Author Archives: Damon Hatheway

Interview with Tom Hart

Those who watched Tom Hart became accustomed with this image: Hart grabbing an offensive rebound and converting the putback.

Those who watched Tom Hart became accustomed with this image: Hart grabbing an offensive rebound and converting the putback.

Tom Hart ’56 graduated as one of the most decorated players in Middlebury basketball history. During his three year career as a Panther, Hart set the all-time school rebounding record, as well as the single-season NCAA record for rebounds during the 1956 season when the 6’4” forward averaged 29.5 rebounds per game. Both the school mark and the NCAA record still stand to this day. Hart was drafted into the army a month after graduating from Middlebury and stayed overseas to play professional basketball in Germany before returning back to the US to enjoy a professional basketball career before working in “corporate America” as he says.

Damon Hatheway: How did you come to choose Middlebury?Tom Hart: Through my father and one of his banking associates.DH: Were you recruited by any other schools at that time or was it a simple decision?TH: It was a simple decision because my father said that was where I was going. I had other choices, but he was going to pay for my college because he wanted me to get an education, not to play basketball.

DH: Did you know anything about the basketball team at Middlebury before you went there?

TH: No, I didn’t know anything. I knew basketball schools like North Carolina and Kentucky — basketball machines.

DH: What was Tony Lupien like as a head coach and how was he able to bring such talented players such as yourself, Sonny Dennis and Charlie Sykes to Middlebury?

TH: He was not that great on Xs and Os, but he was a tremendous seller of the program and a master of getting the most out of every athlete he had. He instilled a sense of pride in the team and in the school. He was just a great motivator.

DH: Zip Rausa told me about a game when you took a particularly long shot — he said it was a 15-footer — that coach Lupien was pleading from the bench that you wouldn’t take. Do you remember that story?

TH: There were probably a couple of them, but I do remember one in particular. I was all geared up to take a 15-foot hook shot, and I hear from the bench, “Don’t do it, Tom!”

DH: That’s exactly the story that Zip Rausa told me. He also told me you made the shot.

TH: That I don’t remember. [Laughs] I just remember worrying about getting pulled from the game because I took the shot. But it’s possible — probably a one out of ten chance — I was never a great shooter.

DH: Back in the 50’s how did athletics fit within the overall academic mission of the College and what was the relationship like between athletic programs, specifically the basketball team, and the student body?

TH: Even though Middlebury basketball in the mid-50’s was making its place on the map, ninety-eight percent of the College was still to graduate the student-athletes.

DH: Which teammates will you remember most playing with from that era?

TH: I would have to say John Hoops.

DH: And what about John Hoops?

TH: He was just a little guy, 5’8’’ or whatever and he made a tremendous contribution to the overall team effort. [He was] a very good passer, he had a keen eye for hitting the open man, played good defense and obviously loved the game.

DH: Can you speak a little bit about what Sonny Dennis was like as a player and then as well what he was like as a teammate and a person?

TH: Sonny was a free spirit. Some of my teammates may disagree, [but] I don’t think he was a great “athlete.” But he made the most of what talent God had given him and when he was on the court he was very focused, not aware of the crowd, didn’t play to the crowd, played a team game.

Sonny avoided the army, I was not that lucky. A month after I graduated, in ’56 — one month to the day — I was in the army for two years and played basketball overseas in Germany.

DH: What are some of the stories from the road trips that stand out in your mind — the times with your teammates?

TH: One of my most outstanding remembrances was that it didn’t make any difference where we were driving to a game, we’d stop at a gas station or a convenience store and everybody knew Tony, no matter where we were. Even in the arctic tundra of extreme northern New York state we would stop at some little gas station and the owner would come out and give him a hug and say, “How ya been, Tony?” It was unbelievable.

DH: What moments, games or accolades stand out now from your Middlebury career?

TH: Well I guess I have to speak selfishly. It would be the night that we played UVM at UVM and it was freezing cold outside. About an hour and a half before we were supposed to hit the gymnasium and we were in this old, raggedy hotel and the heat was unbelievable in this relatively small room. I guess I nodded off because the next thing I remember someone shook me and said, “Come on, we have to get on the bus.” And I said, “Oh boy, sleeping just before a game? Las time I did not play well.” And as a matter of fact that was the night when I had 36 points and 36 rebounds in that game.

DH: Is that the game when you barely beat UVM? And is that also the game when Sonny Dennis made two free throws in the final minute to give [Middlebury] the lead?

TH: Yes, exactly. I remember it vividly — [Sonny] was on the foul line and we were down one with seconds to go. I was standing on the foul line, just praying he would make at least one so we could go to overtime. [The shot] rattled around a little, but it went in the hole and I remember I took the biggest vertical jump I’ve ever had in my history when that shot went in the hoop.

Those who watched Tom Hart became accustomed to this image — the offensive rebound and putback.

Those who watched Tom Hart became accustomed to this image — the offensive rebound and putback.

DH: Can you talk about the success of your teams when you were playing on the court with Sonny Dennis and Charlie Sykes and the transformation from Middlebury basketball teams that won a couple of games every year to having a winning season?

TH: Sonny, as you probably know was there a year before me, and his presence his freshman year brought a lot more interest than Middlebury ever paid to the basketball [team]. So through him they developed a following, I got there a year later, and had a fair amount of success my freshman year. All of a sudden the stands were getting filled and the cheering was almost raucous — it was quite a transformation.


DH: How close have you stayed to the program since you graduated, and in your eyes what’s the biggest difference between basketball at Middlebury in the 1950s and basketball at Middlebury today?

TH: Unfortunately I’ve only seen one or two Middlebury games since I graduated, but I can speak generically for basketball across the country. People ask me a lot when they find out when I played pro ball, “What’s the big difference in basketball today versus the 50s?” The obvious [answer] to me is that the game is still played between the end zones, so to speak. You take the ball out, the goal is to get down the court safely, work a play, get the best shot, make it, and so forth — that’s the vanilla part of the game and that of course still exists. But, having said that, I’ve been to some professional games even recently and it just flabbergasts me the way the game has changed from the standpoint of the size. Not only is 6’8’’, 6’9’’, 6’10’’, even 7’0’’ fairly commonplace, but to go with their height, the majority of them have a good amount of weight that’s all muscle, mostly, and their blessed with the physicality of a six-footer, and that’s what’s amazing to me. And the amount of contact that the referees now allow, even in the college game, is very interesting.

Hart preferred the individual nature of track and field events, where he specialized largely in jumping exercises, such as the high jump here.

Hart preferred the individual nature of track and field events, where he specialized largely in jumping exercises, such as the high jump here.

DH: What were you able to take from your basketball career at Middlebury in your post-college career, both in pro basketball and beyond?

TH: I think it was very beneficial towards my post-Middlebury years. There’s so much more to team sports than just winning games or losing games — it’s the camaraderie, but it also teaches you how to take a step back, not only on the basketball floor, but also in life itself, and how to work with others —the whole experience of working with others to meet a common goal.

DH: When you look back at your time at Middlebury now, is there any one thing that stands out particularly in your mind?

TH: Absolutely, and it’s not good. Because I had four years of prep school, when I finally got to Middlebury and I had all this freedom I didn’t know how to handle it, and subsequently I flunked out my freshman year and lost a whole year of Middlebury basketball, so it’s a negative.

I would just add to that, surprisingly I actually enjoyed track more than I enjoyed basketball. I ran seven events every meet and it was just me, just individual — you make it on your own or you lose it on your own, and that appealed to me in track, and I was blessed with a fair amount of talent.

DH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TH: I had a fair successful career in corporate America and I attribute about ninety-eight percent of that to my Middlebury career.


Interview with Carl Scheer

CarlScheerPhotoCarl Scheer ’58 transferred to Middlebury as a sophomore from Colgate. He played basketball and baseball under Tony Lupien for one season before Erkki Mackey took over the helm. Scheer graduated from Middlebury and began practicing law. Shortly thereafter he began a career in the basketball management, working for a period as the General Manger of the Denver Nuggets. From 1972-1976 Scheer was named the ABA Executive of the Year three times. He is currently the Charlotte Bobcats Senior Advisor for Community Relations.


Damon Hatheway: How did you come to choose Middlebury after playing and studying at Colgate?

Carl Scheer: I was an all-city and all-state player in Massachusetts and wanted to play college basketball [but] I didn’t get a whole lot of offers. I ended up walking on and getting a scholarship at Colgate. Of course so did fourteen other kids at a time when Colgate was trying to be a national program. I saw that in my freshman year we had a freshman team that was 19-0 or 18-1 and there were 15 other guys on the team that were all-city or all-state — all-district, whatever it was. They were just really good, talented kids. And I realized I was not going to play a lot in four years. It really was important for me to complete a full impact of what college was all about. I wanted to have the opportunity to play collegiate basketball and I was going at best be sitting on the bench and playing limited time at Colgate. So I decided that I wanted to look around and see if I could transfer to a smaller school where the program was still good and I could play some competitive college basketball. And Middlebury fit my inclinations. It was not only a good basketball program, but it was one of the few co-ed schools at the time. In the late 50’s there weren’t a lot of small co-ed schools. There were about 1300 students at the school — 700 boys and 600 girls. I also played baseball in college and the baseball coach was also the basketball coach. Tony was a great guy and welcomed me as a transfer. I sat out a year and in the year I sat out Middlebury had a very good team. Tom Hart played center and was the leading rebounder in the country at the time. The team had some very big wins that year — beat Dartmouth, which was the Ivy League champion. So that was kind of the beginning for me and then I played for two years. We didn’t have a great team, but I got a chance to play a lot and met a lot of wonderful guys. I was the co-captain of the team my senior year with Scotty Greer. I had a really enjoyable basketball career — I only wish I had gone four years to Middlebury. I think I would have even enjoyed it more and would have been challenged and hopefully get to play more. But this was fine and I have a wonderful memory of my basketball experiences.

DH: You played one season with Tony Lupien before Coach Mackey took over — what was that transition like and what are some of your memories of Lupien and Mackey?

CS: Tony was a pro coach: he was a Major League Baseball player; he treated the players as men. Mackey was a very kind guy and very soft-spoken. He wasn’t a disciplinarian in anyway, but he did have certain rules. He didn’t have a wealth of knowledge of basketball and we kind of coached ourselves, quite frankly. The experience between Tony and Coach Mackey was quite different. Tony was professional, expected you to act as a professional in terms of how you acted on and off the court, but he never pushed you beyond what was reasonable. The year I sat out they had a very, very close group. I was allowed to practice and spend time traveling with them on the road. We actually traveled by car as I remember to games. It was an interesting small college experience — very competitive, close-knit teams, particularly Tony’s teams. My roommates were Charlie Sykes and Zip Rausa, both of whom were varsity players. Charlie was a 6’3’’ forward from Maryland and he was a really wonderful teammate, really smart guy and a good player. And Zip was a pilot; he flew planes upon graduation — another wonderful guy. They were both the year ahead of me.

