Wednesday, October 31, 2007

1969-1970 was the end of the "glory years"

I have asked many Davidson alums of the 1960's about their experiences in one of the most tumultuous decades of the 20th century. Some have said that small Davidson was often isolated from the decade's craziness. Others dispute that claim by pointing to several student protests against the Vietnam War. But nearly all of the alumni remembered those days for a completely different reason. Davidson had one of the best basketball programs in the country.

When Dick Snyder and Fred Hetzel packed their bags and headed for the NBA in '65 and '66, Driesell didn't abandon his goal of making Davidson a national title contender. By 1968, Davidson had not only rebuilt, it had reloaded.

That year, the Wildcats had one of their best season to date, finishing with 24 wins and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals, where they lost their bid for a Final Four appearance to the North Carolina Tarheels. Leading the team was a host of impressive stars like Rodney Knowles, Mike Maloy, Jerry Kroll and Doug Cook. For the latter three players, this would be the first of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Maloy, Kroll and Cook still hold prominent places in the Davidson record books.

The story of Maloy might be more interesting than that of Driesell. Maloy was one of the first prominent African-American athletes at Davidson at a time when North Carolina still upheld many Jim Crow laws. Maloy became one of Davidson's most prolific scorers and rebounders during his three years at the school.

In the winter of 1968, Maloy became the first Davidson athlete to grace the cover of "Sports Illustrated." He was one of three players heralded as "Challengers to UCLA." By the end of that season, Maloy found himself facing off against the player sitting in front of him for that SI cover shoot: Charlie Scott.

At that time, Scott was a star forward for the Tar Heels. He owns the distinction of being UNC's first black scholarship athlete, yet the history books leave out one important footnote: he wanted to come to Davidson. The legend goes that Scott attended Davidson for a recruiting visit but a local restaurant refused to serve his family because of his skin color. Scott ended up attending Chapel Hill. On March 15, 1969, Scott left one more indelible mark in the history books of Wildcat basketball.

Davidson set a new high water mark in 1969 by recording 27 wins en route to another Southern Conference Championship. After rolling over St. Johns and Villanova in the tournament's first two rounds, Davidson faced a rematch with North Carolina in a rematch of the Regional Final game from the year before.
With under a minute to play and a tie ballgame, Davidson had a chance to use up the clock and hit the game-winning basket. But Kroll was whistled for an untimely charging foul and North Carolina got the ball back.

After a timeout, everyone in the arena knew that Scott would be taking the final shot. With the final seconds ticking away, Scott dribbled to the foul circle and put up a jumper. The ball rippled the net as the final buzzer expired. North Carolina advanced to the Final Four. Davidson's "glory years" effectively ended.

By the end of that week, Driesell had accepted a new job at the University of Maryland. Although the Wildcats were very successful under replacement Terry Holland over the next two years, they faltered in the 1970 NCAA Tournament's first round. During that spring, Maloy left school early to enter the NBA but was cut before the season even started.

A 1972 "Charlotte Observer" article claimed that nearly all of Holland's initial success was due to the remnants of Driesell's recruiting. That same article also noted that many members of Davidson's faculty were not unhappy to see Driesell leave because they were not pleased by the academic sacrifices that seemed to have accompanied major college basketball. It was time, it seemed, for Davidson basketball to head in a new direction.

Between 1974 and 1991, Davidson had a combined record of 177-301. Davidson briefly dropped out of the Southern Conference in 1988. The program needed a major change. It needed a vision once again. That change came with the hiring of a high school coach from Long Island. The coach's name was Bob McKillop, and he would go on to become the winningest coach in Davidson basketball history.

***This is the third article in a four-part Davidsonian series on the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball.***

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