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In Return to New York, ACC Visits City That Fueled Rise

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Copyright 2017 News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
All Rights Reserved

News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)

 

"Frank McGuire, he's the key guy. We all know Everett Case is the godfather of the ACC, but the guy who put it on the map was Frank McGuire with the '57 (North Carolina) team." Bobby Cremins, former Georgia Tech head coach

For some North Carolinians, it's not easy watching the ACC grow up.

Having the nation's premier basketball conference comes at a cost, and for Greensboro and others in North Carolina that cost is watching the league that was founded at the Sedgefield Inn spend a little more time away from home.

The ACC tournament has been to Washington and Atlanta in recent seasons, and on Tuesday it will begin the first of a two-year run at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. - more than 500 miles from where it began captivating the nation as the ultimate prelude to March Madness.

There's no doubt that Tournament Town is home to the ACC.

But without New York, the ACC might not be the ACC and Greensboro might not have become a college basketball hotbed.

Indeed, the conference was born in Room 230 at the Sedgefield Inn in 1953, but a few New Yorkers had a hand in raising it to win 13 NCAA titles.

"Frank McGuire, he's the key guy," former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said. "We all know Everett Case is the godfather of the ACC, but the guy who put it on the map was Frank McGuire with the '57 (North Carolina) team. That was the first national championship by the ACC, and of course, he then hired Dean Smith who took it to another level."

Players follow McGuire

Case had the program rolling at N.C. State, and looking to compete, Carolina scored a major victory in landing McGuire, whose teams had won 102 games in five seasons at St. John's and finished as a national runner-up.

The move coincided with a dark era in New York college basketball, with the City College of New York point-shaving scandal coming to light in 1950. Long Island University, Manhattan College and New York University each de-emphasized basketball and athletics as a whole.

That led to New Yorkers looking outside the city for a shot to play major college ball. Given McGuire's success in Queens, he had already developed a following among local boys such as Joe Quigg, a 6-9 center from Brooklyn.

"That left us city kids with not a good option of going to school in the city anymore, so part of our journey to find some place outside the state," Quigg said. "Being that Frank McGuire was from the city and going to North Carolina and starting a new program, that was quite exciting."

It was an easy call for Lennie Rosenbluth, who had long wanted to play for McGuire, but wanted to experience college life elsewhere. When McGuire called to say he was leaving St. John's, Rosenbluth committed to the coach before he even knew where his next job would be.

"That's when I told him, 'Wherever you go, Coach, I'll go with you,' " Rosenbluth said.

Heels 'hard to scout'

Plenty decided to go with McGuire, with seven players on the '57 team hailing from New York, and two more coming from just out of the city in New Jersey.

Some players were already close from having played with one another back home, while others had developed friendly rivalries.

Quickly in Chapel Hill, that bond grew through the common thread of the "City Game."

While opponents had structured offenses and ran set plays, the Tar Heels instead operated with familiar concepts rather than strict rules.

"We all played, I guess they call it, street basketball," Rosenbluth said. "We all played at the parks in New York and when we played for Coach, he didn't do X's and O's. We didn't have any plays; we just played free-lance basketball because that's what everyone was used to."

Three post players in, two perimeter players out and attack from the wings. More than anything, McGuire wanted his team to play smart and treat the ball like gold.

If you didn't do that in the schoolyard back in New York, you were destined for a long wait to get back in the next game.

"If you lose, it takes you a long time to get back on the court again, so you have to rebound and you have to play good basketball," Rosenbluth said.

Carolina's city style that season had a part in the Tar Heels never being forced to call next, was they went 32-0 and won the national title in a triple-overtime game Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain.

"We were very hard to scout because everything we did, we might not do the next game," Rosenbluth said. "Back then, you didn't have tape like you do today, and everybody watches you on TV. I don't see how they can scout us; we never did the same thing twice."

Cremins emulates McGuire

When McGuire left for South Carolina, Smith took over the Carolina program in 1961, setting the standard for the ACC behind New Yorkers such as Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, Doug Moe and Charlie Scott.

Meanwhile, McGuire rebuilt the South Carolina program on the strength of the New York pipeline, recruiting kids from the Catholic League such as Cremins, who starred at All Hallows High School in The Bronx.

"He had great presence ... he knew all the cops, he knew all the politicians; he had a great network in New York, just tremendous," Cremins said. "He had scouts that loved him and they'd find players for him, and he convinced the kids to go down south. He was just great at that."

Later, Cremins would develop his own New York pipeline, building a winner at Appalachian State with five New Yorkers, including Darryl Robinson. At Georgia Tech, Cremins' ties helped him land Kenny Anderson, who played for Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy. Curran had played for McGuire at St. John's, so it was an easy sell to head south with a fellow New Yorker.

"Kenny, I think, is the best high school player I've ever seen, and when I was watching him I just couldn't believe we had an opportunity to get this kid," he said.

Anderson ultimately led to Cremins bringing Stephon Mar bury from Brooklyn to Atlanta in 1995.

"All my New York recruits were about contacts and networks," Cremins said. "There was always a connection, a great connection."

Basketball dies out in NYC

Growing up in the city, college basketball wasn't of major interest to Rick Pitino until it came time to start preparing for his own choice of where to play in 1970, which was ultimately Massachusetts.

St. John's got some local love, but the real team of interest was 500 miles away.

"Everybody followed North Carolina; remember back then, New York was a pro town ... it really wasn't about college basketball," Pitino said. "Not until the Big East did college basketball capture the imagination of the fans. North Carolina stuck out when I was in high school as the team everybody looked at as being something special, as well as South Carolina back then, with Frank McGuire."

When Pitino came out of high school, he recalled there being 28 Division I players in the area that went on to play Division I ball and the New York pipeline was still booming.

Over time, though, that has changed.

"It's called affluence," Pitino said. "Long Island was basically a middle-of-the-road type neighborhoods with the exception of a few places and everybody played basketball. Now, today, it's mostly lacrosse, soccer and other sports.

"Basketball has sort of died out in Long Island at least at the high school level, and in New York City, most of the kids go away to prep schools, so it's not what it once was as far as the city game."

That's a tough fact for Cremins to swallow, but one he agrees with.

"It disappoints me, but a lot of the kids now are going to prep schools and they don't play in the schoolyards as much as they used to," Cremins said.

A place at the top

They won't play in the schoolyards this week and the old New York pipeline has virtually run dry, but in the midst of the handwringing over where the tournament belongs, it will serve as an appropriate homage.

New York deserves a piece of what so many of its native sons helped to build.

"Basketball was important; the game of basketball, a lot of its roots have to be in New York, they have to be," Cremins said. "I know a lot of people from Philadelphia and other places will argue with me, but when you look at the history of the game, but I can't see anybody topping New York City."

Contact Brant Wilkerson-New at (336) 373-7008.

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March 6, 2017
 
 
 

 

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