DH: I gather that the three of you were roommates your first year at Middlebury. What was it like living with those two individuals? And what were they like as players and people, if you can expand on that. 

CS: They were terrific. They were wonderful in allowing me to participate with them in other activities on campus, in other groups. We ate together often. They just knew what college was all about; they were very mature guys. Charlie was a leader, Zip had a wonderful way about him — he was determined to be a success. They both had great study habits and I assume their grades were very good. We had a three-room suite and we had just wonderful times together, learning what it was to get through college and plan for the future. They sobered up my thinking — I was a young, inexperienced kid, really. I looked up to them, I believed that they were going to be successful young men when they finished school, Charlie was a very good basketball and Zip was a hard-nosed tough kid, and both of them had really good athletic instincts. I have such fond memories of all the good things about college and what Middlebury stood for from these guys. It was an experience that I didn’t anticipate and didn’t understand until I got into the middle of it. I wish again that I had a chance to spend more time at Middlebury than the two-and-a-half years that I was there. But I was fortunate to choose a school that allowed you to blossom and go forward. I captained the basketball team with Scotty Greer and I was the captain of the baseball team my senior year, as well. I met some wonderful guys.

DH: When you were at Middlebury how did athletics fit within the academic mission of the College and what was the relationship like between the team and the student body?

CS: That’s an interesting question. For a small school, and which would now be Division III, athletics was important but it was a balance with the academic division of the university. Athletes were part of the student body, I don’t think they were lionized or exiled, and as an athlete you didn’t get any special breaks. We were expected and required to attend classes — I remember getting up for eight o’clock class after a long road trip somewhere in Maine, Colby or wherever we played. The balance of athletics and academics was the perfect opportunity for me. It gave me a chance to do what I really wanted to do very badly coming out of high school — to play and feel what it was to play college basketball and yet understand that I wasn’t going on to play in the NBA. I ended up going to law school and practiced law for six years in North Carolina before I moved into sports. But the balance, the opportunity to join a fraternity, to see the social and academic life blend nicely with the athletic program was perfect for me. I practiced harder and longer than most of the kids — I was in the gym a lot — but I didn’t compromise my academics either. I probably could have done better academically, but I wanted to maximize what limited skills I had in sports as I went forward, and I was able to do that. So for me, I saw a blend of sports and academics that made sense.

Among Scheer's impressive performances was a two-hitter he threw against the Coast Guard.

Among Scheer’s impressive performances was a two-hitter he threw against the Coast Guard.

DH: What moments, games or accolades stand out from your career when you look back now?

CS: Some of them unfortunately were experiences that I didn’t participate in. The team when I had to sit out was the best team in terms of wins and losses. I remember going up to Dartmouth to open the season and upset Dartmouth, which was at the time picked to win the Ivy League and I think they did, and went on to play in the NCAA Tournament — that was a big, big win. In my years we played Vermont and St. Michaels very tough — I don’t know if we beat them or not — the memory gets a little vague when you talk about wins and losses. We had some wonderful games during Winter Carnival, but I wouldn’t say that there was anything so memorable that it made national news. We played a reasonably competitive schedule. We weren’t very good, but we played hard and the practices were as tough as I can remember them. We made them to bring about a more cohesive team. There was no special basketball games — or baseball for that matter — that stood out, it was just blended into one wonderful experience. Getting through basketball and getting good weather [for baseball]. We made one trip down south. Down south for us at Middlebury was Penn State, State College, that was as far south as we were going. It was a beautiful weekend there; they had unusually warm weather early in May — to us that was thawing out, so to speak. The co-eds were sunbathing up on the big green grass up on the outfield and we were distracted by that as a baseball team, but it was a wonderful experience anyway.

DH: How close have you stayed to the program since graduating and in your eye what’s the biggest difference between basketball when you were at Middlebury and Division III basketball today?

CS: I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t kept up as much as [I would have liked]. I’ve contributed financially to the programs, both basketball and baseball, but I haven’t gone up. They’ve had reunions and I’ve been invited, but being in basketball myself, our seasons are quite intense so I don’t get a chance to follow the teams as much as I would like to.

DH: What were you able to take from your basketball career at Middlebury into your post-college career in basketball with the Nuggets and then with the Bobcats?

Scheer has had a very successful career in the NBA, working for the Nuggets, Clippers, Hornets and, currently, the Bobcats.

Scheer has had a very successful career in the NBA, working for the Nuggets, Clippers, Hornets and, currently, the Bobcats.

CS: I’m a pretty competitive guy and I think I learned in college that you can’t win every game. And you can build a successful program both at the Division III level and in the NBA if you have not just talented players, but players who understand that the game is won by teamwork and what you’re willing to give up in terms of your own game to make a successful venture possible. And the success that I’ve enjoyed at the pro level has come from the early understanding that you can’t be successful in basketball in our business unless you understand what it takes to be successful as a team — willing to give up some of your individual success for the betterment of the team — something that I learned early on at Middlebury. I saw the Tony Lupien team execute team play and [they were] able to compete against bigger and stronger guys because they understood that success at that level depends on their ability to play as a team. And that’s very true in pro basketball too. If you look at the recent change in Kobe Bryant’s [game] — he’s had 28 assists in the last two games. It’s a complete change of what he’s known for and what he’s made his success as. But his team needs him to be an all-around player, not just a shooter and a scorer for them to win. That’s just one example, but I live it every year in the NBA. Teams that make the playoffs and do well are the teams that understand what it takes to be a true team. Good high school teams and good college teams today — Duke is a good example — they have talented kids that were All-Americans in high school, but they really together understanding what it takes to win as a team and therefore they’re an NCAA Tournament team every year, they win 20-25 games and compete successfully in the ACC, a tough conference. And they do that because Coach K demands that they understand what it takes to be successful and they’re willing to work to do it. I think work ethic is another thing I picked up from my experiences at Middlebury and hopefully took it to the pro-level with my off-the-court work here in the front office.

Interview with Wally Lucas

How did you come to Middlebury? And what role did basketball play?

As a kid I would spend the summers in Burchard, Vermont with a family, and I became very close with that family and very close with Vermont. That was in the 40s — I was very young. Then I won a scholarship to Horace Mann school, a prep private school in New York City. And things began to look up in terms of my future education prospects. I played basketball at Horace Mann — I played a several sports there — and we were fortunate enough to have an undefeated basketball team my senior year. We’re going to go from 17-0 to 0-17.

And I wanted to combine the academic standards that I had set up to achieve together with the athletic [standards]. I enjoyed athletics in addition to the school life itself. When my senior year came around in 1959 I had college choices: Cornell, Hamilton and of course I had to consider Middlebury, a school in Vermont. And I guess I was biased — I was in love with Vermont. No matter what the other schools offered, I think that’s where I was headed. The attraction of the state and the people. Middlebury was almost like a secondary benefit, rather than the primary, which was Vermont itself.

When I was accepted, I asked my coach in high school, I said, “Coach I have a choice between Middlebury and Cornell, what do you think?” And he said, “Look you’ll probably play at Middlebury and you certainly won’t start at Cornell, you’ll get to play by the time you’re a junior or senior. But at Middlebury you may even start. Middlebury was just not known to be a basketball school. I went there for the academics, not for the athletics. Basketball was not my primary reason for coming to Middlebury.”

What was your relationship like with Stub Mackey and what was he like as a coach on the court and a person off the court?

Because I went out for track [Stub Mackey] and I were pretty close, as far as coach and athlete relationships go, keeping in mind that he was in a tough situation with the ski team and the hockey team and everyone else doing well. I know he had a tough time with the situation. But one of the games we won, I think it was against Norwich, he said, “Guys I don’t know whether we’re going to win or lose, but I’m really proud of you.” It was a close bonding moment at that time, and we all felt it; we knew how much he put into that game of his own emotion. So as far as I’m concerned, Stub was a good coach, relationship-wise. In terms of his basketball coaching skills, I have nothing to go by other than my high school. He had to work with who we were: we weren’t the biggest team, we weren’t the fastest and we weren’t the best. I don’t know what he could have done to make us a better team.

We were about to set the NCAA record for most consecutive losses and we screwed that up. Everyone came out to watch the game and we won — we beat Norwich at home.

But the game that I’m trying to recall was up at Norwich — an away game. It was probably the ’62-’63  season.

Are you aware that the ’66-’67 and ’67-’68 teams set the record?

They lost 18 in a row?

They lost 44 in a row.

Oh my god, I didn’t know anybody was worse than we were. I didn’t think it could get any worse. We can get on to what the reasons were, but I hope we’re more sympathetic culturally to what Middlebury was about — Middlebury was never about basketball before recently. It was about hockey and skiing — and even football.

What was it like playing basketball in that environment.

I was probably the second minority — black player — on the team. That was one of the dilemmas that I had. We were the “first and onlys” as minority students pioneering into these New England colleges. And there’s a subtext going along here, about how those of us from [New York] city, who happened to be minority — what our style of basketball was versus the small New England college style of basketball.

I’m going to take one step back beyond the minority issue and talk about what I perceived to be a New York, metropolitan area invasion. We used to go to the Springfield Basketball tournament. And I noticed some of the better teams … their rosters included guys from New Jersey, Long Island and New York — very few from New England. I think there was a transition going on in basketball in New England in terms of playing style. I think you had a New York, metropolitan area penetration.

I was used to that style of ball: New York city playground and New York city prep high school. I’m not sure if I could list what the differences were specifically between the New York city style of basketball and whatever was happening in New England at the time, but I know there was a transition. And the winning teams tended to have more players from the New York, metropolitan area.

I found that the style at Middlebury was not the style of ball that I had seen either in New York city playground ball or high school ball. It was a stilted [style of basketball]. There was certainly a stylistic difference that I was involved in. So I was a bit uncomfortable at Middlebury because of that. But I know when we played UVM and St. Michaels and these other teams, these guys had been recruited. And it seemed to me the other schools spent a little more time and effort first of all recruiting ball players from the Northeastern metropolitan areas and I’d like to think that maybe Middlebury’s [academic] standards were pretty high and didn’t have the flexibility in recruiting that other schools were provided.

I was adjusting to several styles: New York to New England; [as a] minority to [a] majority, preppy style — there was definitely a stylistic difference. There was a style [of basketball] that was not as aggressive, the players weren’t athletically as able — you could play a pickup game on the streets of New York and have a better game. To me, Middlebury was still an adventure. If we didn’t win a game, I was still enjoying traveling.

A kid named Ken Stone came in my freshman year, and he was supposed to be the next superstar there, but he didn’t like the environment and he left before the season was over. He was pretty good.

