Santa Clara University

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A century of Bronco basketball, by Jed Mettee and Steven Boyd Saum

The first basketball player ever to make the cover of Sports Illustrated, 11 NCAA tourney invites, a dozen All-Americans, a No. 2 nation­al ranking, and an alumnus who's changing the way the game is played in the NBA. Not a bad first hundred seasons.

Celebrating 100 Seasons, Santa Clara Basketball

The smoke from the cigars and cigarettes is so thick you can hardly see across the court. Twenty thousand rabid fans pack the stands. Welcome to the Garden—Madison Square Garden, that is, the Holy Shrine of College Basketball. It is December 1939, and the Magicians of the Maplewood are about to show folks the future of basketball, Santa Clara style.

Among the Magicians: Jim Rickert, Bruce Hale, Marty Passaglia, Bob Feerick, Stan Anderson, and Ralph "Toddy" Giannini. The Magicians shoot one-handed, they rebound quickly, get the ball to teammates, and run the fast break. Basketball didn't used to be this way.

In the mid-1930s, college basketball made a major rule change and stopped having teams jump center after every basket. Shortly before, Santa Clara grad George Barsi '30 assumed basketball coaching duties for the Broncos, and he was one of the first coaches to teach his players to play a fast break style.

At Madison Square Garden, the Broncos defeat City College of New York and LaSalle by more than 20 points. Giannini becomes the first Santa Clara player to be named an All-American. And the NCAA issues an invite to the Final Four. Alas, the powers that be at Santa Clara put the kibosh on the Broncos playing in the tourney. Why? The players would miss too many days of classes.

Humble beginnings
Postcard from the past: the 1911-12 Santa Clara basketball team.

Postcard from the past: the 1911-12 Santa Clara basketball team.

From the Garden, turn back the clock three decades to the birth of Santa Clara hoops. The 1904-05 season wasn't terrible as far as percentages go. It was the first year that Santa Clara students fielded a team to play intercollegiate basketball, and they finished at .500, with a 9-7 win over Alameda High School and a loss to the University of Pacific, for a 1-1 record.

The next season included three games, but then the sport took a two-year hiatus before returning in 1908-09 with a seven-game season that included high school teams and games at the San Jose YMCA. Because no team was fielded in a few early years and one season was canceled during World War II, 2006-07 marks the 100th season of Bronco men's basketball. It's been a varsity sport since 1917-18, though at the time the student yearbook, the Redwood, opined that the sport was "dead or dying."

Cinderella Broncos: the 1951-52 team in Hawaii. They’d go on to beat UCLA and win a berth in the Final Four.

Cinderella Broncos: the 1951-52 team in Hawaii. They’d go on to beat UCLA and win a berth in the Final Four.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, the sport was drawing more fans. Under Coach Harlan Dykes, Santa Clara's team racked up an impressive record of its own, 101-48, while the Broncos played a number of games at Kezar Pavilion and the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

The late '30s found the team on the national stage, following up the 1939 visit to Madison Square Garden with an appearance the following year as well. Again Santa Clara defeated CCNY, and they avenged losses from the previous year against Depaul, California, and the University of San Francisco. Passaglia, Feerick, and Hale went on to careers in pro basketball, and after retiring, the latter two turned to coaching—Feerick returned to his alma mater in 1950 and Hale headed to the University of Miami.

Cinderella Broncos

Feerick had only coached the Broncos for two years when, in 1952, Santa Clara received an invite to the first-ever West Regional tournament, held in Corvallis, Ore. It was a young team, with the starting lineup including captain Bob Peters and junior Dick Soares, sophomores Herb Schoenstein and Jim Young, and a 6-foot, 7-inch freshman from Watsonville, Ken Sears.

In 1952, the Broncos traveled to the Final Four in Seattle packing “a bunch of uniforms and a prayer.”

The crowd was stunned when the Broncos beat the UCLA Bruins, who were ranked at the top of the Pacific Coast Conference and 19th in the nation. The next day, with a driv­ing layup by key reserve player Dick Garibaldi to clinch the game in the final seconds, the Broncos upset Wyoming to advance to the Final Four.

The team traveled to Seattle for the tourney, packing "a bunch of uniforms and a prayer," observed one sports writer. To avoid falling behind in their studies, the players also had to spend "a few days in classes at Seattle University," says Garibaldi--though he confesses it was awfully hard to con­centrate on anything but the coming game. The Broncos were matched up with the Kansas Jayhawks and three-time All-American center Clyde Lovellette. Underdog Santa Clara gave a gallant effort, but Lovellette proved unstoppable, finishing with 44 points.

