Thursday, September 20, 2012

Newst MAAC Honor Roll named, plus some memories

One of the nice things about the MAAC's off-court operations, particularly in recent years, is that it honors its own so well.

The Hall of Fame Honor Roll was established last year to recognize standout former basketball players from the conference's 10 current members. A league committee picks one male and one female from each school, based not only for on-court abilities but contributions in life beyond athletics.

Honorees will be enshrined in The MAAC Experience exhibit at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. A private dinner event will be held on Friday, March 8, at the Hall of Fame where the honorees' names will be added to the MAAC Experience exhibit and receive special recognition from a Hall of Fame legend.

Each honoree will be profiled in the game program for the 2013 MAAC Basketball Championship tournament, and will also be featured in a video display at the MAAC Experience. The honorees will also be recognized at halftime of a men's first round game set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 8.

The MAAC now enters its 32nd year of operation and there certainly have been enough quality players/individuals to have taken to the hardwood over that time. But, the Honor Roll isn't just inclusive to the MAAC's existence. It recognizes any player from any era in the history of current MAAC members, and several of those either being honored this year, or from last year, played before the MAAC's inception.

Your Hoopscribe certainly didn't witness play from all this coming year's honorees ... heck, I was still in diapers when former congressman Hon. Henry Nowak (Hammerin' Hank) begain his playing career at Canisius in 1954 ... but I do have fond memories of some of the upcoming individuals to be inducted and will share some thoughts on those.

- GINA CASTELLI: Most know her as the longest-tenured and winningest coach in Siena history, having been director of the women's program for 22 years (for a 336-296 record) before she was fired shortly after this past season. But, she was also a standout player at Canisius in the 1980's (for which she is being honored), and still ranks fifth on that school's all-time list in scoring, third in assists and fourth in steals. She was also immersed in community involvement over her time at Siena, and is one of the finest individuals your scribe has ever met in close to 40 years of professional involvement in sports. She is now on the women's staff at Rhode Island.

- TONY GEORGE: Nearly 25 years since his playing days, he remains one of just 11 players in league history to score more than 2,000 career points (2,006) and is still Fairfield's all-time leading scorer. Just a very gifted big guard who this scribe still considers to be one of the top 10 players ever to grace a MAAC court.

- KEITH BULLOCK: A versatile big man (6-foot-7) who was the MAAC's Rookie of the Year in the 1989-90 season, and a three-time first-team all-conference pick in the three seasons after that. He is one of just four players in league history with career totals of more than 1,900 points and 1,000 rebounds (Lionel Simmons, Juan Mendez and Jason Thompson are the others).

- RACHELE FITZ: Certainly in the conversation in any debate about the conference's best female player ever, and without any doubt in the top three. One of just three MAAC players with career totals of more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (Melanie Halker and Patty Stoffey are the others). A 6-foot-1 foward who seemed to excel effortlessly.

- CALVIN MURPHY: When he was putting up huge scoring numbers at Niagara in the late 1960s, your Hoopscribe was still in high school, but already a big-time fan of college basketball. College games on TV back then were rare, but I might never have missed one of the handful in which Niagara and Murphy appeared. Just 5-foot-8, he might be the best sub-5-10 player in basketball history. And, if I look hard enough, I can probably find the Sports Illustrated College Basketball issue that featured Murphy, Pete Maravich and Rick Mount (the "Three M's") on its cover from the 1969-70 season. Murphy is already in the Naismith Hall of Fame for his playing career.

- MIKE GRANELLI: The long-time (32-year) coach of the Saint Peter's women's program, and arguably the most-successful coach in conference history with a career record of 607-249. At the time of his retirement he was one of just three coaches in women's college hoops history with at least 600 victories at the same school (Pat Summitt at Tennessee and Jody Conradt at Texas were the others). A five-time MAAC Coach of the Year winner. He was also his school's men's soccer coach for 18 years and remains the leader for all-time victories at the school in soccer (163-110-28). Known for his casual sideline attire. Based on that, no one is sure if he even owned a tie or a sports jacket.

- BRUCE SCHROEDER: A slender 6-foot-3 player who was too short to be a forward and not quite skilled enough as a ball-handler to truly be a guard, but he was just a player during his career at Siena from 1987-88 through 1990-91. Siena might have been the only Division I school to offer a scholarship, but then-head coach Mike Deane had a way of finding overlooked players and helping develop them into standouts, and Schroeder might have been the best evidence of that. For sure, no one worked harder in practice or played harder in games. He remains 20th on Siena's all-time scoring list (1,290 points).

- VAL HIGGINS O'DELL: Your Hoopscribe not only had the pleasure of watching the 6-foot-1 inside force play at Siena (1987-91), but also saw a few of her games while she was at Schalmont High School. Like Schroeder, a hard worker whose career performance probably were as much a product of her work ethic as her natural ability. She still has the second-highest single-game point total (37) in the history of the Siena women's program. The school still honors her via a post-season award, the "Val Higgins Award," given annually, at the program's post-season banquet, to a player who best epitomizes Higgins' leadership skills.

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