Charlie Rand was good. The last year we won, my freshman year — I think it was five games that year — Charlie Rand was a co-captain and Howie Wiley was a co-captain. We won 5 or 6 games that year and we had a pretty good team — I didn’t realize it was going to go downhill from there!

I ended up playing with Charlie Rand again in New York. And it seemed like the Middlebury experience never haunted us. We came in second place in the industrial league and he and I played fairly well together. I used to go to a summer camp as a counselor in Connecticut and I played with guys throughout New England, again.

I brought up the minority issue because that certainly was one, from my perspective, an issue. It was interesting to observe the other teams where most of them had no minority players, the others had maybe one token and we would acknowledge each other and smile. But it was understood that we were at these schools more of academic reasons. And, oh by the way, we also played basketball, which was sort of like a stereotypical insider joke. If Middlebury didn’t have the interest in basketball, we certainly weren’t going to change it in those days.

I spoke yesterday with Cecil Forster who also spoke talked his experience in New York city playing that kind of playground style that you talked about. What was your relationship like with him and how did he change the way team played?

Cecil came my sophomore year, but he ended up quitting [my senior year]. But [after we graduated] he and I played ball in Brooklyn, a pickup game. We were in a rough neighborhood in Red Hook where you went out on the court and you called “Next” and you stayed on the court as long as you won, when you lose the game, some other guy would come on and try to put together another team that could win. And for some reason, Cecil and I were chosen at the same time. Now we’re the only guys sitting out there in our clean-pressed gym shorts and sneakers, but because we had played together at Middlebury and knew each other’s moves, we won several games. We validated ourselves; things weren’t as bad as Middlebury made it seem. We could still play New York ball and we did well that night.

I don’t think Cecil was on his game as much as he could be [at Middlebury]. You play up to the level of the other players on the court, as in any sport. If you play with a bunch of bad players, your game is going to come down a notch. If you play with a bunch of great players, your game goes up a few notches. And I’m going to guess that when Cecil and I played together, things were so bad at Middlebury there was nothing either one of us could do. I would say Craig Stewart was affected the same way. The three of us played our hearts out. Cecil for some reason felt like his priorities weren’t there his junior year, but Craig and I stayed even though recognized that we weren’t going to win many games because we didn’t have the horses out there. We didn’t have the legs. You can have the greatest coach in the world — we just didn’t have the material, I’m the first one to admit that. You’re just not going to win those games up there in New England, or anywhere, when your school doesn’t provide the horses you should have. And we didn’t have the horses.

When you look back on what your career was like on the court, but also the relationships you formed with your teammates and coaches off the court, what stands out most?

This is another unique situation because you’re interviewing Wally Lucas who was also captain of the track team of which Stub Mackey was also the coach. I had a very nasty hamstring tear [my senior year] the week before my comprehensive [exams]. The comps were very important — if you didn’t pass that, you didn’t graduate. And there was no way I could run in the track meet before my comps. So I said, “Stub, I’m going to bow out of this meet because I’ve got my comps going up and I can’t run. If I could run I would go.” And he was disappointed, but I know that disappointment went farther — there was definitely an attitude throughout the field house. [The trainers] would tell me about how certain football players would play hurt … they were really getting into a thing, as if athletics were ruling the campus life. And I said, “Wait a minute guys, I didn’t come to Middlebury to risk my health and flunk out of here. These were my priorities, my comprehensives, so I didn’t go … I couldn’t run anyway.” So it became such a big deal that I quit.

[And then one day] I was jogging around the track just to keep in shape, even after I had quit, and I bumped into Stub and I walked over to him and said, “Hey Stub, I just want to let you know this isn’t personal between you and me.” And we had a chat and he gave me a philosophical view that if I were to go through life with the attitude that I had I would end up being a quitter in life. And that was the last conversation I had with Stub and it disappointed me because I was the one that overlooked whatever shortcomings he may have had as a coach and it seemed like he was closing ranks with the athletics department. So I said, “OK I’m still not going to take this personally, Stub, I’ll keep in mind the things that you’ve told me.” I’ve tried not to be a quitter in life, and I don’t think I have been because I was on a journey before getting to Middlebury and I’ve continued on a journey after Middlebury facing struggles that I don’t think they even understood. I still feel close to Stub, [I feel] no animosity towards him.

What are some of your fun memories spending time with your teammates off the court?

Craig Stewart was a hell of a guy. He was in DU, another fraternity, which tended to define your social circles, even across athletics. If you were a [member of] DU and you played football or basketball you tended to hang out with DU athletes. I was in Sig Ep, so I tended to hang out with Sig Ep athletes. Cecil and Bill Reuger were the only teammates who were Sig Eps. Cecil and Bill Reuger were my closest friends within the fraternity. Craig and I were good friends to the extent that we socialized outside of the fraternity.

On the court are there any games or moments or plays that stand out in your mind to this day?

Oh, yes. Craig and I were at Union, I think — somewhere down in the Utica area. And everybody who came to those games were lovers of basketball … and remember, we’re getting closer and closer to the metropolitan area basketball, so you have people who just love the game who would come, even though they knew there team would whip us. But we had a fast break and Craig and I were coming down the court. And remember the style in those days — there was very little passing behind the back like at playgrounds or in the city. But I did a behind-the-back pass to Craig and he scored the layup and the crowd just went crazy. They cheered us, the opposing team! [That play] stands out and every once in a while I ask Craig if he remembers that play, and he does.

The biggest event I recall was at Northeastern — we beat Northeastern, in overtime, on their court! It was in front of the largest crowd I’ve ever played in front of in my life and I was only a freshman or a sophomore. (It must have been in ’59-’60). We won that game, and Northeastern was a good team. And I just remember how happy Stub was at the end of that game, too. I don’t know how many points I scored, but it doesn’t matter — it was a team effort and we beat Northeastern by one point. We shocked the crowd, we shocked ourselves and we shocked Stub!

My final question — what did you take from your experience in athletics, but particularly playing basketball at Middlebury into your post-Middlebury career?

Without sounding too trite, there are things called reality checks. Clint Eastwood in a movie once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” [Laughs]. The reality check was coming from my high school environment — the glory days — where you had seven good players and you could think about winning as the only goal in each of those games. But up at Middlebury, there was something more to it, and I think Professor Perkins saw it. He was older and wiser than we were. But I’m sure if Craig and I got together over drinks we would talk what it was like representing the school, something bigger than we were, and being loyal to it, knowing that we probably wouldn’t win, but that we would play our best game. That’s not easy to put into words. I’m proud of it personally.

If you have a copy of the yearbook, this is something I might bring up when I get to my 50th reunion. I didn’t think 50 years later it would still stick with me, but the guy who wrote the summary of basketball for my ’63 yearbook, the year we graduated, was just a numbnut. He showed he knew nothing about basketball. He made some ignorant statements in that write up, and I’ve had to live with that for 50 years. Whoever edited it never should have let it go out. I’m only brining it up because he made a judgment first of all about basketball at Middlebury, and he knew nothing about basketball at Middlebury even though he attended the school. Worse, he knew nothing about the team, about the heart of the players. You had to enjoy it to the point that a Middlebury uniform meant that you were trying to support Middlebury as best you could, knowing that you probably weren’t going to win. So it’s with good feelings that I think back towards actually playing the game with Stub and all the players, but it’s a very negative response that I get from the clown who wrote the basketball summary in the [’63] yearbook.

I have nothing but positive feelings about playing for Middlebury. I wish we could have won more, obviously, but there’s something more than winning.


Interview with Craig Stewart

You played all for Coach Mackey all four years, is that correct?

Freshman year I played part of the season for Joe Marrone, who was the varsity soccer coach at that point and he was coaching the freshman year. So I played half the season for Joe and then moved up to the varsity, so that was Stub for the rest of the four years.

What kind of coach was [Stub] Mackey and also what kind of person was he?

I loved Stub Mackey. He was a football coach who was asked to coach basketball because basketball was one of the sports at that point where there wasn’t necessarily great interest and there certainly wasn’t great success in the late ‘50s [and] early ‘60s. Stub was kind, he was long-suffering, he didn’t know a great deal about the game, but having said that, even if he did he didn’t have the players to really execute at the kind of level [to win]. But he was a great guy, he was fun to be with and he was a character; he was just one of those memorable human beings. Even though we didn’t have a great deal of success he was fun to be around. It was fun to be a part of his team.

What are some of the stories or anecdotes that you can tell me about your experiences with [Stub] on or off the court during your time playing for him?

Oh man. I guess first of all, the caveat: all of the good players got frustrated with Stub and the program and found their greatest joy and greatest success playing in the intramural program. I was one of those guys who ended up playing football, basketball [and] baseball. And coming from football season into basketball [season] and being a six-footer and playing a small forward, a really small forward, I got to play almost every minute of every game because there wasn’t anyone else. We were lucky to have 10-12 guys on the team. Stub liked to set goals and they were small ones. He realized that anything beyond going out and playing your hardest … if we managed to improve during the course of the season … that would probably be successful for Stub.

Stub was someone who had great life lessons. And sometimes it was confusing for those of us who were trying to figure out what we were going to do. We were basically faced with either going into the military or, if we chose not to do so on our own, the likelihood of being drafted. That was the prospect for most of us in that era.

Stub was somebody you could have a beer with after a game; he’d generally go out at night and there were a group of seniors when I was a freshman and sophomore who would go out with him frequently and commiserate after a game. Stub worked hard with all of us to figure out how we could improve and none of us could quite figure out what the solution might be. I just had such a great time playing ball [at Middlebury]. [Stub’s] message to us was, “Remember fellas, after your career playing basketball for Middlebury you’ll learn how to pull yourself up and be successful in other areas of your life. All of you will be successful in your lives if you realize what it takes to put together a winning team.” For me he was a really positive role model, so my stories about him are very positive and hopeful. He was a dad away from home; I used to spend time with his family on holidays when I couldn’t make it home to Philadelphia. It was a real privilege to play for the school. [Stub] used to joke that the only time we got a crowd was in between periods when the hockey fans would come over to get warm in the basketball arena.

I loved the fact that there were a handful of college professors who would come down and [watch] the games either because they loved the game or because one of us took a class from a particular professor and they identified with us. I think we had more professor support than we had student support.

Stub’s challenge to us was that you could be pursuing another sport, you could be spending time in your fraternity, you could be playing intramural basketball, but let’s see what we can do to improve each game.

Which teammates who you played with will you remember most?

Oh for sure Ted Mooney. Ted was a classic Vermonter. He was a pretty good basketball player, but Ted was a storyteller and [he] basically got all of us into trouble and tried to keep all of us out of trouble at the same time. There are some great stories around Ted — I’ll always remember him.

Can you share any of those stories?

They’re not printable. [Laughs]

Are there any that are printable?