Ken Sears on the cover of Sports Illustrated

In 1954, All-American Ken Sears became the first basketball player ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

 

The Broncos' Sears did him one better, though: A few days before Christmas 1954, Sears became the first basket­ball player—college or pro—to grace the cover of a young magazine by the name of Sports Illustrated. Sears also won a pair of Player of the Year awards and was named an All-American. He went on to play seven years in the NBA with the New York Knicks and San Francisco Warriors and made the All-Star team twice.

Lightning in a bottle

Coming into the 1968-69 season, the Broncos had higher expectations than ever. The previous season, the team wrapped up the regular season with 14 straight wins for a 22-4 record. In the NCAA tournament, they lost to eventual national champion UCLA.

Almost the entire team was returning for Head Coach Dick Garibaldi and Assistant Coach Carroll Williams, including the best frontcourt in school history in Dennis Awtrey, Bud Ogden, and Ralph Ogden. But what hap­pened blew away all expectations: Santa Clara won its first game of the year 101-64 against Nevada and followed that with two road victo­ries over UC Davis and Fresno State by wide margins. And the Broncos kept rolling, winning 21 straight games—all but one by double-digit margins.

View from the hoop: Bud Ogden on the cover of the Feb. 10, 1969 Sports Illustrated.

View from the hoop: Bud Ogden on the cover of the Feb. 10, 1969 Sports Illustrated.

In conference play, SCU swept to eight straight wins, including a 15-point blowout of San Jose State on Jan. 18. A month later, though, in a rematch the Spartans pushed the Broncos to double overtime before prevailing 73-69. So ended the streak--but not inspired Bronco ball.

Winning five games straight, the Broncos secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Weber State in the West Regional in Los Angeles. But for the sec­ond time in as many seasons, UCLA ended the Broncos' championship dreams with a win on their home court. The Broncos finished the year with a school-record 27 wins and just two losses, as well as a No. 3 national ranking.

"We kind of caught lightning in a bottle that year," says Bud Ogden.

Awtrey was named the WCC Player of the Year. Four Broncos—Bud and Ralph Ogden, Awtrey, and Kevin Eagleson—earned all-conference honors. Bud Ogden would go on to play in the NBA. Along the way: All-American hon­ors and a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Bronco.

Awtrey earned All-American honors the 1969-70 season and went on to play in the NBA, bringing home an NBA championship ring in 1979.

Bronco pro match-up. From left: Dennis Awtrey, Ralph Ogden, and Bud Ogden on the eve of a game between the Warriors and 76ers.

Bronco pro match-up. From left: Dennis Awtrey, Ralph Ogden, and Bud Ogden on the eve of a game between the Warriors and 76ers.

Back at the Mission campus, center Mike Stewart stepped to the forefront—averaging more than 18 points a game in his career. He went on to win All-American honors in 1971-72, along with WCC Player of the Year.

The Dynamic Duo

In the mid-1970s, a star forward at Cupertino High School was being recruited throughout the country by a number of col­lege programs. He attended a few games at the newly-constructed Toso Pavilion to see what it would be like to play for Santa Clara.

While he was impressed with the coaching staff and the hard-working reputation of the program, another draw was the play of sophomore point guard, Eddie Jo Chavez, who seemed to have a knack for finding his teammates and creat­ing the offense. When Kurt Rambis graduated four years later, he would be the Broncos' all-time leading scorer—with Chavez running the offense and Rambis posting big num­bers in scoring and rebounding.

The pair formed a unique bond on the court and an even stronger one off the court. And each credits his father with inspiring his success.

Chavez grew up in Vallejo, playing ball at the local Filipino community center. His father, Ed Chavez, played basketball, football, and baseball for the Broncos in the 1940s. Upon graduating from SCU, Eddie Jo Chavez played professional basketball around the world.

Man of Steal: Harold Keeling holds the SCU record with 263 steals.

Man of Steal: Harold Keeling holds the SCU record with 263 steals.

Rambis made a name for himself as a key player in four championship seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired after 14 NBA seasons, and in 1999 he served as head coach of the Lakers and guided the team to a 24-13 record. He currently serves as assistant coach for the team.

