PART TWO IN A SERIES ABOUT THE NCAA Division III men’s national tournament
MARCH 15, 2022 CRAWFORDSVILLE, IND. – The similarities are uncanny, and also quite good.
It was 40 years ago this week that Wabash College held a pep rally and speeches in the Pioneer Chapel for its basketball team, heading to the Division III national semi-final and final games at Calvin College in Calvin, Michigan.
Today, Wabash College held another pep rally in the Pioneer Chapel for its North Coast Athletic Conference championship basketball team, heading to the Division III national semi-final and final games at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.
Much has changed but some things have stayed the same as well. Wabash 40 years ago had two seniors, All-American Pete Metzelaars and “Mr. Team” Mike Holcomb. The 2021-22 team has four seniors, including (just announced) Academic All-Americans Jack Davidson and Tyler Watson. Davidson is also Region 7 Player of the Year, and Kyle Brumett is Region 7 Coach of the Year as well. (See link below.)
Also, just like 40 years ago, Wabash’s academic calendar has its students and student-athletes back in the classroom following their spring break recess. In 1981-82, the Little Giant basketball team upended defending national runner-up Augustana College 54-51 during spring break to earn the right to advance to the national tournament. Last weekend, the Little Giants toppled Williams 73-59 and Illinois Wesleyan 81-75 to earn that same right to advance.
One person present as an eyewitness – then and now – is Mac Petty. Coach Petty was in his seventh year as Wabash’s head coach when he guided the ’81-’82 team to the national title. He was also named national coach of the year for Division III that season. Petty is now retired, although he maintains a close relationship to the team and the coaching staff and is frequently in the stands during home games. He traveled to Atlanta and to Bloomington, IL for all the playoff games this season, and he’ll be in Ft. Wayne for the national tournament this weekend.
Petty is an ardent advocate that the squad which plays the best as a team will emerge victorious in Fort Wayne. “We won the title in 1982 because we had a tremendous supporting cast, and we were excellent together as a team,” Petty recalls.
Below is a link to a 2016 interview I did with Coach Petty as part of my research for writing the book “Glory Reborn” about Wabash College athletics in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
CHANGES AND SIMILARITES IN THE GAME
College basketball today is a lot different than it was 40 years ago. There was no three-point arc and no shot clock back in 1982. Teams could play the famous North Carolina four corner offense to run out the clock, and referees then were more likely to call 3-second violations for offensive players camping out in the box underneath the basket.
Merlin Nice was a key part of Wabash’s 1981-1982 National Championship squad. He scored a team-high 24 points in Wabash’s 82-70 second round playoff victory over Hope College, and was a perfect 24-for-24 from the free throw line in the post-season. Later he served as a college-level basketball official for more than 20 years, and also refereed for Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) leagues. He’s well qualified to compare today’s game to the college players in his day.
“With the advent of AAU teams, kids are more developed and more mature when they enter college today,” Nice says. “Lot of these (entering) freshmen are basically playing another HS-type season with their summer AAU teams before college.
“But there is a downside too,” Nice adds. “Fundamentals have slipped a little bit. Kids don’t go out and shoot by themselves, don’t practice dribbling the way they used to. Today’s game has more tempo and less basic ball handling.
Nice traveled to Bloomington, IL, to take in the regional semi-final and final games on March 11-12. He has high praise for today’s Little Giants. “This team has the bigger heart, and it’s just plain out-hustling its opponents,” he says. “We’re getting more than our share of those 50:50 balls, and in close game that type of hustle usually pays off.
Also, Nice has some words of advice for Wabash and for all the other teams in the finals. “I told them to embrace the week,” he concludes. It’ll be a week they will remember for the rest of their lives. They’re on the big stage now.”
One other note: Wabash had to travel a long way, geographically speaking, in the playoffs in 2022. It was 567 miles from the campus in Crawfordsville to Emory University (round one and two of the playoffs) and 126 miles from Crawfordsville to Illinois Wesleyan University (site for rounds three and four). Some teams in the final four had all of their playoff games at home.
So there is a bit of a break for Wabash in that the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is just 147 miles from Crawfordsville. That is closer for the Little Giants than for any other team in the tournament.
It also happens to be precisely 100 miles closer to Wabash than is Calvin College, site of the 1982 finals.
THANKS DR. JOHN ROBERTS
Today John Roberts is a physician in Crawfordsville. In 1982, he was a photographer for the Wabash College newspaper “The Bachelor” and thus had a front-row seat to college history as the Little Giants battled to a Division III national championship.
Through Dr. Roberts and thanks to the Wabash College Archives (Beth Swift), John’s 1982 photographs are all available for viewing. Here’s a link to them.
I want to express my thanks to John for his permission to allow his photographs to be used with these posts.
ONE MORE ACCOLADE FOR JACK and for BUZZ TOO
The Bevo Francis “Top 25 Small College Players in the U.S.” announcement came out this afternoon, and two of the student-athletes playing in the NCAA Division III national tournament are on it. Congrats to Buzz Anthony of Randolph-Macon and Jack Davidson of Wabash for making it to this very prestigious list. Both were also named players of the year in their conferences, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the North Coast Athletic Conference. You can see both of them, and about 40+ more players, in action at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum this weekend.
MANY THANKS AND ANOTHER LINK
In the 24 hours since I posted yesterday’s blog story, more than 350 people have given it a view and more than 250 have also downloaded Chapter 12 of my “Glory Reborn” book about Wabash and its athletics teams, 1977-1982. So here comes the (shameless) plug: If you want to purchase the book, below is link to do so via the Wabash College Bookstore website. If you’re a Wabash alum, you might want to peruse several other excellent book titles there as well.
TOMORROW: Wabash basketball parents’ reaction to their sons heading to national semi-finals in Ft. Wayne.
Author: John Kerezy is associate professor of Media & Journalism Studies at Cuyahoga Community College, and the founder of the eyeoncleveland.com web site.