Ted seemed to have a girlfriend at every school we traveled to, whether it was Plattsburgh or Williamstown or Middletown or Hartford or Burlington. Ted knew everybody and everybody loved Ted. Ted was a hard player and a hard drinker and a hard partier. We all gravitated towards Ted because he kept things in perspective and he helped us keep things in perspective. A lot of us had come from successful [basketball] programs in high school and one could have gotten easily discouraged and Ted kept us up and kept us always laughing.

Al Ross [is another guy I remember]. Al was a classmate of mine and co-captain of the football team. Al was not a great basketball player but he was the strong, silent type, didn’t get pushed around by anybody on the court, and if we could have figured out how to get him to practice a little bit more often he probably could have been a really good basketball player, but Al was one of those guys that preferred to play the game as opposed to practice. Al’s a dear friend, so he’s someone I’ll always remember.

Billy Dyson — Billy played his freshman year and then went to the intramural program. Billy could have been one of Middlebury’s greats. He was probably the fastest player in our league and probably the most respected. He was a great card player and had a great pool stroke, so he made his living going through Middlebury on the pool table and playing poker, but he was a hell of a basketball player and a good friend.

The other player I remember is David Holmes, class of ’64. And we competed against each other in high school. And David and I ended up in the Central Intelligence Agency together, I ended up working for him. We don’t play one-on-one anymore, but we play HORSE when we get together. He’s one of the players I’ve really stayed in touch with. He was a little guy, 5’10’’, but he was a heck of a competitor — still is.

Those are the guys that come to mind frequently. [I] still have dreams about them … I still have dreams about Middlebury basketball, oh my god. When I think about the teams today I think of the leaps and bounds that the program has taken, but have no regrets [about my time at Middlebury], it was great playing there.

How closely have you followed the team since you left?

Pretty closely. Lakeside sent a couple of players here from the boys and girls teams [to Middlebury.]

Andrew Locke and Lauren Sanchez right?

Yeah, exactly. So it has been fun following them, and I will stream [Middlebury’s games online] whenever that’s possible. Holy mackerel the quality of player today is quite remarkable.

What are some of the games, or moments or accolades that stand out in your mind from your playing days at Middlebury?

Certainly the Vermont state series was a big thing for us, playing against St. Michaels and Norwich and UVM. Those were always highlights. I think one of our few wins in the four years I played there was a great game against Norwich. We never came close against UVM, but we always played our better games against [them]. There was a game over winter break against Potsdam and some of the games against Williams and Amherst. I think for me the Vermont state games [were always the highlight], particularly against Vermont and St. Michaels. St. Michaels always had great teams [when I was there]. We played against Norwich and Vermont in football and we beat them, but different story in basketball. I was in ROTC and I ended up serving with a lot of those guys in Korea and Vietnam, so we kept a close camaraderie with those folks.

At that time you played a couple of Canadian teams every year right?

I don’t think in basketball we played any Canadian teams. I remember a lot of trips on Sunday and Monday to Montreal, but it wasn’t to play basketball [Laughs]. It was because there are those beautiful ladies up there.

How did athletics and the basketball program in particular fit within the overall student body and the overall mission of the college?

I think athletics were very much central to the [Middlebury] experience, although from an athletic point of view, football in the fall and skiing and ice hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the spring [were the most important sports]. Sports [and fraternities] were very important in the life of the school. There wasn’t the sort of social or cultural agenda that the College has these days. My perception, retrospectively was that athletics was a pretty central part of the experience.

Finally, how did you end up at Middlebury. What attracted you to the school and how did you choose to play basketball at Middlebury?

I played basketball, football and baseball in high school. I applied to Middlebury, Penn State, Williams and Dartmouth. I was accepted at Penn State, Middlebury and Dartmouth, to play football, but it was contingent on getting my SAT scores, which I retook and I actually did worse my second time around. The football coach called me at Dartmouth and told me, “Son, we’d love to have you hear, but it’s just not going to work out academically. You had to reach a certain standard and we just couldn’t waive it.” But the wife of my football coach in high school was a Middlebury graduate and she and her husband said, “If you go to Middlebury you’ll be able to play three sports. And it’s very similar to Dartmouth, it’s smaller, but very similar.” And at that point [Middlebury] was looking for guys, and it was a lot easier for guys to get in then than it is now. So I went early my freshman year, fully with the intent of playing football, basketball and baseball. So I reported to football camp in August and met a lot of guys there who were also going to play basketball, Stub was the line coach [of the team], and I was a running back and quarterback, so I got to meet Stub. And Stub said, “As soon as the season is over we’ll change that uniform.” And I said, “Yes sir.” My high school and college experience were all about sports, and frankly the academic piece was somewhat secondary. I met a girl, fell in love with her, and that helped because she was a good student and kept me focus on what needed to get done. She used to laugh about our lack of success in the basketball program, but hell I was so much in love with her it wouldn’t have made any difference. So, yeah, that’s how it all happened.

Interview with Cecil Forster

I’ve asked the same questions to everybody that I’ve spoken to about their experiences at Middlebury. And by speaking to a number of different people in different periods, I’m telling the story [of Middlebury basketball] through the words of the people that I’m interviewing.

Have you spoken to Tom Hart? Because he was a monster. In fact, maybe the place to start is there, for me. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, I had palyed high school basketball at Midwood High School and in the division I played in I played against Billy Cunningham, who went on to star with the [Philadelphia] 76ers, I played against a guy named Roger Brown, who became a star with the Indiana Pacers, I played against Connie Hawkins who played in the ABA and the NBA and I played against a number of other athletes who were superior athletes — guys who went on to play professional football and baseball. So my high school experience was extremely competitive. Middlebury was not my first objective in terms of where I went to college. I wanted to play at a “higher level,” but my father thought I was taking athletics too seriously and that I needed to focus more on education. I also started college when I was 16 and he felt that, from a physical standpoint, I needed to catch up. So at Middlebury College in the fall of 1960, I made the varsity football team as a freshman at 16, and they refused to put in the program that I was 16, and when the basketball season started, I went out for [the team] as a freshman, played on the varsity and started. And one of the first games we played was an alumni game, and who showed up for the alumni game, but Tom Hart who was 6’5’’ or 6’6’’, and [weighed about] 220 or 255 [pounds] and he was still in shape. I remember going up for a rebound against him and him knocking me down and I lost my wind, and I said, “this guy can play!”

So my experience at Middlebury started at this alumni basketball game and the alumni won and I was very disappointed.

Stub Mackey was one of the assistant football coaches and he was assigned to coach basketball. And while I think he had good intentions, Stub was not a basketball coach in terms of it being his first passion. And as a result I think we had a limited amount of coaching in terms of developing our skills further. So I was a freshman, I was 16, and I started all the games and we did not have a particularly good season. My sophomore year came, Stub was still the coach, we had a worse season, and I got discouraged. I was playing football, I was playing basketball and I was running track. After my sophomore year experience with the basketball program and Stub Mackey I didn’t play my junior year. I went out for football, but I decided not to play [basketball] because it was very frustrating and I didn’t feel we were in an environment where we were going to be effective or coached as well as I would have liked to have been coached, so I sat out my junior year. And my senior year — the fall of 1963 — once again I played football, and I realized this might be my last chance to play competitive basketball so I went out, started again, and we had some talent. Our record wasn’t that great, but Peter Karlsson was on that team, there was a guy named Billy Dyson who was a terrific point guard, a guy named Dick Ides was the other guard and then I believe the center was named Charlie Ladd.

Craig Stewart was the year ahead of me — he graduated in ’63. I played with him my freshman and sophomore years.

Billy Dyson — it was his fifth year at Middlebury I believe, for whatever reason —  he was a real good basketball player.

Dick Ides, 30 or 40 years after he graduated, he revealed to the world that he was gay. Not that it makes any difference — I was unaware of it then and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

So it was Billy Dyson, myself, Peter Karlsson, Charlie Ladd — who was the only height on our team, I think he was 6’6’’ or 6’7’’ — and the captain of the team was a guy named Dick Maine. Dick was the captain, and he took a step back, which was very big of him, and gave up his starting job so that Dick Ides could start in his place. So as the captain he did not start and I thought it was a tremendous demonstration of spirit and teamwork and what have you. And we were pretty competitive. We only won five or six games my senior year, but we were in most and it was the next year that Gerry Alaimo came aboard. I was sorry to have missed him.

When you look back on your career playing at Middlebury what are some of the games, or moments or accolades that stand out in your mind?

The game against Tom Hart, believe it or not, even though it was not a regular season game. Tom Hart led the nation in rebounding at Middlebury College and he was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, so when you play against a pro like that you certainly remember it. That game against Tom Hart was probably as impactful to me as any other. And as I said, I had played against and with a number of athletes who played professionally. I remember my dad telling me, “You’re good son, but you’re not as good as they are.” And I didn’t believe him until time when on, and more importantly, even if I had been as good, athletics is a terrific way to learn lessons, but it’s just a short-lived period in your life and it’s not the main focus. That’s what my father was trying to teach me.

So what stands out in my mind actually was the camaraderie. As I look back now and follow the current Middlebury team, I’m happy that Middlebury basketball has become more successful. The Middlebury sports tradition going back years and years has been extraordinary and, while the basketball program while I was there was not world class, we had Olympic skiers, All-American hockey players, All-American soccer players, All-American lacrosse players. So there was a tremendous sense of pride in playing for Middlebury because we had excellent athletes, many of whom could have played any place.

The long answer to your question — I don’t remember any games that were so impactful, nothing stands out. I remember scoring easily in some games and having success in some and not so much success in others, but I will say that Tom Hart experience is probably the one that has etched itself in my mind, even though that was my first game as a 16-year-old.

What are some of the anecdotes that you can share on and off the court with some of your teammates?

I remember we went on a road trip and myself and Billy Dyson decided that we were going to have a few beers — I’m not quite sure if it was the night after the game or the day before the game and we were sitting at the bar having a couple of beers and we looked down and there was Stub. I don’t know if he saw us, but we certainly decided to leave. [Laughs]. That was one funny story.