Guarding the legacy and killing giants

Harold Keeling earned a reputation as a ball hawk in 1981-82, his first season as a guard for the Broncos. In a game against No. 7 San Francisco, he set a school record with seven steals as SCU upset the Dons 77-75 at Toso Pavilion. A few years later, along with earning a degree in business, Keeling had racked up 263 steals on the court. He went on to play one season for the Dallas Mavericks before embarking on a 17-year professional basketball career internationally.

A string of great guards has led the program in recent years—from Mitch Burley in the late '80s to Steve Nash and John Woolery in the early '90s, and continuing today with current starting point guard Brody Angley. Woolery twice earned All-WCC hon­ors in his career and is fourth on the Broncos' all-time steals list with 192.

Steve Nash helped lead the Broncos to the NCAAs three times—including the magical 1993 upset of Arizona.

Steve Nash helped lead the Broncos to the NCAAs three times—including the magical 1993 upset of Arizona.

After playing alongside Woolery for two seasons, Nash took over the point guard spot and led SCU to the WCC Championship in 1994-95. For his career, he earned All-WCC honors three times and back-to-back WCC Player of the Year Awards, as the Broncos advanced to the NCAA Big Dance in 1995 and 1996. Now playing with the Phoenix Suns, he's credited with changing the way the game is played. Part of that is a renewed emphasis on teamwork. In 2005-06, Nash became just the ninth player in league history to win back-to-back MVP awards. (For a longer profile of Nash, see the Winter 2006 SCM.)

The big picture

How do you sum up a century of Santa Clara basketball? "It's a proud heritage marked with great players over the years," says Dick Davey, who served as head coach for 15 seasons. "And it's always been a toughminded team that plays hard."

“It’s always been a toughminded team that plays hard,” says Dick Davey.

When he retired this year, Davey was the longest tenured coach in the WCC. He led the Broncos to three NCAA Tournament appearances and four WCC regular season championships, and he earned four WCC Coach of the Year Awards and a reputation as a giant killer—with five wins over Top-25 competition.

Davey's 1992-93 squad lays claim to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history: when the 15th-seeded Broncos took down the second seeded Arizona Wildcats. Pete Eisenrich led the team with 19 points, and he brought down eight defensive rebounds. When Arizona spread its offense, point guard Woolery beat their defenders to the basket again and again. And 19-year-old Nash hit six straight pressure free throws in the final minute to put the Broncos on top. The moral of the story, according to one sports writer: "Sometimes, good guys do win."

In the 1993 NCAA tourney, Pete Eisenrich torched Arizona with 19 points.

In the 1993 NCAA tourney, Pete Eisenrich torched Arizona with 19 points.

While longevity in coaches' tenure is unusual in many college programs, since 1950 only five men have coached the Broncos: Bob Feerick, Dick Garibaldi, Carroll Williams, Davey, and now Kerry Keating. Perhaps only the Bronco trainers can claim greater staying power; for the past 80 years, only two men have served as head trainer for the team: Henry Schmidt, 1927-77, and Mike Cembellin, 1977-present.

Feerick gets credit for turning the Broncos into a domi­nating force on the hardwood and taking the team to the Final Four. And in 1959 he signed a player from Hayward High School named LeRoy Jackson—the first African-American basketball player to wear a Bronco jersey. Feerick left Santa Clara in 1962 to become the head coach of the San Francisco Warriors.

His successor, Garibaldi, earned a reputation as "the fiery leader"—demanding, yes, but inspiring tremendous loyalty in his players. Under his leadership the 1969 team went 27-2 and was ranked third in the nation in the AP poll and fourth by the UPI.

Carroll Williams served as assistant coach to Garibaldi for seven years and took over as the head coach in 1970. On the court, Williams is credited with inventing the flex offense in the late-1970s, an innovation still being emulated today. "We always treated ourselves as part of the total education process," Williams says.

As Davey notes, that means players succeeding with what­ever path they take after they graduate—whether or not it's on the basketball court. "I like to think there is a special pride that a Santa Clara athlete has that extends beyond athletics into their life," he says.

Jed Mettee is director of media relations for Santa Clara Athletics, and Steven Boyd Saum is managing editor for Santa Clara Magazine. This article is adapted from stories written for a commemorative program celebrating 100 years of Santa Clara Broncos basketball. Copies of the program may by purchased by sending a check or money order for $10 to Bronco Sports Publications, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053. Reporting and additional writing by Dave Lewis, Erin Hussey, and Aaron Glatzer. Photography by Charles Barry, David Gonzales, Don Jedlovec, with archival images provided by Santa Clara University Archives.

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