The 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Gary Walters and Chris Thomforde on the Feb.
27, 1967 cover of SI.
(Sports Illustrated)
Is it really a debate? Many scribes and Ivy observers say no. The greatest Ivy team of all time? Easy.
It’s either the 1964-65 Princeton Tigers with the greatest Ivy player ever, Bill Bradley, or the 1970-71 Penn Quakers with their gaudy 28-1 record, which included a perfect 26-0 in the regular season.
Those Tigers never rose higher than No. 20 in the polls, and that Penn team had the bewildering 90-47 loss to a Villanova team which it had beaten during the regular season.
But wait a minute. How about the long forgotten 1966-67 Princeton team, coached by Butch van Breda Kolff? They did a few things which no other Ivy has done.

The Tigers that season went 25-3 and 13-1 in Ivy play, beating No. 2 UNC at fabled Carmichael Arena. They blew out the second-best Rutgers team ever, led by All-American Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano, on the road and came within a hair of beating Carolina again, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-70 in overtime, after beating West Virginia in the first round. They came back to blast a very strong St. John’s team in the Regional consolation game, rising as high as No. 3 in the polls and finished No. 5.

 Who better to ask than Gary Walters, the star sophomore point guard on the ’64-’65 team and the all-everything on the ’66-’67 team? There is no question in his mind that the latter Tiger team was superior. It didn’t boast the best player in the land in Bradley but nevertheless enjoyed incredibly balanced scoring and rebounding and probably was the only team in the country capable of giving the Lew Alcindor-led UCLA national championship team a run for its money.
Two Princeton players adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 27, 1967, whose title read, “Princeton Builds a Basketball Dynasty.” That was probably prophetic, as from 1964 to 1979, Princeton was easily one of the top 20 programs in the country. The ’66-67 Tigers’ two top players were Walters and sophomore center Chris Thomforde from Long Island. Thomforde had a tremendous high school career and chose Princeton over the likes of Northwestern, Duke and Dean Smith’s UNC. Frosh were not eligible to play varsity when Thomforde entered, and his frosh team was undistinguished.
Thomforde had to beat out talented Robinson Brown for the coveted center spot on the varsity and did so quickly. Brown was classy about losing his spot and at times, both players played simultaneously. Thomforde and Walters developed a quick chemistry and played like veterans together. Thomforde cites the road Rutgers blowout win and the win at UNC as season highlights and firmly believes that the ’67 team could have competed with UCLA for the national championship if it had not entered the NCAA tourney so injured. Thomforde had played competitively against Alcindor in high school. But Walters had injured his hamstring against Rutgers, John Haarlow had a high ankle sprain and Ed Hummer had a bad hip.
Thomforde got to know Bradley in his junior season, when Bradley returned from his two-year Rhodes Scholarship stint. They have maintained a lifelong friendship. Bradley credits Thomforde for playing on the second-best Princeton team of all-time. Thomforde felt that he knew better but never engaged the former New Jersey senator and presidential candidate in a debate on the topic. He respected Bradley far too much.

Read moreThe 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Ivy 60 for 60: Tony Price

Tony Price celebrates Penn’s Final Four berth after the Quakers defeated St. John’s, 64-62, in the East Region final in Greensboro, N.C. (University of Pennsylvania)

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 cover one of the greatest players in Penn basketball history:

It is impossible for me to think of the ’79 Final Four Team and not think of Tony Price first. If a team could have a soul, a heartbeat or a center of gravity, it was Mr. Price. I don’t mean to disparage any of the other amazing players from that most magical of Quaker squads, but Tony Price was perhaps the most clutch player I think I have ever seen. When the game was on the line, he just refused to lose.

A high-school All-American from Taft High School in the South Bronx, Tony Price was no stranger to hitting the game-winning shot. In the 12th grade, down one point with three seconds left, Tony hit the winning jumper to give Taft its second New York City Championship. In the 1970s, New York basketball was everything, and Tony was named the Best Schoolboy Player in Gotham.

Read moreIvy 60 for 60: Tony Price

Penn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We covered Penn now because Steve Donahue knows what’s up:

YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.
YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.

For those who did not experience it, the 1979 Penn Final Four season is almost indescribable. It was a once in a lifetime moment that happened to last two weeks. As students, our time in Philly was indelibly shaped by the completely unexpected rise of the Red and Blue to national prominence. School spirit was at an all-time high, and people who otherwise knew and cared little about college basketball were swept up in the mania that those few weeks in March brought. USA Today ranks it as the greatest Final Four ever and it is still, 36 years later, one of the highest-rated in terms of television viewership. This is because it not only changed our lives, but it changed the panorama of college basketball in America forever.

The ‘78-79 campaign started out like most for the Quakers in Bob Weinhauer’s second year as head coach. The team had finished 20-8 in his rookie season and was well on its way to repeating as Ivy League champions. The Quakers deftly handled their nonconference schedule, losing only to Iowa in two overtimes and getting blown out by San Diego State, 110-86. Then in late January came the Georgetown game at the Palestra. It was a nationally televised contest, a rarity for an Ivy League school, on a freezing Saturday afternoon. (Let’s face it, the networks certainly weren’t going to give it Brown or Cornell). The Cathedral was packed. Georgetown was ranked 10th in the nation and featured All-American guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and forward Craig “Big Sky” Shelton. (They just don’t make nicknames like that anymore.  Tony “Big Float” Hicks? Nah.)

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

Penn all-time moment No. 3: UNC gets shocked on Black Sunday

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because once upon a time, Penn was a Final Four letter word…

As memorable games go, there are too many to choose from in Quaker history. However, I think this one is the most memorable for me.

In 1979, Penn was just beginning an extraordinary Final Four run through the NCAA Tournament. However, after dispatching with Jim Valvano’s Iona Gaels 83-75 in the first round, a daunting task awaited Bob Weinhauer’s squad. The Quakers would have to defeat Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels, who were seeded first in the East Region, in Raleigh.  Few, including me, gave the Quakers much of a shot. Penn was an overwhelming underdog as many had picked the Tar Heels, who were ranked No. 3 nationally and featured future NBA players Mike O’Koren and Al Wood, to win the entire tournament.

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 3: UNC gets shocked on Black Sunday