My freshman year — the fall of 1960 — we played in a tournament in St. Lawrence in up-state New York and we stayed in a motel for the two or three nights that we were playing. The captain of the basketball team in 1960-’61 was Ted Mooney and Ted met some woman while we were playing in this tournament and she was staying with him at this motel while we were playing. And so the day came when the tournament was over and we get on the bus to drive back to Middlebury and Ted gets on the bus and all of a sudden this woman comes running out of his motel room yelling, “Ted! Ted! Where are you going?” [Laughs]

I was young from a chronological standpoint although I certainly was competitive. No one ever said, “Gee you’re 16? You can’t play.” They were surprised when I would tell them I was so young. I just loved to play. I’m one of those guys who loves sports. And as I mentioned earlier, my father recognized this disproportionate interest that I had in athletics and felt that I needed to put it in perspective, and thank God he did. He said that he would not pay for my application fee [for a lot of schools]. He told me that I could apply to Hamilton, Bowdoin, Middlebury and schools like that. And the reason why I went to Middlebury, in January of my senior year of high school, we drove up to Middlebury for an interview and it was the weekend of Winter Carnival, and I saw a great attitude of people having fun. And it was co-ed. Back in 1960 a lot of those schools like Williams and Amherst were all men. I went to Middlebury because it was co-ed and it seemed like there were people there who liked to have a good time. The fraternity function back in the early ‘60s was very powerful and was the hub of most of the social activity. I was in a fraternity called Sig Ep., which was called the Animal House. And if you’ve ever seen the movie Animal House there was almost nothing that happens in that movie that didn’t happen in our fraternity. And I’m 100 percent serious. We had a great, great time, and you don’t realize how good of a time you’re having until you leave.

How do you think playing sports at Middlebury, and particularly playing basketball prepared you for life after Middlebury.

It sounds kind of corny to say that you don’t like to lose, but I do not like to lose. And we lost our share of games as a Middlebury basketball player. It humbled me; it made me realize, as good as I thought I was, that losing was part of my life experience. Not only did I have to deal with it, but I had to put it in perspective. And it didn’t make me less of a person, in fact it probably reinforced my self-esteem because I knew I was a good ballplayer and it was just one of those things that happened. It probably made me a better person — being in a program where we were not terribly successful and made me understand that you have to find ways to take something out of the situation. And my senior year, while we didn’t win a lot of games, I remember with pride playing with Peter Karlsson and Billy Dyson and Dick Ides. It was almost like being a prizefighter: the other guy knew he was in a fight.

The tradition of athletics at Middlebury has been consistent and excellent. When my friends who played at Notre Dame or Iowa or other big-time schools say, “You went to Middlebury?” I don’t flinch at all because I know I did good.

Interview with Joe McLaughlin

How did you come to choose Middlebury?

I started playing freshman ball for Joe Marrone who was the varsity soccer coach and when he left Middlebury he went to the University of Connecticut and won a national title in soccer. So that was my first basketball experience at Middlebury. Then for two years I played for Stub and one year I played for Gerry Alaimo.

Stub was primarily a football and track coach, and I don’t think anyone was under the impression that his first sport at Middlebury was basketball. He put in a fairly simple offense that probably was well-suited to our limited talent. I think players liked him — he was very philosophical about the talent that he had. Middlebury basketball at that time was kind of a stepchild. Hockey and skiing were the dominant winter sports. We had maybe 20 people at games down at the field house. So it was not a sport that held much interest among the rest of the campus.

The way we felt about Stub was demonstrated when one of my teammates Paul Witterman suggested creating a fund in [Stub’s] name to benefit student-athletes and quite a bit of money was raised. Stub had a great sense of humor. He was a very patient guy, and he had to endure a lot of defeat.

What are some of your favorite anecdotes that you can share about Stub?

There’s a quote. I think he made this comment on a bus, coming home from UVM or St. Michaels — two schools that I never beat [when I was at Middlebury] — he said something like, “We may not be big, but we sure are slow.” He had a very wry sense of humor.

I remember Dick Maine who was the captain. Dick was the year ahead of me so this must have been 1963 and he was interviewing for jobs and he encountered one interview where the interviewer asked him about the basketball team and Dick said, “We won 17 moral victories.” I think that was the year we didn’t win any games at all.

There were some talented athletes in the school that could have really helped the basketball team but never came out for it. I don’t know if I want to point fingers at anybody because they might have had good reasons. But we were aware that there were some athletes who were very good basketball players who didn’t come out for basketball. I think that was maybe indicative of the fact that this wasn’t a sport that the college seemed to care a whole lot about.

What was the culture on the team like despite all those losses?

We got along pretty well. I loved playing basketball, and I think everybody on the team did, or they wouldn’t have gone through that. None of us enjoyed losing, but we all enjoyed playing, and we stuck with it as a result. There were some talented people, but we didn’t have enough depth or talent all the way around to win.

One of my best friends at college, Dick Ides was an extremely good soccer player and tennis player and a very good basketball player although he was only about 5’7’’ or 5’8’’. We created a memorial to him in the English department at the University of Southern California that memorializes his years at Middlebury. One of the stories that’s told had to do with a game at Williams where, in the second half, Dick got the tip [from the jump ball] and drove the length of the court, through two Williams defenders, and put the ball in the wrong basket. Of course the Williams crowd went wild with laughter, but Dick actually played a very good game, and scored a fair number of points in the second half after he realized what he’d done wrong. And after the game, the President of Williams College, who was at the game, came out on the court and shook his hand and said, “You showed a lot of poise.”

What was the transition like from Stub Mackey to Gerry Alaimo?

There was a new energy level [when Gerry became coach]. Gerry was very high energy, very intense. He knew he was facing a challenge. He worked us real hard — his practices were brutal. He put in a new offensive system: something called the Yale Shuffle, which was popular in the Ivy League at that time and more complicated than what Stub ran, which was a simple rotation offesne. He also spent a lot of time on individual defense. He was a very good coach in that respect; I learned a lot from him.

We all got a preview of what Gerry was like during the first football game. There was a bad call out on the field and Gerry was standing down on the sidelines — and he’d been at Middlebury for a few weeks at this point — and he disagreed with the call, so he ran out on the field and started yelling at the ref. I don’t know what Duke Nelson thought about that, but it was pretty clear that he was driven.

At practice when he was trying to make the point that you’ve got to dive for loose balls, he tried to demonstrate how important it was by throwing a ball out on the floor and then diving for it, and he broke [his] elbow.

For him, basketball was his first love — basketball was his only love. As far as I know, Gerry never got married. Basketball was his life.

He went to Brown and I think he spent the end of his career as an assistant at Providence. He went to Brown as head coach and he had some success there. In fact he got in touch with me when I was working as a reporter in Chicago and asked me to do some scouting for him because he was playing the University of Chicago and Duquesne or one of the other schools up here.

Gerry was a very good bridge player. And once the season was over, he basically treated us like his equals. We had a few beers together, and he would invite us over. He was a bachelor [and] the other coaches were a lot older than he was so he was looking for some kind of friendships with his players.

What are some of the accolades, moments or games that stand out from your career?

Senior year was the most successful [season]. At the same time that some of the Division I coaches were running it, like North Carolina, we ran the four-corners offense and it drove some schools — that beat us in the end — crazy for most of the game, including UVM at one point. We experimented with a lot of ways to overcome the talent [disparity]. I remember practicing the four corners a lot. I don’t think many of the coaches we were playing had seen it before. To me it seemed like an innovation that wasn’t very commonly used. There were teams in those days before the [shot] clock that would hold the ball a lot, but this was a variant of that which really spread out the defense and relied on reverse cuts to take them surprise and also relied on just holding the ball a lot. That’s one of the features of Gerry’s career that I remember.

Karl Lindholm told me to ask you about the wins you had against Canadian teams your senior year.

We did play a tournament in Montreal — I think that happened twice when I was on the varsity. It was a great trip because, you know, it was Montreal! The team’s name was Sir George William and they had a tournament with two Canadian teams and two American teams and I think we won a couple of games over the four years. And believe me, as soon as the games were over we were out seeing the sites and the bars. So those were trips that we looked forward to!

We played in Boston at Northeastern and MIT. Especially when you got to be seniors and were old enough to get a beer, there was some of that going on, regardless of what the training rules were.

How in your mind has Middlebury basketball changed over the years, and have you stayed close to the program?

I came back for a reunion alumni weekend and it was the year they honored Gerry, so that was what drew me back. I’ve been back mainly for class reunions every five years. That particular weekend when I came back for the alumni game — I had been playing a lot of basketball — I remember I got there early and went out there on the court and I started shooting and I made nine three-pointers in a row and there was no one there! [Laughs]. It’s like making a hole-in-one when you’re playing by yourself!

I think the tallest player we had was Charlie Ladd, who was maybe 6’7’’ and then we had a couple of guys who were 6’5’’ and we had a couple of African American players, Cecil Forster and Wally Lucas, but when you look at those teams, you’re looking at a 1960’s, small college team, [which] doesn’t [have] anything like the size or talent that Middlebury fields today. None of the teams that we faced had the kind of size that Middlebury has had in recent years. So I think there’s a world of difference [between the 1960s and today] — not only in the outcomes of games — but also in the kind of talent that Middlebury is attracting. I think it’s great.

Finally, what was the basketball team’s relationship like with the student body and also with the administration in an academic sense? How did athletics and academics work together in the ‘60s?

I think the feeling a lot of people had, not just on the basketball team, but maybe elsewhere was that the fair-haired athletes were the skiers. The hockey team had been to a national tournament title game a couple years before I got [to Middlebury]. So these were the teams that the coaches focused on. There were good Middlebury teams but basketball wasn’t one of them.  My sense is that the administration wanted to be successful but they might not have put as much emphasis on it outside of skiing and hockey as they do today.

Interview with Karl Lindholm

Tell me a little bit about Gerry Alaimo. what he was like as a coach and a person and some of your fondest, or not fondest, memories of him.

Gerry Alaimo was a breath of fresh air; he was under 30 and he had been a great basketball player at Brown. I think he was about 28 years old, big guy — about 6’4’’ or 6’5’’ — very animated, Italian. He just had such an overwhelming personality and was such a contrast to the guy who he succeeded, Stub Mackey who was a very likable guy, but his teams had been really unsuccessful.

Gerry was very charismatic but he always played up his blue-collar roots — he was an Italian kid from Torrington, Connecticut. Whenever you went and said, “I have to miss practice, Gerry, I have a test tomorrow,” he would say, “What you can’t give me an hour, you can’t give me two hours? I went to Brown and all I did was play bridge and I got through Brown.” He just wouldn’t hear it. But he really liked his players, and when he would come back later on [after he left], he would talk very fondly about everybody and how much he wished he hadn’t left after his modest success at Middlebury to go back to his Alma Mater, [which] was inevitable.

But he also treated some players terribly — he ran them off the team. He did some things that were, truth be told, unforgivable. But we really liked him.

[Gerry] had no staff and he liked us. I remember my senior year, he drove me in his car and we would go over and scout Norwich.

He lived in the dormitory in Painter Hall. He spent a lot of time at the Legion [a bar in town] drinking bear with townspeople. He had a big, enormous, powerful personality.

He knew we weren’t very good, so he said that we would be the best-conditioned team in the league, and I think we probably were. One day our tongues were hanging out after we had practiced for a long time and Gerry thought — and we called him Gerry — that our effort had begun to flag and somebody had been slow to dive on a lose ball. I had the ball and he said, “Roll that ball on the floor, I’ll show you how it’s done.” And he dived on the loose ball and broke his wrist. Practice was over. And you can look at one of the [old] pictures, you’ll see him with a big cast on his wrist.

