Very few people have had a stronger impact on Princeton basketball than Gary Walters, who served as his alma mater’s athletic director for 20 years before retiring earlier this year and was a point guard for the Tigers from 1964-67. He was starting point guard on Princeton’s 1964-65 Final Four Team, and we caught up with the Ford Family Athletic Director Emeritus to ask him about his memories of that legendary squad for its 50th anniversary.
Q: What were your expectations going into the 1964-65 season?
A: Very high based on any number of factors, including having the national player of the year and Olympic captain in Bill Bradley and a strong sophomore class, all recruited by coach Butch van Breda Kolff.
Q: You lost early and badly to St. Louis.
A: Very disappointing. We played badly. It was Bill’s homecoming game.
Q: How were you at the center position?
A: Robbie Brown, a sophomore from Princeton was a top-flight center.
Q: Talk a little about Butch.
A: Many believe he was the top offensive coach of all time. Abstract expressionism are good words to describe his offense.
Q: Your only loss was a one-pointer on the road at Cornell, talk about that.
A: Cornell was very good and had a top center.There must have been 8,000 people at that game at Barton Hall. It was a sign of weakness in those days to drink water, so I
did not and got cramps and could not finish the game. Donnie Rodenbach started that game at guard and we really started to come together as a team.We weren’t tested again in the Ivies and beat Cornell at home by 23.
Q: How about that narrow Michigan loss in December in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden?
A: It was an electric atmosphere. Cazzie (Russell) v. Bradley. The hype. The buildup. We first had to beat Syracuse and Dave Bing to get into that game. It was one of the most ballyhooed college games of all time in New York City.
Q: You were underdogs to Providence in the NCAAs and beat the Friars by 40. How did that happen?
A: Providence and St. Joseph’s were top-five teams and Providence beat them in overtime the night before, led by Dexter Westbrook, who cut down the nets. (Former Big East commissioner) Dave Gavitt, then Providence’s assistant coach, told me in later years that they were over confident against us. They started playing man to man and we shot great. I guarded Jimmy Walker for part of the game and held him pretty well, despite giving up many inches.
Q: Bill Bradley had 58 points in the consolation game against Wichita State to break the NCAA scoring record. Was there a plan to feed him?
A: We got off, similar to the Providence game, to an early lead and with about eight minutes remaining, coach (van Breda Kolff) told him to shoot. We had mostly all seniors on the floor and we fed him.