This Week in History: Men’s Basketball Edition

The 2004 Manhattan team won back-to-back MAAC championships in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons. Photo courtesy of The Quadrangle archives.
The 2004 Manhattan team won back-to-back MAAC championships in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons. Photo courtesy of The Quadrangle archives.

The past 25 years of Manhattan College Men’s basketball have been some of the best the Jaspers have ever seen.

From 1987 to 2014, the Men’s Basketball program at Manhattan is something to be truly proud of. Despite a few dry spells over the years, the Jaspers have made major accomplishments, especially in 1995, 2004, and now 2014. Here is a look back to the years that were.

The Beginning of Success

From 1987 until the 1990-1991 season the Jaspers desperately attempted year after year to have a winning season, but the team only began to pick up momentum in the 1991-1992 season.

During the late 1980s, the team saw a high turnover of coaches as well as many losing seasons, but under the new leadership of Br. Thomas Scanlon, the college began to pay more attention to the athletics programs.

Robert Byrnes ‘63 was appointed twenty five years ago as the new athletic director to turn the college’s athletics programs around. Byrnes’ involvement mirrored Scanlon’s new vigor to be active in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Basketball in particular garnered the most attention from the media, and Scanlon wished to attend to this fact by allowing a larger talent pool to have access to the college. Scanlon wanted more flexibility in recruiting, and so he allowed for a variance in academic requirements in order to consider more students.  Scanlon was a major advocate of academic performance standards for athletes and was elected to the President’s Commission of the NCAA in 1992 that helped to regulate NCAA activities.

These major changes in focus led by those in charge like Scanlon and Byrnes allowed for excitement to build as the 1991-92 season began.

In that season, Keith Bullock, a junior standout, emerged as another major factor behind the sudden Jasper success. Bullock was named Rookie of the Year as a freshman. Bullock became the fifth leading scorer of all-time in school history and averaged 20 points a game. The team went 25-9, the most games won in the college’s history up to that point. The1991-92 team was nationally recognized and went to the quarterfinals in the MAAC tournament that year.

The next season, the 1992-93 team went 23-7 and took first place at the MAAC tournament. Keith Bullock was named player of the year, the MAAC tournament MVP, was a three time first team All-MAAC selection, was named first team All-Metropolitan, and posted 1,012 rebounds and 1,992 points.

The next year, the Jaspers of the 1993-94 season went 19-11 and placed second in the MAAC tournament, showing promise for the next season, which is one of the most fondly remembered in the Jaspers history.

Shocking the World

The Jaspers went 26-5 in the 1994-1995, the greatest record in men’s basketball the Jaspers have ever had. Head Coach Fran Fraschilla was named MAAC Coach of the Year.

What makes this team so memorable is the way the team reached the NCAA tournament. To start, the team went to the MAAC Championship and lost. They made it to the tournament for the second time in three years through a controversial at large bid.

“On Sunday March 12, at precisely 6:36 p.m. the Manhattan Jaspers received an at large bid to the 1995 NCAA tournament,” Jayson Kiang, the 1995 sports editor of The Quadrangle, wrote. “ The at-large selection was the first ever in the history of the MAAC…The Jaspers were the No. 13 seed in the Southeast Region and were pitted against No. 4 Oklahoma in the first round in Memphis, Tennessee…making Manhattan the final team to get into the tournament.”

The media controversy surrounding the at large bid plagued the team for a week. Many believed the Jaspers, a mid-level team, did not deserve to get the at large bid, including CBS’s Billy Packer. Fraschilla appeared on his show later in the week and said he “gave him a little piece of my mind,” according to Kiang.

Some members of the media, including Dick Vitale, described Fraschilla as “the best young coach in America,” according to Kiang.

Others described the Jaspers as the “darlings of the media” that were living a real Cinderella story.

The Jaspers, having been given a second chance at the NCAA tournament, and made headlines around the nation when they defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 77-67 in the first round.

Three weeks earlier, Oklahoma had upset the Kansas, the No. 1 team in the nation, and was then defeated by the No. 13 Jaspers. This win silenced those who had doubted the Jaspers, who had proved themselves more than worthy of the at large bid they had received.

The Jaspers were defeated by No. 5 Arizona State in the second round, 64-54, but despite their loss, they received national respect for their defeat of Oklahoma.

In honor of their achievement, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Jasper himself, declared March 21, 1995 Manhattan College Jaspers Day in New York City.

Getting Back to the Dance

The next few seasons following the Jasper’s turn at the Big Dance all ended just short of the MAAC championship. In 1995-96, they went 17-12. In ‘96-97 they went 9-18, and this downward trend continued until 2001-2002 when Bobby Gonzalez was named coach and brought back the team’s record to 20-9. The team beat St. Joseph’s University as the underdogs in the preliminary rounds of the MAAC.

The next year, during the 2002-2003 season, the Jaspers came out with a 23-7 season and won the MAAC Championship. Louis Flores, a Dominican native, was named Player of the Year and Player of the Week five times that season. He was the senior point guard and scored 24.6 points per game, paving the way for his future success in professional leagues. The team lost in the first round of the NCAAs to Syracuse, who then went on to win the whole tournament.

Another major season for the Jaspers was the 2003-2004 season. In this season, the Jaspers went 25-6. On the route to the MAAC tournament, Coach Gonzalez said “We’re not trying to defend the MAAC title, we’re trying to win another one.” The Jaspers defeated Niagara at the MAAC Championship in Albany 62-61.

The victory was documented by Dan Marra, Sports Editor for The Quadrangle in 2004. “Lou Flores misses his second straight free throw, Niagara’s James Mathis rebounds the ball. The clock’s ticking…10, 9, 8… Tremmell Darden gets the ball at the top of the key 6 seconds, 5, 4…Darden leans into Peter Mulligan, and lets the ball go. The ball seemed to suspend in mid-air for an eternity. It falls short, and is secured by Dave Holmes, 62-61, Manhattan is going dancing.”

Manhattan went on to the NCAA tournament to face the fifth seeded Florida Gators in the first round. The Jaspers impressively defeated the Gators 75-60. Marra described the team as “out-rebounding, out-hustling and just out-playing” the Gators, despite their ranking.

The Jaspers then went on to play Wake Forest at their home in North Carolina, but were defeated 80-84. The Jaspers were still in the game with 13 seconds to go, but were defeated in the end.

Marra wrote that “Bobby Gonzalez resurrected a basketball program that was buried for the most of the last decade.”

Over the years under Gonzalez, “The Jaspers went from a losing team to a .500 team, to a slightly better than .500 team, to an invitation to the NIT, to an invitation to the NCAA tournament and a first round loss to eventual champ Syracuse, to a second consecutive MAAC title and a first round victory in the NCAA tournament” Marra added.

Between the 2005-2006 and 2010-2011, the Jaspers struggled to make a splash in the MAAC until the new coach Steve Masiello came to change the program. Masiello brought together George Beamon, Emmy Andujar, Rhamel Brown and Mike Alvarado among others that season.  Beamon averaged 19 points per game that season and the team went 21-13.

In the 2012-2013 season, the Jaspers went 14-18, but clawed their way to the MAAC Championship game versus Iona despite injuries to some of their key players.

As for the 2013-2014 season, the rest is history.

With such a rich history, no wonder the Jaspers have come as far as they have. Instead of Jaspers looking at what could have been, they should look to what has been, and become even more proud of the team they have supported over the 2013-2014 season.