We used to travel places in cars, sometimes in vans. I remember this vividly: Gerry was always quitting smoking. He hated the fact that he smoked. And so you’d be driving behind Gerry in a car or a van and you’d see this package of cigarettes flying out of the window. He quit smoking a thousand times.

He had a license plate that said NIT 73. He came here in ’64, so we were going to go to the NIT, which was even bigger than the NCAA Tournament then, in ’73. It was a joke, because teams like Middlebury didn’t go [to the NIT], but that was our goal.

He was such an impulsive guy, he was always jumping into his car and then backing into people. He got into about 10 accidents — his car was always crumpled in the rear.

I think he prepared us terrifically. It’s too bad our records were so poor, because I think he worked hard to put us in the best possible place to win.

I heard that his players called him the fruit vendor.

I don’t know why that is, that’s probably Rick [Minton]’s class. [Gerry]’s the guy who gave Rick Minton his nickname, Clubbo. He said one day that [Rick] was so slow he ran like he had a clubfoot. That got shortened to clubbo.

The freshman coach was the soccer coach, Joe Marrone. He left Middlebury and won national championships at Middlebury. But he was not a guy who was beloved by players. He didn’t know anything about basketball. We had eight or nine games and it was a real letdown from what we had experienced in high school.

[Gerry] was all alone as the varsity coach. I remember I wasn’t playing much my senior year and our record was so poor. So I went to Gerry and told him that I could beat the guy playing in front of me in one-on-one, nine times out of 10. And he said, “I believe you, Karl, but he’s a sophomore and you’re a senior, and we’re 0-11.” So I was kind of the de facto assistant coach. He knew I didn’t like not playing, so he’d say, “Come sit next to me. You’re in charge of finding out how many timeouts I have left.” He used to stand at the end of the bench when there was a problem and say, “My staff! Where’s my staff? That’s something my staff should have for me,” when he needed to know something about a game.

I used to help him with his basketball newsletters. I would proofread them and make some contributions and he showed me his letter one year. He described the different players on the team and then when he got to me he said, “Attempting to gain one of the other spots in the starting lineup is Karl Lindholm, who also plays baseball.” And I said, “That’s it? That’s the best thing you can say about me?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s a compliment. You play baseball, too!”

Four years out of college I started teaching and coaching in Cleveland. And I had been somewhat imbued by the counterculture spirit and the sports revolution of Jack Scott. So I was thinking a lot about sports and values and why kids play. And at our annual sports banquet at the school where I was teaching I got to give a little talk about sports. And then it got published in the school magazine, and it was very idealistic. I was teaching English at the time and cited different guys as sources. So I sent a copy of it off to Gerry who was coaching at Brown and I never heard anything. But he used to send me his Brown newsletters, just so I could see what he was doing. And the next year after I gave this talk I noticed in the Brown newsletter [that] my whole talk had been exempted with no acknowledgement, no credit — it was as if he had written it! And we had a boy named Michael Frasier, who eventually went to Georgetown, who was seven feet tall. And Gerry called me after he committed to Georgetown and he took me to task. He said, “What the hell are you doing? You have a seven-foot kid and you don’t call your old coach? What’s wrong with you?” So we chatted for a while, and then I said, “By the way, Gerry, I’m still a little upset about your taking this talk that I gave and using it in your newsletter and not giving me any credit!” And he didn’t back off for a minute. He said, “You should consider that a compliment; that’s flattering! I used to run an offense with you guys with three guards out. At the beginning of the game at North Carolina Dean Smith doesn’t get up and say ‘This three guard offense that I’m running and winning a national championship with … I stole it from Gerry Alaimo!’” That was his analogy for taking my piece and throwing it in his newsletter. But you couldn’t ever stay mad at him. As you can see the players from that era are very loyal to him … except for the one [or two] who hated him, and he ran them off the team.

Of all your teammates, who will you remember playing with from those days most?

Dave Nicholson.


He was ferocious. He was about 5’8’’, he was an All-American soccer player, he ran the mile in track, and he was not a blue-collar kid. But he just played so hard. I believe he invented the charge — the offensive foul — as a defensive weapon. He told me in one game they called 20 charges against the other team. On the break he would stand in front of the guy and [the refs] called it. He cared nothing about his body, he was hell-bent. He wasn’t a very good shooter but he was a fierce competitor and a very complicated, interesting guy. Ultimately he went to Vietnam and he was wounded twice in Vietnam. And he wrote a book called Tales from the ‘Nam. It talks about his life walking the point in Vietnam. He was a real risk-taker — very unusual for a place like Middlebury.

We were up playing Norwich and he took a [charge] against this big Norwich guy, their biggest player, probably a foot taller than [Nicholson] was. And the refs made no call. And as they untangled the guy got up and stepped right on Nicholson. So Nicholson, a head shorter than this guy — at Norwich, the whole cadet corps is in the building — runs down the court, turns this guy around and decks him — hits him right in the jaw with a punch and knocks him down. And there was a lot of dancing around with the benches and so forth and I thought, “We’re going to do this at Norwich?”

We had a game at Wesleyan my senior year and Gerry had already changed our schedule to improve it so that the modest number of wins we had earlier when he was here were gone. The Canadian schools we could meet were gone and replaced by powerhouses — Northeastern, AIC, Springfield and so on. We went to Wesleyan and Gerry asked all of his players for their complimentary tickets. (People used to charge for games at most schools). Because Gerry was recruiting heavily in the Hartford area cause that was his home and he had a dozen or so high school kids [coming to the game]. Well the Wesleyan coach found out about this and was unhappy that [Gerry] was using, in essence, Wesleyan money to recruit kids to Middlebury. So he said, “I’ll show them.” And Wesleyan was better than we were, but not like this. Wesleyan pressed the whole game and played only their starters and maybe a couple of subs and they beat us by 60 points, 111-51! Gerry played the end of the bench. We were probably 30 points behind at half and lost by 30 more points in the second half. And Nicholson couldn’t tolerate this so he fouled out. And there was a group of very abusive Wesleyan fans behind us. So Nicholson comes off the floor after he fouling out and these guys start really getting on him. So he gives them the finger and out of the stands comes a rubber chicken and hits him right in the chest. That was a pretty humiliating defeat. That was Gerry, he was trying to improve the program.

How about other guys who stand out?

In ’66 we had a 6’7’’ kid named Charlie Ladd who was an unusual personality. He played well some nights and some nights we said, “We were all on channel 3 and he was on channel 22.” Some nights he just didn’t show up; he loved to sit in his room at the fraternity and play his clarinet. He had a couple of 30-point games, but he was a bit of a character. We called him Chaz, Chaz The Real Tall Lad.

How did Alaimo take a team that was consistently winning one game a season to winning 10 games in 1970.

I think the freshman team my senior year had some really good players. So even though we had back-to-back one-victory seasons, we were getting better. I tell people all the time, the team I played on with one win was the best talent I [ever played with]. And then [Gerry] had a couple of strong classes. Some guys came in ’67 — Jim Keyes, who’s now working at the College, was a good big guy, John Flannagan, a good guard — just good players. And if you look at the scores from ’67, we scored 90 points against St. Michaels in a loss — they scored 110 or something. We averaged 77 points my senior year. We could play with teams … we just couldn’t beat them. Our best player in my class, Peter Roby, led the nation in fouls per game. He fouled out of almost every game but maybe two or three. I was his substitute and if he fouled out when we were ahead, we lost because I went in the game most of the time — it was a real step down. Ironically, they often say “it’s darkest before the dawn.” The kids who Gerry recruited who came in ’66, ’67 and ’68 were good players. And after Gerry left the team had a number of winning seasons. So we got competitive pretty quickly after those one-victory seasons.

How did you come to choose Middlebury?

I played football, basketball and baseball in high school. And sports were not a factor in my choosing colleges. I knew wherever I went — I was going to go to a school like Bates, where my dad went — I was going to tryout for the teams. I thought in baseball and basketball I’d probably be good enough to make the team. But I don’t think I thought about it beyond that. I certainly wasn’t going to be good enough to make a difference. I came to Middlebury because I liked the whole scene. I don’t think I even knew how weak the team was.

It was a different era — I think a lot of coaches at places like Middlebury didn’t recruit at all. They just coached the kids who showed up.

It would have been nice if Gerry had spent a couple more years here because he would have seen some real benefits. Can you imagine 10-14 and that was good enough for Brown to say, “Come on home.”

What games, accolades or moments stand out from your career?

The most points I ever scored in a game in college was 14.

When did that happen?

That was against a Canadian school, St. Mary’s of Montreal. Sophomore year.

Where were you scoring from?

I could shoot. I was slow, but I could shoot.

So you would have benefited from the three-point line if it had been there?

I think so — that’s what I tell my kids. I was six feet tall, which, in those days was tall enough to be a swingman. I tell people I was too short to be a forward and too slow to be a guard. I was physical; I weighed 185 pounds and was fairly fit.

The game I actually remember the best, it was my senior year — the one-victory year — and the second or third to last game was against the University of Vermont in our gym. And we had them beat; we were ahead by five points with a minute to go. And the way I like to tell the story, I lost the game all by myself. My man scored a basket to make it three points. I took the ball out and I threw a bad pass inbounding the ball … threw it to a UVM guy who drove to the basket. I fouled him, he made the basket and the foul shot, and our five-point lead was cut out in about four seconds, all by me. But we lost to them by two points. And a win against UVM in that miserable year would have really helped salve the wounds.

We had a ton of really close games that we lost. We always played an ambitious Christmas tournament but we were always seeded number eight. We would play the first seed, the home team, for an easy win for them.

Before Gerry could change the schedule we played in Montreal. We played in the finals of that tournament and beat Sir George Williams. I remember we played the Canadian Military Royale (CMR), the Canadian military academy. They had no stands in the bleachers, guys just wandered into the gym like [it was] a pick-up game, half of them were smoking cigarettes. We beat them pretty good.

We had a lot of tough losses. I used to ask myself: was it a weakness on our part that we tried so hard to win and we couldn’t. Were we just pitiful? Should we have just taken it easier? The guys in ’65, Paul Witterman and Joe McLaughlin, joked a lot about the season and all the ways they didn’t train. We couldn’t get away with that with Gerry; we trained pretty hard — we tried hard — we just lost all the time.

Our one win was memorable — we played Brandeis at home and won by 13. They were coached by KC Jones who played for the Celtics and coached for the Celtics.

It’s probably easier to romanticize losing now than it was then. What was the culture like to be on a team that kept coming up just short?

