David Brooks, New York University '85, and Sid Tanenbaum, NYU '47, were shooting baskets last week at the school's Jerome S. Coles Sports and Recreation Center in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. "Are you trying to bring back the two-handed set shot?" an onlooker asked the old grad.
"Yeah," said Tanenbaum, twice an All-America in his day, still trim and wiry at 58. "Maybe they'll give me an athletic scholarship."
"Hey!" said Brooks. "We don't have them any more."
That's not all that's changed at NYU. Between 1971 and last Saturday night, NYU didn't have varsity basketball, either. Racked by financial troubles and overmatched in Division I, the school that boasted of its 1920 team, which won the National Championship Tournament, closed down its long and storied basketball program for 12 years.
On Saturday the Violets laughed in the face of an old NYU instructor, Thomas Wolfe: They went home again. Sure, it was Division III this time, and the names of the new players may never stand alongside those of Tanenbaum and some of his fellow All-Americas, Don Forman, Dolph Schayes, Cal Ramsey, Satch Sanders, Barry Kramer and Mal Graham. No matter. The homecoming against Manhattan rival City College was cause for a celebration. In a ceremonial preliminary, Tanenbaum and some other NYU and CCNY alums delighted a capacity Coles crowd of 2,000 with an exhibition of two-handed set shooting. Then NYU and CCNY alumni teams played an exhibition. The NYU oldsters were coached by Schayes, 55, now a Syracuse real-estate developer. The first NBA player to score 15,000 points, Schayes was a 12-time all-star with the Syracuse Nats. The CCNY team was handled actively by former Knicks Coach Red Holzman and honorarily by the legendary 87-year-old Nat Holman ("Doesn't he look great!" people kept saying). Tanenbaum made the first basket, a two-handed set, naturally. The rest was smiles and memories. The Violets, led by a run of Kramer baskets, built up a 24-18 halftime lead. Mere sprites from the '70s and '80s played the second half, and CCNY won 54-42, but no one was counting.
In the main event, the Violets made the evening a sweet and sentimental success by winning easily, 67-52. Eat your heart out, Thomas Wolfe.
The buildup had not been auspicious. A Monday pep rally attracted only a few students, and pessimists wondered who would support a team of 10 freshmen and six juniors, especially at a school in the heart of an area bustling with night life whose students might think pick-and-roll is a New Wave dance.
Fortunately, the Violets are coached by Mike Muzio, a very patient man. After putting in eight years as an NYU assistant coach, Muzio had been head coach for two weeks when the program was canceled on April 15, 1971. "I was on the Grand Central Parkway with a prospect named Danny Gastmann from South Side High on Long Island," he recalls. "We turned on the radio, and Howard Cosell came on like magic: 'NYU has dropped basketball.' I got the kid home, barely avoiding any number of accidents."
Muzio spent the next 12 years as NYU's deputy director of athletics, coaching basketball as a club and junior-varsity sport. When the university's financial picture improved, Muzio and Director of Athletics Dan Quilty were able to convince NYU President John Brademas to resurrect the sport in Division III.
CCNY was no match for this bunch of Violets. City lacked experience and height, if not spirit; it boasted the sexiest, sassiest, most spectacular cheerleaders to be found in a college gym anywhere. Muzio's five freshman starters built up a 31-22 halftime lead behind game MVP John Moran, a 6'8" center who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Moran's own style was back-to-basics: posting, pivoting, positioning and boxing out. And if that didn't satisfy oldtimers, he had a special game-day crewcut with long sideburns. "This is the haircut they wore in the '40s," he said later. "Hey, Dolph Schayes wore it." Schayes himself was sporting the elegant razor cut of a middle-aged businessman.
The slogan around NYU these days is THE TRADITION CONTINUES. Well, not precisely. In its heyday, NYU played its varsity games before sellout crowds at the old Madison Square Garden. "It was everyone's dream," says Tanenbaum. "There was little TV then, and this was the entertainment of the century."
Today's scene is much different. The Violets play in their gym—new but modest. Division III schools grant no athletic scholarships, and tuition plus room and board at NYU runs to more than $11,000 a year. But the 1983 Violets are as close and cohesive as their predecessors.
All 16 players hail either from New York City or its suburbs, and 12 came up through the parochial school system. "People wonder how we blend," says Guard Mike McMillan. "Well, seven of us played in the Brooklyn-Queens division of the parochial school league. We've been competing since grammar school."
The cohesiveness apparently extends beyond the players and out to the university as a whole. Says NYU Chancellor Jay Oliva, "Bringing back basketball was important to us. This is such a centrifugal school. Many forces pull us apart; basketball brings us together."
Just ask David Brooks, NYU '85, and Sid Tanenbaum, NYU '47.