By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Mark Schmidt has accomplished more than he could have imagined when he accepted the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coaching job in 2007.
Schmidt has won the most games of any coach in program history; won an Atlantic 10 Tournament and regular season title; won Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year; made NCAA Tournaments, an NIT Tournament and a CBI; coached two NBA players and coached Bona to its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970.
On Saturday, Schmidt will experience another occupational high when he leads the Bonnies in front of the most successful team in school history: the 1969-70 squad that made the Final Four.
The entire team will be in attendance to mark the 50th anniversary of that dream 25-3 season that saw them go to the national semifinal. All-time team selections J.R. Bremer, Marques Green, Glenn Hagan, Mark Jones, Glenn Price, Greg Sanders and Tim Winn are also expected to attend and be honored.
Hagan, who played at Cardinal Mooney High School during the early 70s for Section V Hall of Famer Ed Nietopski, averaged nearly 17 points per game for Bona’s 1976-77 squad that won the NIT Tournament. That team beat Rutgers, Oregon, Villanova and Houston to claim the title.
The Philadelphia 76ers selected Hagan in the second round of the 1978 NBA Draft. He eventually played for the Detroit Pistons during the 1981-82 season and also starred with the Rochester Zeniths of the Continental Basketball League.
Schmidt is not taking the weekend for granted.
“Not a lot of schools have went to a Final Four, have won an NIT championship,” he told Gary Nease Thursday on his WPIG radio show. “Where the program is today, it’s because of what they’ve done in the past. You can’t forget about the history of what guys have done in the past, from the Stiths all the way through.
“It’s gonna be a great weekend. It’s amazing that the Final Four team, everybody’s alive, everybody’s gonna be here, the NIT championship, even all the coaches. I’m just proud of having the opportunity to coach here, but having the opportunity to meet those guys. I’ve met a lot of them but I haven’t met all of them, and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”
The 1970 players will run the full gamut of Western New York Sports this weekend. They will meet the current team on Friday night, watch the Bonnies play Hofstra on Saturday afternoon before a gala on campus Saturday night, then head to Buffalo on Sunday to be honored before the Bills host the Baltimore Ravens.
SBU’s meeting with Hofstra will be the sixth in series history; the Bonnies have won four of the previous five. Bonaventure has a long history with Pride head coach Joe Mihalich, who has defeated Bona nine times dating back to his time with Niagara. The Bonnies have a shorter but still notable history with Tareq Coburn, who spent his freshman season at SBU before transferring. The 6-foot-4 senior has been playing out of position as a forward in the “four” spot, but is still one of five players in double figures.
The 6-3 Pride won their Boca Beach Classic bracket, defeating Holy Cross 91-69 and Canisius 64-57, to bounce back from a 10-point loss at San Diego. They had an overall successful West Coast swing, dispatching UCLA 88-78 at historic Pauley Pavilion.
Hofstra is averaging 82 points a game, 25th in the nation. The Pride will contend for the Colonial Athletic Association title after winning the regular season two of the last four years.
“They play six guys; they play a 2-3 zone… they play four guards, a big guy, and they just drive” Schmidt noted. “They’ve shot 66 more foul shots than the opponent. They’re attackers; they’re really good players. They space you out, and we’ve gotta do a really good job of keeping the ball above the foul line, try to keep those guys, as much as we can, out of the paint.
“And then we’ve gotta be able to score against their zone. We’ve gotta be able to shoot the ball, and hopefully we can make some threes to be able to force it out so now we can get the ball inside. Joe does a really good job… they run really good stuff.”
One of the coolest sights of the weekend, as long as the most valuable knee on the St. Bonaventure campus cooperates, will be Osun Osunniyi playing in front of Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. Big man past will meet big man present as Osunniyi continues to rapidly move up the program blocks list Lanier never got to officially try his hand at, since blocks weren’t a compiled statistic until 1985. Instead, the Dobber can point to a myriad of other records he has on Osunniyi.
The meet-and-great at Friday night’s team meal promises to be a treat for everyone in attendance. Schmidt, despite his reputation for meticulous gameplanning, recognized the significance of the events surrounding the game as much as he recognized the significance of Hofstra.
“Hopefully we can win… but it’s more important to make sure that the Final Four team gets the recognition they deserve, (and) the NIT championship team and all the players,” Schmidt commented. “Bonaventure, academics are important and all that stuff, but when you talk to people, it’s about the basketball program. And it’s been like that forever.
“It’s really important for the school and it’s gonna be a great weekend; we’re really looking forward to it. I know the administration have worked their tails off to have a great three days.”