People weren’t cruel — nobody came to the games. We’d have games where there were 200 or 300 fans … for a minute or two. They would come into the gym to get warm at the period breaks in hockey. We had one game it was right near the end — the score was tied with a minute to go, or something — and there were a lot of fans standing at the doorway to the gym watching the game, and somebody yelled, “The hockey game started up!” and they all left, and we all thought “You could stay a minute and see what happened!”

In ’64 and ’65 there was a sense that there were good players in the school not playing basketball. When I was here I didn’t think there were. I thought the best basketball players in the school were on the team. I think it was met mostly with uninterest rather than contempt or ridicule.

In the ‘60s how did athletics, and particularly basketball, fit within the academic mission of the College. And speak further about the relationship between the team and the student body.

I don’t think there was a real separation between the jocks and the non-jocks. The school was quite a bit smaller, I think we were down between 1200 and 1500 students. I know athletes were probably favored in admissions. Grades were a whole letter grade lower [and] the male enrollment was much weaker than the female enrollment academically. The average grade was between a 76 and a 78. So if the average grade was a C there were as many Fs as As, so it wasn’t hard to flunk out. I think it was a pretty integrated social atmosphere. Even though the teams were bad, playing sports at Middlebury brought you distinction and honors.

We had training rules — we didn’t drink at all during the season. And even a team like ours, we didn’t have a beer during the season, or if we did it was a very quiet thing. I was suspended one game my senior year because I went down to the Pine Room, which was the college bar underneath the Middlebury Inn with [alumni] who were [visiting]. I went to the Pine Room, and didn’t drink. The next day [Gerry] calls me in and says, “I heard you were at the Pine Room last night.” And I said, “Yeah, but I didn’t drink.” And he said, “I can’t have you at a bar. We’re having a terrible season and people see you at a bar.” So I was in street clothes for the next game. So there were some significant differences between the [athletics] stereotype and the [reality].

How has Middlebury basketball changed over the years? What’s the biggest difference today from your era?

I never imagined this level of success. It was unimaginable. I knew Russ Reilly when he was at Bates: we had mutual friends; played on the same intramural team. And then he came over to Middlebury and coached the team for 19 years. And he had overall a losing record — I contend that he played a very difficult schedule — and we were mediocre. And I thought that was about as good as it would ever get. He was 14-10 on year, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

But it has just changed enormously in terms of the seriousness of the structure and the recruiting. Now we use Division I terms like “walk-on” and “recruit.” Nolan Thompson is a walk-on. We were all walk-ons! The conventional wisdom was that Middlebury would never have good basketball teams, even consistent winning teams. Tom Lawson was here for seven or eight years and I think most of his teams had winning records. And then Russ was here for [19] years and then Jeff Brown replaced him. And the first eight years I think we had two winning seasons and five losing seasons and maybe a .500 season. But I just never expected that we would be one of the top teams in the country because it was Middlebury! Middlebury was all about skiing and ice hockey. So the whole thing is different.

Interview with Rick “Clubbo” Minton

Interview with Rick “Clubbo” Minton

To start tell me something about Gerry Alaimo, what he was like as a coach and a person.

He was a very intense guy. He loved his players — the guys he recruited, everybody who gave effort. He came here when basketball had died. When he came here Middlebury was losing four or five games a year to Canadian schools. So the first thing he did was start recruiting guys and I think that started in part with the class that was before me. And out of that group he only got about three recruits. In my year, which was the fall of the ’65-’66 season, he recruited six of us. By the time I was a senior I was really the only one left, mostly because of injuries. He was so intense on basketball at a time when it wasn’t even part of the Middlebury lexicon anymore, that he made a lot of enemies. But, the townspeople loved him. Mostly because he drank at the BFW, so he knew all the guys.

He was a big guy, he played at Brown, was the all-time leading scorer at Brown. He was legendary in the Ivy League for how tough he was, and he was a tough guy. Not only did you have to go to class, you had to do well. He said you to go be in bed by 10 at night. There was no drinking during the season … people really didn’t even party on Saturdays. If you did all those things, and you worked on your game, then he stood up for you against absolutely everything.

He and I used to have huge fights about things: about how things were going to be run; about what I was going to do; about this, that and the other thing. And I usually lost the fights.

But the recruiting started to pick up. Now you couldn’t tell it, because the records go down. But we went from playing five Canadian schools to playing AIC, Northeastern, Babson [and] he would get us to tournaments. The year after I was here we played Philadelphia Textile, which was one of the best teams in the country. And there was only Division I and Division II back then. We used to play St. Michaels home-and-home, Norwich home-and-home, UVM home-and-home and the Vermont state series. And then we went out and played Muhlenberg in a tournament, East Stroudsburg, we played in Central Connecticut’s tournament when they were really good. [It was about] changing the culture — from a culture of losing, to a culture of winning. When I was a senior year we won 10 games. Well after [the varsity went] 4-18 when I was a freshman — there were no freshmen on the varsity in the late ‘60s because of the NCAA rules — and then 1-22, 1-22 … 10-14, you couldn’t believe it.

Besides the recruiting and his effort was there anything that changed from those 1-22 seasons to the 10-14 season?

Yes! Players. Bodies. Bodies that could play. When I was a freshman we had six terrific guys.

Connie Brosnan, 6’7½’’ was from Brockton, Mass. He was supposed to be a rebounder … he didn’t hit the boards very hard; we called him Missy. Turned out he wanted to be a party boy; he was terrific guy and a wonderful friend. We had a kid Ned Bergman who was a basketball and football player who we called Eddie Afro because he had tight curly hair. He played for the freshmen team and the chose to play just football after that. So then we were left with four of us. Kevin Ducey, who was one of the very best guards who ever played here. He blew his knee out halfway through his sophomore year. They couldn’t repair ACL tears then. So Duce was essentially gone He tried to come back his junior year, but couldn’t go. So finally as a senior he came back part-time. We had a good rebounder, John Freshman, and he really hurt his back as a sophomore, [which] curtailed part of his sophomore year and then his junior year it went and he had to have surgery. So by the time we got to my senior year I was the only one standing. But we also got a transfer, a kid who went to Rutgers for one semester, Kurt Backstrom. [He] never played for us; he got paralyzed in a car accident on parents weekend our sophomore year. He would have been a terrific guard because he played at Rutgers. And when we’d lose a guy, there would be no one to fill in! We didn’t have any bodies.

How do you get to 10 wins?

When I was a freshman we were eh. When I was a sophomore we got four good guys: Gene Oliver, who could really rebound; Rich Browning who’s from the Jersey Shore — really tough, good player. Those two played as sophomores. [Then] at the Christmas tournament when I’m a junior, Howie Dickerman, the [current] coach at Central [Connecticut] takes the worst cheap shot I’ve ever seen anybody throw on a basketball court, less than a minute into the game, [he] breaks Browning’s jaw to smithereens. So we lose Browning for the season.

But that class that came in when I was a junior was Jimmy Keyes, John Flannagan, John Torrent, Barry Mathayer, Dave Kufta, John Olinowski and Lee Cartmill — all of them could play. We were clunking along my junior year and they started to play. They weren’t all basketball players but they were all good athletes. So now when we were seniors, Browning came back, Oliver was a year older, all of these guys are now sophomores and we’ve got players. We got a couple of good recruits that year and that turned the deal. That got us to 10 wins.

And then Alaimo left and Gary Walters, who’s now the AD at Princeton, came and coached one year before he left and went to Union. And when he coached he was the youngest head coach in college basketball. That was ’70 and he got out of Princeton in, I don’t know, ’66 … whatever year [Bill] Bradley graduated.

Of your teammates, over the years, who will you remember playing with most?

Well I have to thank Peter Roby, who was a senior when I was a sophomore. Robes was a very good player, always a little bit out of control and I was the guy behind him. He led the nation in fouling. He had 4.78 fouls per game. So he sat a lot and I played. Roby would start, but he’d have two fouls with 16 minutes to go in the first half most games and I’d be in the game. And he never made it to the end. If we played 24 or 23 [games] he fouled out of 19 games. I mean literally, he led the nation in fouls-per-game. And the guy could play and he was an athlete, he could jump! Unlike me.

We remember the good times. The practices that Alaimo would put us through were unbelievable. My senior year was the first time we had January term. We would stay [at Middlebury] and practice until like the 22nd of December and then we’d usually be back [on campus] the night of the 26th, but maybe the 25th; it depended on when the Christmas tournaments were. I remember going to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania on Christmas night.

What about those guys that you mentioned, what about their games do you remember?

Cartmel and Torrent were extremely quick, good defenders, could drive the ball. Jimmy Keyes [was as] tough as nails, could play the post. He and Gene Oliver were our “bigs” at 6’3 ½’’. Browning was one of the best bank shooters I ever saw in my life and he shot the ball so hard it was unbelievable it would go in. I shouldn’t say that because I shot the ball generally from out in three-land and beyond long before the three-point shot, and have never had any arc on my ball. The thing we did … we played hard. We had guys who could play hard and win. Guys who had good basketball backgrounds from New York and Catholic schools. And then we got better players.

Unless you had a lab that you had to take, you were supposed to be on the floor at 2:45. When practice started the doors got locked and if you weren’t in there or still in the trainer’s room, there was no practice. We just got on the line and ran suicides until the person showed up. And then when that person showed up they ran suicides for the rest of practice. And he had this drill, at the end of practice every day everybody would be on the free throw line with one-and-one [free throws] and if you bricked one you started running. There was one night when we must have run, I don’t know, 35 suicides. Jimmy Keyes was lying on the floor with his legs twisted with cramps. Guys were outside booting in the snow. And it was one of those practices — those brutal preseason practices or the holidays — when Kufta gave him the name the fruit vendor. We’re all on the line and huffing and puffing, going “make the fucking foul shots.” And Kufta just starts laughing like a hyena and he says, “Doesn’t he sound like a goddamn Italian fruit vendor?” And that was it, our loads were all lighter, we ran, we just kept running and that was it.

And we hung together. We played over at St. Lawrence and Clarkson and Cartmel’s father was the AD at Clarkson or St. Lawrence. So we played at Saturday at four o’clock and then we didn’t play until Monday. So we win on a tip-in at the buzzer and we’re ecstatic. And we go to dinner and the assistant coach gets up and Gerry gets up to leave and he says to me “Shotgun,” — he always called me Shotgun — “don’t let anyone get arrested.” And he walks out [after] he threw $40 in meal money on the table. He knew guys were going to have beers. So we go to some little divey place and there’s a pool table, and people are just talking and we’re not getting in trouble. So a couple of guys get in a two-man game of eight-ball with guys from there. Well, long-story short, the thing turns into a fist-fight. One of their guy grabs a pool cube, hits Kufta over the eye. Olinkowski grabs the guy — we call [him] one-two because he only [needs to] hit a guy two times and he’s on the ground — and taps out the two guys who started it. I’m trying to get people out of the way, the cops come, nobody gets pinched. We come down for breakfast the next morning, Kufta has got a hat on [and says,] “Hey coach how are you?” Coach goes, “Kufta, come here. Take off your hat.” He’s got a big knot on his head. Olinkowski comes in, the guy hit [him] and one of his teeth is black. That story went into the Middlebury legend and we were a better team for it.

