Scholastic Roundup: Better late than never for Fordham basketball

January 27, 2023 Andy Furman
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It took 52 years – and a pandemic – but Digger Phelps’ 1970-71 Fordham University Rams will be honored by the University inside the Rose Hill Gym, February 25th.

The 1970-71 Rams won 26 of 29 ballgame and reached the East Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. They’ll be recognized at halftime of Fordham’s home game against the University of Rhode Island. In addition, Charlie Yelverton’s 34 will become the fourth men’s basketball number raised to the Rose Hill Gym rafters.

But what about their coach –Digger Phelps? A rafters banner? A place in the Fordham Hall of Fame?

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All Digger did was inherit a 10-15 team at Fordham, as a 28-year-old coach.
And the logical question at the time, “Why take the job?”

“They already know how to lose,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle from his South Bend, Ind., home, “Now, I get to teach them how to win.”

And he did – boy did he ever.

In January, 1971 Fordham was ranked as high as ninth in the country. In February, they sold out Madison Square Garden – the first-ever sellout in the new Garden – when they hosted 14th ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Marquette.

Phelps had a four-year contract at Fordham, yet then school President Father Walsh told the young coach: “In the next three years, if the right job comes along – leave, for what you did for us in just one year.”

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Notre Dame called – Digger answered – and for the next 20 years all he did was win 393 of 590 games (.666), make the NCAA tournament 14 years and graduate 56 of his 56 players.

One of those Fordham players was Brooklyn’s Kenny Charles via Brooklyn Prep. He re-wrote the Rams record book when he joined the varsity in 1970. Charles averaged 15.3 points-per-game on that 26-3 team – and the two-time captain set the school record for most points in a season as a senior with 679 in 1972-73 – a record that still stands. He also tied Charlie Yelverton’s record for points in-a-game with 46 against St. Peter’s as a junior in 1972.

Over his career, Charles averaged 20 points-per-game, second-best in Fordham history, and he graduated as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,697 career points, behind only all-time leader Ed Conlin.

As for Phelps, he pushed those Rams into the NCAA tournament – they defeated Furman from the Southern Conference, then fell to Villanova.

They came back in the then consolation game to defeat South Carolina, 100-90.

Notre Dame grad Timothy Bourret compiled some Hall of Fame stats on Digger: He has 51 career wins over Top 20 teams; 25 of them over coaches now in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He also amassed 30 career wins over Top 10 teams; 20 wins over Top five teams and seven wins over No. 1 teams.

“Including his year at Fordham,” Bourret writes, “I know he also beat Hall of Fame coaches Rick Pitino, Chuck Daly, Marv Harshman, Fred Taylor, Ralph Miller, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Pete Carril and Eddie Sutton.”

Bourret worked in the Sports Information Office at Clemson University 40 years, retired, July, 2018 and still works part-time doing color on Clemson’s radio network for both football and basketball.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s 50-plus years since Digger’s 26-3 year at Fordham,” former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Eagle, via a personal letter. “I really believe that with all the success Digger had at Notre Dame his Fordham team in that year was the best year of his coaching career. They really were able to compete against anyone.”

Coach K simply bypassed the Fordham Hall of Fame snub for Digger and jumped directly to Springfield, Mass. – home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

That’s where he belongs.

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Five Brooklyn girls’ high school basketball players – all from South Shore High School — have been nominated for the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Games. Players were nominated by either a high school coach, athletic director, principal or member of the McDonald’s All American Games Selection Committee.

The locals include: Zhara Adeyemi, Brianna Jackson, Racky Kane, Krystal Smith and Makayla Thomas.

The 2023 McDonald’s All American Games will take place Tuesday, March 28th at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

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Erika James had a game-high 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Gianna Gotti added 18 points for Brooklyn College’s women’s basketball team 69-64 win over York College, Friday.

The St. Francis College women upped their Northeast Conference record to 4-2 with a 62-54 win over St. Francis (Pa.) Saturday. Alyssa Fisher led the Terriers with 18 points, Sarah Bandoma had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Renaldo-Alleyne Noreiga was within milliseconds of a personal best competing for St. Francis College at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex for the New York City Gotham Cup. His 7.00 time in the 60-meter finals was good for fifth, just fractions off of a second behind former Terrier Brian Strachn, now competing with Garden State Track Club after graduation. In a personal best for freshman KyMoy Phillip, he took a 13th place (1:07.57) in the 500m dash final. Makhi Theosmy set a new indoor best (22.53) in the 200m final, finishing 16th.

The Terriers’ women’s jump team notched a pair of top-three finishers. Armani Dunkley matched her winning mark (1;60m) from the St. John’s MLK Day Invite in the high jump final. Beyonce Blake was third in the high jump, hitting a best 11.23m. In the distance events,  the team took a pair of top-20 finishes – Esther Richardson finished her first 100m competition in 3:14.32, good for 18th place; Viola Alisch led the Terriers in the mile, finishing 18th (5:35.94).

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Destiny Hurt had season highs – 29 points and 14 rebounds to give St. Joseph’s University their third win in four games, 83-51 over SUNY College of Old Westbury last week.

Six different Sharks scored as LIU swept a two-game men’s hockey series against Lindenwood, 6-4 at Northwell Health Ice Center, Saturday night.

Adam  Goodsir, Riley Wallack, Austin Brimmer, Josh Zary, Noah Kane and Dylan Schuett all scored for LIU. Vinnie Purspura earned Saturday’s win in goal, following Friday’s OT win (3-2) by Brandon Perrone (27 saves).

The LIU women’s gymnastics team finished second of four competitors in the City of Brotherly Love Friday. The Sharks scored 192.987, trailing host Temple (193.650) and topping Cornell (191.450) and Bridgeport (191.225).

On the uneven bars, Mara Titarsolej scored a meet-high 9.950.

LIU men’s volleyball became the first team this season to take a set vs. No. 11 Loyola of Chicago. With the opening set tied at 24, Gustavo Cavalcanti notched a kill to retake the lead and followed that with a service ace to win the first. Luke Chandler led the team with 17 kills on 40 swings; Livan Moreno and Cavalcanti each finished with 11. Gio Collazo had six digs and three assists, and Cavalcanti and Kasey Clouet each had five digs.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR.

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