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Greatest Upset Never Seen / UVa. vs. Chaminade / Book Review 7 months 1 week ago #364841

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‘The Greatest Upset Never Seen’ Review: David and Goliath: A Courtside View
By Jack Danilewicz
Nebraska, 215 pages, $27.95

Before facing the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers, the Silverswords had lost to a small-college team with a 5-9 record.
By Fred Barnes

Nov. 22, 2019 / Wall Street Journal

When THE Virginia Cavaliers played in Honolulu on Dec. 23, 1982, they were the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball and led by 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson, the nation’s top player. Their opponent was Chaminade University, a Catholic school with 800 undergraduates whose basketball team consisted mostly of residents of Hawaii.

The game had been arranged by University of Virginia coach Terry Holland. In those days, coaches were eager to play in Hawaii, a sunny destination with a special appeal: a provision in NCAA regulations allowed teams to schedule three extra games at colleges in distant locations like Hawaii and Alaska. In the late 1970s, Mr. Holland had wanted to play in the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Classic, but UVA was relegated to a waiting list. Desperate, he scanned a catalog of college programs and discovered Chaminade in Honolulu.

He phoned Mike Vasconcellos, Chaminade’s athletic director, and the two men set up a schedule of possibly annual contests. Virginia won the first two games easily, as expected. The third, in 1982, was different. Jack Danilewicz, a veteran newspaper journalist, offers up the background and tells the story engagingly in “The Greatest Upset Never Seen.”

As Mr. Danilewicz reminds us, UVA wasn’t a one-man team at the time, though Mr. Sampson was indeed a star—a senior who had delayed turning pro in order to graduate with a B.A. The Cavaliers were loaded with talent and had beaten third-ranked Georgetown and its own star, Patrick Ewing, 12 days before the Hawaii game.

Chaminade, nicknamed the Silverswords, was literally out of its league. It belonged not to the NCAA but to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, a league for small colleges. Forty-eight hours before facing UVA, it had lost to Wayland Baptist, a mediocre small-college team with a 5-9 record. Mr. Holland, who was already in Hawaii and had watched the game, may have concluded UVA had little to worry about.

In the event, Chaminade defeated Virginia with a brilliant performance that powerhouses like North Carolina or Kentucky would have been proud of. When the Cavaliers jumped to a 56-49 lead in the second half, “it looked as if the blowout by Virginia everyone had been expecting was in the making,” Mr. Danilewicz writes. But the Silverswords weren’t rattled. They scored on a three-point play, a jump shot, and two free throws to tie game at 56-56. An alley-oop dunk by guard Tim Dunham continued the run. It prompted Mr. Sampson to shake his head. Chaminade finished with clutch foul shots in the final minutes, winning 77-72.

The game—tip-off came at 12:40 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time—wasn’t televised, hence the “never seen” part of Mr. Danilewicz’s title. And except for radio stations on the UVA sports network, you couldn’t hear the play-by-play either. It took days, over the Christmas holidays, before news of the Cavaliers’ defeat began to spread. The sports world agrees it was the greatest upset in the history of college basketball. Mr. Danilewicz dubs it simply The Upset.

What makes it the greatest? There have been many shocking upsets. Roughly 35 years after the loss to Chaminade, UVA was top-seeded in the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament and lost in the first round to 16th-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In 2006, little-known George Mason advanced to the Final Four by knocking off the University of Connecticut. Lehigh eliminated Duke from the NCAA tournament in 2012.

What matters here is the gap between the winner and the loser. It’s true that UMBC was quite a distance from UVA in talent, record and experience. Yet the distance between UVA and Chaminade was far wider. It’s true the Silverswords were better than first assumed, but the gap was still vast. Is it right to say that, as the subtitle has it, the game “changed college basketball”? It certainly reinforced things we were beginning to understand. There are more skilled basketball players than we knew—thousands more. Superstars are nice, but five energetic and disciplined players are enough to win big-time. There’s no substitute for a great coach. Chaminade had one in Merv Lopes. He taught fundamentals and also required his players to meditate before practices and games. It would allow them to relax and concentrate, Mr. Lopes believed. “That was our edge, that we could focus,” guard Allan Silva said.

“The Greatest Upset Never Seen” is entertaining, carefully researched and centered on the players and coaches, including their lives since the great game. Two portraits are particularly striking, because the players grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and played against each other in high school, then again in 1982. One is Tony Randolph, the other Ralph Sampson.

Mr. Randolph, as Mr. Danilewicz relates, had a hard life. His mother died when he was 11, his father two years later, and he and his nine siblings were split up. Paul Hatcher, his high-school basketball coach, told the author: “Tony was always very talented, but he couldn’t come up to the standards I felt he should.” In his senior year, Mr. Randolph told his coach that, at last, he was “going to do it your way.” He was serious and buckled down. Thanks to his brother, stationed in Hawaii for the Air Force, Mr. Randolph was recruited by Mr. Lopes and became a basketball starter at Chaminade. Back in Staunton, Va., in 1982, Mr. Hatcher listened to the UVA game on the radio, then called Mr. Randolph, nearly 5,000 miles away, to congratulate him.

As for Ralph Sampson, his road to high-school stardom was not quite as bumpy. He grew up in a close family. His high-school coach, Roger Bergey, encouraged him to become an all-around player, not just a tall center playing with his back to the basket. At UVA, his goal was getting better in basketball and his studies. When he graduated after four years, he said he had “wanted to prove the critics wrong, that the classroom was important to me.” He stuck it out, though lured by NBA franchises. In 2002, Mr. Sampson returned to Hawaii to work at summer camps for kids and participated in a press conference at Chaminade. “If a game like that can lead to something like this 20 years later, that’s great,” he said. Still, for UVA the defeat of Patrick Ewing & Co. was the high point of the season. “Me?” Mr. Sampson said. “I’ll remember the Georgetown game.” But Mr. Danilewicz has it right: The “sun has never set” on Chaminade’s glorious win. Chances are, it never will.
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Greatest Upset Never Seen / UVa. vs. Chaminade / Book Review 7 months 1 week ago #364845

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Excellent. Will be on the look out to buy the book. Do you think a tape of that game exists anywhere. At that point I would think all colleges were filming games.

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