The biggest stage in the biggest city — the center of the basketball universe — is Madison Square Garden. The NYU Violets’ basketball team played at MSG in the distant past, at a time when the athletics program was Division I. In this storied arena, the Violets faced off against the famed University of California, Los Angeles Bruins basketball team of the 1960s, coached by the great John R. Wooden and led on the court by six-time NBA MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But NYU had established a great deal of fame from its own successful history.
The Violets won the AAU National Championship tournament in 1920, led by NYU hall of famer Howard Cann, a two-sport all-star for NYU. After graduating from the university in 1920, Cann served as head coach from 1923-1958, leading the Violets to further success.
NYU posted an undefeated season in 1934 (16-0). The following season, the team maintained its dominance, dropping one game to Yale University in an overtime 33-29 thriller. The Violets finished 19-1 and were proclaimed the best team in the nation by the Helms Athletic Foundation.
In 1938, the Violets reached the Final Four of the National Invitation Tournament, and, in 1945, lost to Ohio State University 49-45 in the NCAA tournament. The Violets faced some of college basketball’s most storied programs, including Duke University, Georgetown University, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina and UCLA. The Violets posted an all-time record of 5-5,(32-2), 2-0, 10-7 and 1-1 against these teams, respectively, matching each one with stars and premier coaching staffs of its own.
After Cann’s tenure, Lou Rossini became head coach, and Rossini led the Violets to three NCAA appearances and four NIT bids in 13 seasons. Rossini later coached the Puerto Rican National team in the Olympics.
The Violets’ roster was loa-ded with superstars, including Adolph “Dolph” Schayes, Harold “Happy” Hairston, Robert Malcolm “Mal” Graham and Tom “Satch” Sanders. All would go on to play in the NBA and win an NBA championship with the Syracuse Nationals — currently the Philadelphia 76ers — Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, respectively. In 1996, Schayes was selected as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time. Hairston won an NBA title alongside NBA great Wilt Chamberlain. Graham and Sanders claimed the NBA title with the legendary Bill Russell. The Boston Celtics retired number 16 in Sanders’ honor, and he was elected to the 2011 class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, one of the highest honors in the basketball community. Satch captured eight NBA Championships. He is currently tied for third most championships all-time, behind only Bill Russell who has 11, and Sam Jones who has 10.
NYU’s rich basketball hist-ory continues to this day, and is an important reminder as the Bobcats look to improve on last year’s (15-11) season. This season, the Bobcats start at 1 p.m. on Nov. 16 against Drew University at Coles Sports Center.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 11 print edition. Sean Billings is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]