Keith Phillips was the head men’s basketball coach at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in the 1970s when Mike Fratello, an assistant coach under Lou Campanelli at nearby Madison College, wandered into the old – and very small – gymnasium in Park View to scout the Royals.
“He walked in and said, ‘Where is the place for scouts and the press?’ I told him to take his pick of seats. He could not believe it,” recalled Phillips, who now lives in Washington state. “This was such small time for him.”
Fratello would go on to be NBA Coach of the Year with the Atlanta Hawks in 1986. Campanelli would one day be the head coach at the University of California and an NBA scout for Cleveland and New Jersey. He recently published “Dare to Dream,” about taking the university now known as James Madison to the Division I level, and he writes about some of those games against EMU.
For the first time in 40 years, the two schools, whose home gyms are about four miles apart, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
It will be their first regular-season meeting since Dec. 9, 1975, when the Dukes won, 95-67. That JMU team included Sherman Dillard, a future sixth-round draft pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1978. David King, now athletic director at EMU, was a 6-foot-3 senior center on the team.
Dukes hold series advantage
JMU has won eight of 10 games in a series that began during the 1969-70 season. The two wins by EMU came on Dec. 9, 1969, in the first-ever meeting between the schools by a score of 58-57, and Jan. 20, 1973, with a score of 72-71 at home. Art Mullet coached the 1969 team and Roland Landes the 1973 team.
“We beat (JMU) at home when I was a sophomore in 1973. I remember that the place was packed,” said Wendell Eberly. “It was a big-time win for us. I remember the place went crazy.”
One of the top players for JMU that season was George Tolliver, who went on to be a referee in the NBA and overseas.
Eberly remembers playing at Godwin Hall, the former JMU basketball home before the Convocation Center opened on the opposite and east side of Interstate 81 in 1982. “When we went over to play at Godwin, that was the biggest place we played at,” Eberly said of a venue that held about 5,000 fans.
King said the arrival of Phillips, from Norfolk Christian High School, to EMU in 1973 and through 1978 aided the program beyond wins and losses.
“That was a really significant move. It was someone who had been extremely successful at the high school level,” King noted. “It was clear this man had a basketball mind. I would say the offensive game was where his strength was. And there was genuine care for the players.”
Playing ‘up,’ looking to improve
Kirby Dean, a 1992 graduate and the Royals head coach since 2002, has tried to set up a game with the Dukes for several years, and he said his relationship with current JMU coach Matt Brady – on the job since 2008 – helped lead to this year’s contest.
“It is a good chance for our players to play a Division I school. We just want to get better,” Dean said.
The EMU coach pointed out his current Division III Royals squad doesn’t have any seniors or juniors and will face a strong Division I Dukes club that advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2013.
“We know what we are up against,” Dean said of the Dukes, picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association in a pre-season poll.
That was also the case for the Royals back in the 1970s against Madison College, which was progressing to the Division I level by 1976 and switched its name to James Madison University one year later.
“For us to beat JMU was a big deal,” said Phillips, who later became a coach and athletic director at Seattle Pacific.
That would certainly be the case as well on Nov. 24 for the Royals – nearly 40 years after the last regular-season meeting between the schools.