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Friday, March 15, 2013

Letter: One More 1970 Basketball Heartbreak

Bob Lanier, basketball star of St. Bonaventure College is seen, 1970. (AP)

Bob Lanier, basketball star of St. Bonaventure College is seen, 1970. (AP)

Bob Lanier (31), St. Bonaventure center goes up for basket and two points in NCAA regional basketball game against Boston College on March 9, 1968 in Kingston. (AP)

Bob Lanier (31), St. Bonaventure center goes up for basket and two points in NCAA regional basketball game against Boston College on March 9, 1968 in Kingston. (AP)

When I was talking to Bobby Cremins the other day about what happened to his South Carolina basketball team in the 1970 ACC Tournament, he mentioned some of the other top teams that year, including UCLA and St. Bonaventure.

Bobby thought his Gamecocks had a chance to win the NCAA championship that season. But then his back court running mate John Roche got hurt in the ACC semifinals against Wake Forest and South Carolina’s national title hopes were gone.

Mark Scott, news director emeritus at WBFO in Buffalo heard the story and wrote in to say that wasn’t the only basketball disappointment in the country that March:

I just wanted to drop you a note about how much I enjoyed your story on the 1970 ACC championship game lost by South Carolina. But I dare say there is even a sadder story from the 1970 NCAA tourney than that one, involving my alma mater.

St. Bonaventure University, a small Franciscan school about 70 miles south of Buffalo, was enjoying a banner year in 1970, led by Bob Lanier, the greatest player in the team’s history. St. Bonaventure beat Villanova in the eastern regionals, making it to the Final Four that season. It was an off-year for UCLA, which was between the Kareem Abdul Jabar and Bill Walton eras. To this day, Bona fans still hold the firm belief that their team, with Lanier, would have defeated UCLA and won the national championship in 1970. It’s the biggest “what if” in local sports history here.

That’s because Lanier suffered a season-ending knee injury in that game against Villanova. Even without him, St. Bonaventure nearly defeated Jacksonville in the first game of that Final Four. Lanier went on to a stellar career with the Detroit Pistons in the NBA. St. Bonaventure won the NIT in my senior year in 1977, which remains my personal best sports moment (that is, until the Bills win a Super Bowl or the Sabres a Stanley Cup). Even last year, St. Bonaventure came out of nowhere to win the Atlantic 10 championship and an NCAA tournament invitation, led by its second greatest player of all time, Andrew Nicholson (now playing for Orlando in the NBA).

Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know that South Carolina fans aren’t the only ones suffering some 43 years later.

Thanks Mark. I feel your pain and I know Bobby Cremins does too.


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