will NEVER be seen the likes of...again.....mark bode...class of 1973...baseball

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