Basketball started at Rutgers in 1906. Yes, that is before I was born.
It begins its 108th men's season this year, the first in the Big Ten. It has meandered from an eastern independent, to being a member of the Eastern 8, the Atlantic Ten, the Big East, the AAC, and now its final resting place.....wait, let me re-phrase that. It's final home, the Big Ten.
If you read the piece by my colleague Dave White from last April, you'd be very depressed about where Rutgers men's basketball has been and where it is right now. And his piece from a week or so ago also paints a pretty sketchy picture of the state of RU hoops.
But it wasn't always so bleak.
Before my time
Things did exist before I arrived at Rutgers. And basketball was on the rise. Games at the Garden - doubleheaders matching up regional teams - were commonplace. And there was the NIT, the National Invitation Tournament, an event that was far bigger than the NCAA's at the time. And in 1967, Rutgers took third place, losing by nine in the semi-finals to Walt Frazier-led Southern Illinois. They came back in the consolation came to beat Marshall.
Three players, plus the coach, of that team are in the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame. Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano were inducted in 1993 with Bob Greacen going in in 1995. Greacen was a second round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks and played on their 1970-71 Championship team. Coach Bill Foster was inducted in 1994. That Lloyd is the brother of former RU coach and current radio color commentator Dick Lloyd.
An article in the program notes that this was the last NIT to be played at the "old" Garden. The current arena is the fourth iteration of an arena with that name. That "old" Garden was located farther uptown at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street.
My personal golden age
For those of you who came to Rutgers athletics in the last 5, 10, or even 20 years, I say you missed some good hoops. During my four years "on the banks", men's basketball (and there was only men's basketball then) was 13-11, 16-7, 14-11, 15-11. A record of 58-40. Eat your hearts out! We chanted at the end of games for bids to the prestigious NIT, since the NCAA really was a closed shop. And the record and performance for the next ten years or so was pretty good, highlighted by the 1976 Final Four appearance and some continuing success into the eighties.
One of my classmates, center Gene Armstead, was inducted into the Rutgers HOF in 2005. And let me tell you, his 6'9" frame looked a little cramped in the front seat of my Chevy Impala.
The Final Four
The undefeated regular season was a blast. There was TV coverage (a lot of New Jersey Network and some local stuff) from the Barn (no RAC yet) and basketball was all the rage. Once the season ended, the Home News and WRSU-FM put out a record of recorded highlights from the season. To be honest, I have yet to actually play the record. I'm afraid I'll ruin it. But this was big stuff.
From the back cover of the album, yes, that's our guy "Fast Eddie" at the line. And HC Tom Young was never without that towel as he knelt on the sideline.
That 1975-76 Final Four Team was inducted into the Rutgers HOF in 1999.
The Eastern 8
The aforementioned Eastern 8 was a pretty good basketball conference. It was a basketball only league when it began play in 1976 with Villanova, Duquesne, Penn State, West Virginia, George Washington, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers as members. For the time period, it was a pretty decent group of hoop schools.
The Eastern 8 was the forerunner of the Atlantic Ten. I came across this glass just recently and thought it was a great piece of memorabilia of a bygone day in eastern hoops history.
The Meadowlands' first college basketball game
Rutgers played its home games at the College Avenue Gym through the 1976-77 season. It then opened the RAC for the 77-78 season. And the first college basketball game to be played at the new Brendan Byrne Arena (Izod Center for those without a scorecard) was on December 3, 1981 when a men's/women's doubleheader was played with Rutgers facing off against UCLA in both games. And it was a twin win for the Knights. The women - in their AIAW championship season - crushed the Lady Bruins 91-69. In the night cap, the men edged the west coast visitors 57-54.
We were there first; take that, Cretin Hall.
On that women's team were four players and a coach who would go into the Rutgers Hall of Fame. Mary and Patty Coyle (HOF '93), June Olkowski (HOF '93), and Terry Dorner (HOF '96) all are in along with their coach, Theresa Grentz (RU HOF '01 WBHOF '01). Senior Chris Dailey would go on to be the top assistant at UConn.
And for the record, the arena went from Bendan Byrne Arena, to Continental Airlines Arena, to the Izod Center.
And here we are
The first game of the Big Ten era is less than a month away, on November 16 against George Washington at the RAC. It will reunite two of the original Eastern 8 teams. Maybe that's fitting; the Eastern 8 was Rutgers' first conference and the Big Ten will be its last. RU will try to improve on its all time record of 1182 wins and 1127 losses.
Dave White, this one's for you!
This series of articles was inspired by BTN's Big Ten Trea$ure Hunter with collector John Arcand. For more insights into collecting Big Ten items, check out the show.