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Wednesday, October 4, 2006


MEDFORD -- When the Tufts basketball team was selected as the Most Improved Team in New England for the 1971-72 season, coach Tom Penders went to Hartford, Connecticut to accept the award and said, "I'm honored, but I hope we never have to accept this award again."

Receiving the award in recognition of the team's rise from a 1-17 finish in 1970-71 to a 12-8 record in 1971-72, Penders' joke reflected his anticipation that the Jumbo basketball team would not be losing enough to receive a "most improved" award again.

This Friday night (October 6), Penders will be in Kingston, Rhode Island with other members of his Tufts team for another honor that proves the coach was right about what he said some 34 years ago. The New England Basketball Hall of Fame will induct the 1972-73 Tufts men's basketball team at its annual ceremonies held at the University of Rhode Island's Ryan Center. More than 1,000 people from around the country are expected to attend the event.

The 1972-73 Jumbos finished 22-4 to set a Tufts record for victories in a season at the time. They won two prestigious tournaments during the season. The team won the Sacred Heart Holiday Classic with victories over Wagner, Bridgeport and Sacred Heart. They were also ECAC New England Tournament champions, beating Colby 99-87 and Williams College 95-89 in double overtime for the title. As members of NESCAC, Tufts was not eligible for national tournament consideration despite their great success.

The 1972-73 Jumbos are one of several college and high school teams that will be inducted, including the College of the Holy Cross team that won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1954. In all, six men's teams and five women's teams have been chosen for the 2006 class.

"They represent a cross-section of the finest in New England basketball and were selected for their impact on the game as well as for their records and talent," said Daniel E. Doyle Jr., executive director of the Institute for International Sport, which administers the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.

Also that evening, longtime NBA coach and television commentator Jack Ramsay will receive the Game's Greatest Teachers Award. Don Casey and the non-profit organization Playing for Peace will be presented International Basketball Humanitarian Awards. Distinguished Achievement Awards will be given to Middlebury College's Russ Reilly, Suffolk University's Jim Nelson and the Big East's Barbara Jacobs.

Penders was in his second year as coach of the Jumbos that year. He lost only two seniors from the 1971-72 team. Willie Young led the Jumbos in scoring for '72-73 with 21 points per game. Dennis Mink (17.7 ppg, 12.4 rpg) and Reggie Graham (12.5 ppg, 13.5 rpg) were extraordinary big men who both averaged double-digits in points and rebounds. Tufts dominated its opponents on the boards that year, grabbing 53.1 rebounds per game to 38.0 for their opponents.

Eddie Tapscott was the lead playmaker with 98 assists in 25 games. Leroy Charles was another double-figure scorer (11.9 ppg) and George Powell was another double-figure rebounder (10.3 rpg). Paul Daniels and John White, who would later coach the team, were co-captains. Dave Robbins and Artie Ryce were also regulars, while Willie Ratchford, Bruce Bernstein and John Fedell were other Jumbos on the squad.

The 2005-06 Tufts team won 23 games to erase the '72-73 squad's 22 wins from the Tufts record book. However, Friday's New England Hall of Fame induction serves as a reminder of the very successful era the program enjoyed under Penders in the early 1970s. With many of the same players, the Jumbos finished 20-6 for the 1973-74 season, Penders' last in Medford.  They remain the lone back-to-back 20-win seasons in Tufts history.

Penders would go on to a very successful career as a major college basketball coach. He is currently the head coach at the University of Houston. His teams introduced a new culture of basketball to Tufts with a roster hailing predominantly from the inner city. The coach received a Distinguished Achievement Award from Tufts Athletics in 2004, and many of his former players returned to campus to honor him that night. They will be together again on Friday night to celebrate what really was a memorable time for Tufts basketball.