TAKING A PASS (DAY 35):
Notice the “press” pass handed out by Clark University. They wrote in working press and had to write in the year. The school must have printed a ton of them.
By Michael Lewis
After soccer and baseball, the sport I really, really love covering is basketball.
Yes, I know I have to keep copious notes on a never-ending play-by-play of baskets and fouls, the antithesis of keeping soccer notes, which aren’t as plenty. One you use your hands, and the other you use your feet, for the most part.
Of course, before I discovered the beautiful game I was a basketball fan — of the New York Knicks — when they were good (from the late sixties into the seventies).
So when I covered the college beat for a year or two at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I embraced it, especially b-ball. The two primary schools I covered was Syracuse University (Division I) and the University of Rochester (Division III).
Believe it or not, I had so much more fun covering the Yellowjackets. Let’s face it. I didn’t have to drive 90 minutes to the east in the middle of the winter to write about a team and the UR squad was interesting.
Mike Neer, who eventually coached at New York University, was someone who was good for at least one excellent quote a game, if not more. He reminded me that some of the players on the team, especially ones that were engineering majors were going to make more than me and him in a few years.
I know, I know, you saw Division III and you wanted to bolt, but as UR head coach Mike Neer reminded me, Division III basketball players weren’t bad, they just had one of five skills needed to be a superior player missing. They had a freshman point guard, Tom Lowney, who could handle the ball with his eyes closed but he was 5-9. They had another player, Joe Doktor (yes, his name was a headline writer’s dream), who wasn’t tall enough to be a D-1 forward, but too slow to be a guard at that level. But he could shoot the eyes out of the basket, ripping the net at a 58.1 percent rate and canning free throws at 84.7 percent.
The team shot 50.6 percent from the field for the season and it was good enough to reach the NCAA Division III tournament, hosted by Clark University in Worcester, Mass. in March 1981.
It’s funny what you remember. Before leaving my hotel for the Yellowjackets’ Northeast Regional semifinal game on March 6, 1981, I watch Walter Cronkite give his final broadcast for CBS. Then I drove over to the school and watched UR defeat Salem State, 75-62, to reach Saturday night’s regional final.
The UR did just about everything to perfection in that game but win. They folded under some late pressure by Clark, losing 78-74, and losing out at a chance to reach the national quarterfinals.
“We should still be playing next week,” Neer said as he wiped tears from his eyes. Everything we wanted to do, we did. We had control of the game.
“When they had to get the plays and take a chance, they double-teamed us and got away with it. I thought they fouled the hell out of us when they stole the ball. I hope they know how lucky they are.”
Another thing I remember from the game was the shooting of Doktor. He was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line for 19 points. If you were wondering why he didn’t attempt more shots the way he was shooting, there was a good reason. Doktor shot only from his zone, where he was comfortable from. He didn’t waste many shots. I said he was smart.
Clark must have been expecting a packed house for the semifinal because the attendance for the doubleheader was “announced” at halftime of the opening UR-Salem encounter. The figure, 2,200, was typed on the halftime stat sheet. There were maybe several hundred fans in the stands.
On Saturday morning, a sportswriter who shall go unnamed almost gave half of the UR team an uncalled-for tour of Northern New England — a Nantucket car ride — by missing an exit on the way to the Quincy Market in Boston. Neer and assistant coach Mike Decillis, who were leading a caravan of four cars, became lost in heavy traffic, leaving the third (sportswriter) and fourth cars in a quandary.
The sportswriter somehow missed the exit — he claimed it was a small sign and continued heading for New Hampshire and points north on Interstate 93. After a wrong-way jaunt down a one-way street, the young men in the cars finally found their destination and were only 10 minutes behind the rest of the team.
That sportswriter didn’t know it at the time, but it began a history of wrong turns, driving on one-way streets, among other minor traffic violations in Bean-town over the years.