What are some of the other anecdotes off the court that you can share?

[Laughs] There are a lot of stories that can’t be shared. I had this 1960 Dodge — huge car. And that’s what we used to pick up Butch. And everybody called it the “White Whale.” The car is only like nine years old at this time and the floor on the passenger seat had rotted out and there was actually a hole in the floor. It was very good if you were out riding around and you were having a beer — you just dropped the can through the hole. The night the DEKE house burns down, I’m living in DU, which is [Parton Health Center] now. [It’s a] Saturday night after the basketball season and I wake up and smell smoke. I get up and we’re going to a Celtics game. We’re all going, like four carloads of guys. With me is one my brothers, who happened to be up [at Middlebury], Browning, Torrent and Flannagan. It’s a freezing cold day and we just about get down to Boston and the heater in my car breaks. We go to the game, Celtics-Knicks. We’re trying to get the heat going, we can’t some guy says you put cardboard in front of your radiator, it doesn’t work. On the way back it’s so cold we think we’re going to die. We gotta have the air on to [defrost the window]. But I’m driving and Torrent is in the front seat and he has an ice scraper to scrape off the ice on the inside of the window. We made it. Barely.

Interview with Jim Keyes

My first question: You played for three different varsity coaches in three years. What was that experience like and what was the transition like from Gerry Alaimo to Gary Walters to Tom Lawson?

I had three varsity coaches in three years. Gerry was a character. He was really good for the big guys, and I was as big as there was in those days. I was a short big guy. We didn’t have big guys in those days.

And then we had Gary Walters. He was really god for the guards, but he didn’t have any use for the big guys. When I was a sophomore I was the leading scorer for the varsity team. The year before I came to Middlebury the varsity team was 1-22. The next year they were 1-22 also. In the first year they won the first game, and in the second year they won the last game so we had 44 consecutive games losses. It set an NCAA record.

When I was a freshman we had the first winning freshmen team in 15 years. So Gerry let almost all of us to play [on the varsity team] as sophomores. And everybody imagined that he would stay for three more years and we would have a really good team when we were seniors, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Gary was the youngest college coach in the nation at the time.

Gerry Alaimo thought I had a terrible jump shot, so he made me shoot a hook shot, which was really unusual. You didn’t see anyone else shooting a hook shot all the time. But I could shoot a hook shot from the free throw line, or I could go down to the baseline and I could make a 15-foot hook shot without the backboard. And I was the leading scorer my sophomore year.

But [Walters] said, “Don’t shoot the hook shot. If I ever see you shoot the hook shot, I’ll break your arm.” And when I would get the [offensive] rebounds he would say, “Now throw it out to the guards. Don’t put it back up.” Which I thought was ridiculous. The year we were sophomores we won 10 games. And the next year we won eight. And I was not the leading scorer. It was a miserable year for me, because I felt like he was tying my hands behind my back. We wanted to win games! And I thought, “Gee, if I get the [offensive] rebound and I’m inside the lane, I should do whatever I can to put it back in.” It was a very frustrating reason.

For some reason — maybe I was taking my frustrations out on my game — I was averaging 4.5 fouls per game. So one day, near the end of the season, Gary called me into his office after one of the games and he asked me if I was intentionally fouling out. I had never thought about that and I had no idea whether I was or not, but I wasn’t consciously doing it. And he said, “I think you’re intentionally fouling out because you’re frustrated.” And I said, “No I’m not.” But I had a lot of fouls and I was very frustrated.

And then Tom [Lawson] comes along. I don’t think Tom was a basketball player, but he was the best basketball coach of all of them. He looked at each player on his own merit. He said, “Look I need all of you guys to play well together well as a team.”  And he said to me, “By the way, if you don’t shoot that hook shot, I’m going to break your arm.” And so I was the leading scorer again in my senior year. And we had the first winning season in 15 years.

We were 12-12 going into our last game against RPI and there was like a minute-and-a-half left and we were down by two or three. And we said, “We’ve been running up and down these boards for four years. We cannot lose this game. And we won. It was really fun.”

I suppose the natural follow up question to that is, what are some of your favorite memories with those coaches, both on and off the court?

When I was a freshman I lived in Stewart Hall and Gerry had an apartment in Stewart and he would, with some frequency, come cruising down the halls and see what was what. And if you weren’t studying he would get after you. When he was trying to teach me the hook shot he would say, “Let’s go down to the court.” And it might be eight o’clock on a Saturday night and we would go down and put the lights on and play one-on-one for an hour or two. And we did that a lot. He took a lot of personal interest in me, which I really appreciated.

Halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas my freshman year my father passed away unexpectedly — he committed suicide actually. It was a couple of days before our very first game. So I had to go home, obviously for a couple of days. And then I came back. I still hadn’t really figured out what happened to me. So Gerry comes over to me at practice and he says, “Hey Jim, I only have one thing to say — when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” [Laughs]. And then he walked way — that was all he ever said about it. And clearly I haven’t forgotten about it.

Another time, when we were juniors, playing for Gary Walters, it was near the end of the season and we were disappointed that we weren’t going to win as many games as we had the year before. We thought it was really backwards. There were some other players who were one year younger than us who started and one of them was really quiet — his name was Rick Doud. And we went to see Gary after one of the games and he told Gary that he was making a huge mistake not letting me shoot the hook shot. And this kid was really quiet; he would never speak up. And the fact that he went and did that was astonishing to me. In a very short time Walters called me in, and he allowed me to shoot it.

Tom was a really good coach. He was the first coach that made notebooks for us. There were things in the notebooks to read and then there were plays for us to learn. None of the other coaches had given us written material. Tom was very thoughtful about how we played. We played a lot of different defenses and offenses. Walters came from Princeton and he always made us play man-to-man. I don’t know if we ever played zone. Usually you would pick a defense based on the team you were playing and their strengths and weaknesses. But that was really fun — learning how to play defense one-on-one all the time. There weren’t set plays with [Walters]. That was fun, to learn how to be fluid and set plays up by moving and back door [cuts] and things like that. It worked.

Gary had a really hot temper. And we had these folding chairs that you would sit on along the edge of the bench. And we would often turn around and kick the chair and it would fold up and actually move. When we were freshmen there might have been a dozen people in the gym. But there was a woman named Mrs. Kelly, she was here for almost 45 years and she was the Dean of Women. The President of the College was James Armstrong and his wife would also go to the games and she would sit with Mrs. Kelly. And they both sat three or four rows behind where the team would sit. And one time when Gary kicked the chair it landed right up next to Mrs. Kelly. He thought he was going to get fired; he was mortified. So fast-forward 30 years later: For a brief period of time Gary worked in Boston and I was also in Boston working. So I went over to see him. And he said, “Come here,” and he walks me behind his desk and picks up his waste paper basket and there’s a huge hole in the side of it.

Gerry spent the most time with us off the court. Always asking about grades and tests and papers. He gave me a lot of support.

Did you ever see Tom Lawson’s high school coaching record? It was the most incredible thing you’ll ever see. He was the head coach at Proctor High School in Proctor, Vermont. All of his teams were winning the state championships for years.

He was the assistant coach to Gary Walters. He was quiet and respectful and Gary was the personality.

In those days how did recruiting work? Was there much recruiting?

There was recruiting … it was very informal. And Gerry found me before I found Middlebury. Because he lived two or three towns away from me, he kept his eye on all the leagues, and which players were good players. There was a classmate of mine named John Torrents, who came from Litchfield, Connecticut. Gerry recruited him to play at Middlebury. He was an all-state player, incredibly fast on his feet. I’m not sure how many other kids were directly there because of Gerry’s persuasion. We had no depth. There was a period of time when we were sophomores or juniors when we didn’t have 10 guys at practice. So we couldn’t scrimmage. It was really pathetic. I was the tallest guy, which was also pathetic.

When you think about the guys that played with, who will you remember playing with most?

There are probably three or four different people who I’ll never forget. And we were all in the same class. There was a guy named Lee Cartmill. Lee played three varsity sports, football, basketball and golf. He broke his arm on the last football game of the season against Williams. He might have come into the last game of the year, but wasn’t able to play [his senior basketball season], which was a huge disappointment to us. So that was a huge loss.

Then there was a guy named John Flanagan. I don’t know how tall John was — short. He interviewed at Williams. And the admissions officer asked him, “What do you want to do when you’re not in class.” And John said, “I want to join the basketball team.” And the guy looked at John and was quiet for a minute and then he said, “We have a tremendous intramural program.” And John decided then and there that there was no way he was going to Williams. So any time we played Williams, his game came up.

We were sophomores and it was Winter Carnival weekend at St. Lawrence and we’re up there playing a game. We’re down by one point and we have the ball under the hoop [on the offensive end] and there was a play where I passed the ball in and Rick Minton came off a pick and shoots. There’s like 10 seconds left. So Rick shoots the ball and it hits off the back of the rim and it comes right back to him. So he shoots it again and it hits the rim and comes back. So this time, he and I both come down holding the ball. And I turned and looked at him and when I saw him look at me, I knew there was no time left. So I ripped it out of his hands and threw a hook shot. It probably didn’t even reach its peak when the buzzer went off and the ball went in. The fans had been so loud and then all of a sudden there wasn’t a single solitary sound in the gym.

What about off the court? Are there any anecdotes that you can share?

DU, the fraternity most of us were in, used to make a hockey rink on its lawn during the winter and play with an old sock. And one night John Flanagan is out there and he got hit with the stick — he got a pretty mean cut over his eye. Gerry was furious that he was out there playing on the ice, with a chance to get hurt in the middle of the season. And I think we were playing Norwich the next day and Gerry wouldn’t play John, our starting guard. He was really angry at all of us for letting John play hockey. I think we won the game, and I can’t remember if he let John come in at the end of the game, but he was furious. And it was really hard for John to sit on the bench.

The year before me there was a player named Gene Oliver who was about my height, a little bit bigger. Geno and I always had to play opposite one another in practice. So it was just three years of pounding on one another. And he never got upset, and I never got upset.

From my understanding that was a time of nickname of giving. What was yours and can you share the story?

It was hooker.

So one game I played, we were playing MIT at home and I think I had 20-some-odd points at halftime. And I played three more minutes and had 26 points and fouled out. I shot 80 or 90 percent, all on hook shots. You have those days where you just can’t get it to go in, no matter what you do and then you have those days where, no matter how you throw it, it goes in. That was one of those days. And I fouled out.