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.

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Ivy 60 for 60: Bobby Morse

Bobby Morse averaged 16.4 points per game during his three seasons with Penn, in which the Quakers went 78-6. (Penn Athletics)

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 Bobby Morse, one of the greatest players in Penn basketball history…

Penn’s 6-foot-8 Bobby Morse was known in Philly parlance as “Larry Bird before there was a Larry Bird.”. With floppy blond hair and a classic but deadly rainbow jump shot, he was possibly the original “stretch four,” even though he played before the adoption of the three-point line. Morse was a key member of the 1971 Quakers, the best team in Ivy League history. He teamed with Corky Calhoun, Dave Wohl, and Steve Bilsky to start the season 29-0 and achieve a No. 3 national ranking. In the NCAA Tournament, Penn reached the Elite 8 before losing 90-47 to hometown rival Villanova – a team that they had beaten just a few weeks earlier to win the Big 5 title – and missing an opportunity to play against UCLA in the Final Four. While this loss would haunt the Penn program for “what might have been,” Morse and Calhoun bounced back to lead the ’72 Quakers to another No. 3 national ranking and Sweet 16 appearance. No other team in Ivy League history has come even close to accomplishing what Morse and his teammates accomplished between 1970 and 1972 (possible exception – the ’65-’67 Princeton Tigers featuring Gary Walters, Chris Thomforde, Ed Hummer, Joe Heiser and John Haarlow … with a 1965 assist from Dollar Bill Bradley).

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