1967-68 MEN’S BASKETBALL
inducted February 18, 2006
Times have changed in the college basketball game. Nowadays, prospective players break into the spotlight when they are just entering high school. By the time they have reached their junior year, their college choices have been whittled down to a half dozen or so and their NBA draft status is already under conjecture.
There also was great interest in recruiting back in the 1960s, but it didn’t have the same urgency. That was because first-year students were not eligible to play on varsity teams and fans were able to wait until they saw how the freshman teams did before speculating on the following year’s varsity.
The 1966-67 Columbia freshman team ranked as one of the best in the Metropolitan Area, whetting the basketball fans’ appetite for the 1967-68 varsity squad.
Under the direction of head coach Jack Rohan, the Lions did not disappoint, winning their first four over Lehigh, CCNY, NYU, and Rutgers. But they lost their next three, all on the road, an Ivy League game at Cornell and contests against Georgetown and Fordham.
They then headed into the Holiday Festival, then college basketball’s most prestigious in-season tournament, an eight-team affair held over three days at the "World’s Most Famous Arena", Madison Square Garden. The field boasted three top-20 opponents; West Virginia was first on the Lions’ path.
The Lions stunned the nationally ranked Mountaineers, 94-68, and went on to defeat No. 2 Louisville, 74-67, to advance to the championship game of the tournament vs. St. John’s. The Lions defeated St. John’s, 60-55, to claim their first and only Holiday Festival championship. Sophomore Jim McMillian was voted tournament MVP and the eyes of the basketball world turned toward Morningside Heights.
The team recognized it could play with anyone in the country and started to roll. It hit the century mark in beating Yale, 100-72, and defeated Brown by 24 points and Colgate by 26.
Back in the Ivy League, the Lions piled it on. They avenged the early loss to Cornell and trounced the Big Red, 93-51, then topped Penn by 21 and powerful Princeton by nine.
Dangerous Dartmouth was defeated on the road, but by only 76-70. Columbia then won at Harvard, 103-70. They met the same two teams back in New York, routing the Big Green, 86-58 and the Crimson, 115-56. The latter set Columbia’s all-time scoring record, which stood until a 118-90 victory over Wagner in 1977.
Three more victories followed, giving Columbia a streak of 16 triumphs, but the Lions dropped the final regular-season game at Princeton, 68-57, necessitating a playoff.
Columbia fans packed St. John’s 6000-seat Alumni Hall for the Ivy League championship and the right to play in the NCAA tournament. In one of the greatest victories in Columbia history, the Lions defeated the Tigers 92-74 for the championship.
They were victorious in their first NCAA game, defeating La Salle, 83-69, but then lost in the East Regional semifinals to Davidson, 61-59, on the Wildcats’ “home turf” in Raleigh, North Carolina. Columbia concluded its dream season with a 95-75 victory over St. Bonaventure in the consolation game.
Columbia had won 23 of 28 games, the most victories in school history, and finished the season ranked sixth in the nation. Jack Rohan was voted National Coach of the Year and both McMillian and 7-0 center Dave Newmark earned All-American honors. McMillian also was ECAC All-East and the ECAC Sophomore of the Year, and won the Haggerty Award as the top player in New York City.
Both he and Newmark were first team All-Ivy, with Heyward Dotson and Roger Walaszek making second team. Columbia went 20-4 in 1968-69 and 20-5 in 1969-70, finishing second in the Ivy League each year, but again ranking in the nation’s top 20. Four men were drafted by the NBA from that 1967-68 team — McMillian, who enjoyed a success pro career; Newmark, who played in both the NBA and ABA; Dotson; and Walaszek.