Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, we focus on John Bajusz, one of the greatest players in Cornell basketball history…
In the fall of September 1986, Philadelphia Inquirer writer Dan Rottenberg described his disappointment in then-first year Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, who refused to shake hands with opponents following games. When looking for the antidote to Ryan’s unprofessional behavior, Rottenberg remembered the actions of Cornell star John Bajusz.
In March 1986, the Big Red went down to the Palestra with a one game lead on Brown with two games remaining. Cornell’s star captain was blanketed by Penn defenders all evening, forcing him into extremely long outside shots. Although miraculously making nine of 12 shots and going 6-for-6 from the charity stripe, his team was down eight with a minute to go. After being removed from the game by coach Tom Miller, a disappointed Bajusz (pronounced BAY-us) refused to go to the bench until he ran to midcourt to warmly shake the hands of the three Quakers defenders and wave congratulations to the remaining two Penn players under the basket. Without a title, the 21-year-old Bajusz was more of a champion than a Super Bowl winning coach greater than twice his age.
John Bajusz was a three-sport star at Benet Academy in suburban Chicago. In his sophomore season, he gave up baseball and a promising career as a quarterback to concentrate on basketball. After having scholarships to Illinois, Fresno State and Nebraska, he elected to go to Cornell because it offered opportunities too rich to refuse.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-1 guard was an immediate starter. He played almost 37 minutes a game and scored 10.7 points a contest. His 279 total points were a then-Cornell freshman scoring record. For his accomplishments, Bajusz won the 1983-84 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, becoming just the second Big Red winner after Mike Davis in 1977-78.
Bajusz possessed an incredible outside shot. With defensive abilities equal to his offensive skills, many Big Red faithful remember the team’s 1984 visit to the Carrier Dome where the unsung sophomore outplayed and shut down No. 14 Syracuse’s famed Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. The Cornell guard used his skills to help the Big Red challenge for the Ivy League title in each of his last three seasons.
In leading Cornell to two third place and one second place finishes, Bajusz was named first- team All-Ivy, as well as Honorable Mention All-America by The Sporting News, for three consecutive seasons. He was just the 13th such honored All-Ivy player in men’s basketball history. He was the runner-up in Player of the Year voting for his junior and senior campaigns, missing out to league title winners Jim Turner of Brown in 1985-86 and Penn’s Perry Bromwell in 1986-87.
Bajusz graduated from Cornell’s College of Engineering in the spring of 1987 and completed his MBA at the Johnson Graduate School of Management in 1988. When he left the program, the four year starter was the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,663 points. Eventually, Ryan Wittman would become the team’s top scorer with 2,028, but Bajusz did not play with a 45 second shot clock until his junior year and a three point option until his senior year.
In addition to the elite scoring, Bajusz is at, or near, the top of many Cornell stats – minutes per game (first; 36.7), total minutes (second; 3,860), field goals made (second; 647), field goals attempted (third; 1,204), field goals made (fourth; 328), free throw percentage (fourth; .856), total steals (fourth; 150), scoring average (seventh; 16.0) and steals per game (1.4).
The two-time Big Red captain had an outside chance at being drafted in the NBA, but that did not happen. After completing his undergraduate and graduate studies at Cornell, he returned as a volunteer assistant coach for the 1991-92 team under Jan van Breda Kolff. Afterwards, he went on to be an assistant at Army and North Central College.
In 1992, John Bajusz was elected into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame, and, presently, is a coach of youth basketball back home in Illinois.