The University of Scranton has a strong academic tradition and a long and noteworthy athletic history. The basketball program has roots that stretch back to 1916 when the University of Scranton was St. Thomas College and the "Royals" were the "Tommies." The history of basketball at the university is well documented: the following links trace basketball from the beginning through the Royals first Middle Atlantic Conference championship in 1969.
Although athletics started at St. Thomas college during the 1890s, basketball apparently did not begin until 1917. The first issue of the Aquinas briefly summarizes the history of athletics at the college. The only comment about basketball is that there should have been a team in 1916, since the college had a number of fine athletes. But the Aquinas campaigned for the creation of a baseball team and took credit when one was established in spring 1916.
The October 1916 Aquinas reported that the senior class had begun organizing a basketball team. At a meeting held on 13 October, Benjamin Mahon was elected manager and began arranging games for the team. The first tryout was held on Wednesday 18 October with about 25 to 30 candidates. A team was quickly organized and the first game was played on 17 November. Unfortunately, St. Thomas lost its first basketball game to Dunmore High School 25 to 15. At the same time that the basketball team was organized, a football team was also taking the field. Consequently, basketball was quickly sidelined for a few weeks because many of the athletes were also playing on the football team. In the meantime, each of the other undergraduate classes (including the high school classes for each grade and the team for one of the commercial classes) also organized their own basketball teams. The eight non-senior undergraduate teams then formed their own Inter-Class basketball league. An Athletic Board composed of representatives from each of the classes had been organized and had approved an expenditure for uniforms for the basketball teams.
When the basketball team finally returned on 12 Jan. 1917, St. Thomas defeated St. John's of Pittston 24 to 18. The game was played at home in the Catholic Club gymnasium. Another nine games were scheduled for the season with St. Thomas playing high school teams from Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Pittston, and Stroudsburg, although some of those games were rematches. The Inter-Class league also began play with a variety of games. Finally, the students of St. Thomas formed the Royal Rooters of St. Thomas College who were "pledged to follow the teams of St. Tho mas College wherever they go" and make "noise." The Rho Rho Society was organized as a secret society, but run along the lines of college fraternity. The membership would be limited and select. "A student must have a spotless record in every respect in order to be elected as a member and it is to be considered an honor to be one." ; "Watch yourself, boys; don't walk with your toes turned in or have your hair parted in the middle, for if you do, you won't have a chance in the world to become a member of the Rhos."
The exhortations of the Rhos notwithstanding, the basketball team only won 7 of its 15 games. However, as the Aquinas pointed out, the St. Thomas varsity squad was "new at the game and inexperienced" while their opponents were "well seasoned and experienced teams." And St. Thomas managed to outscore their opponents, mostly high schools, 331 to 308.The sophomores won the inter-class cup, even though the season was cut short by the college president in order to give the varsity team full access to the gymnasium for practice. But the sophomores had defeated all of the other classes and the Athletic Board gave them the championship cup.
Practice for the 1917-1918 season began on November 19 with about 30 players trying out for the team. By December the team had a tentative 16 game schedule assembled, with a few open dates included. Once again St. Thomas College would be playing mostly high school teams.
Apparently, a number of the games on the schedule were quickly canceled since the first account of the season already shows some discrepancies with the published schedule. It seems that St. Thomas opened the season with a 29-28 overti me loss to Larksville High School but then followed that with a convincing 27-14 victory over the same team. The team was still not quite a fully functioning unit. A game against Wyoming Seminary was technically canceled by St. Thomas because two of the players were not able to play, for unspecified reasons. But Wyoming Seminary urged St. Thomas to send a team of some sort to the game because it had been advertised and they did not wish to disappoint the spectators. Consequently, St. Thomas sent down "a quintet of second string men, who were badly defeated.... Wyoming did not appreciate the favor we bestowed upon them, since they published the account of the game as [the] St. Thomas college team. When they come up here they will find out which is which before they have run up a very big score." But St. Thomas rebounded with a 18 to 17 double overtime victory over Carbondale High School.
The St. Thomas squad continued its winning ways by defeating four of its next five opponents before then losing four of its next five. The team ended the season with two back-to-back losses to Central High and finished the season with a record of seven victories and nine defeats. Once again, St. Thomas outscored its opponents, but the tally was not recorded in the Aquinas.
Little information about the 1918-1919 season is available from the Aquinas. Because of World War I, the Aquinas was reduced to a four-page monthly newsletter and only issues one and five have survived. The February 1919 issue simply noted the names of the team members and that St. Thomas had defeated Keystone Academy, Pittston High School, St. John's High School, and alumni teams. The Scranton Times did not regularly cover St. Thomas basketball.
Only occasional copies of the Aquinas survive from 1924. But the team, still under coach William Moore, was extremely successful playing a combinat ion of high school, junior college, and university freshman teams. The team went undefeated in the 1923-1924 and the 1924-1925 seasons winning 52 consecutive games. According to the Aquinas: "On Jan. 10, 1925, Trenton Normal School finally stopped the onwardmarch of the Tommies but only because most of the Tommy dependables had graduated.
The Aquinas in a "history of sports at the college" article written in 1939 states that "Although they played basketball many years before, the first organized basketball team took the court in 1926." Jack Harding had been hired to revamp the school's athletic programs. He assumed coaching duties for both football and basketball. Most notably he eliminated high school teams from the schedule and had St. Thomas play comparably sized colleges. St. Thomas now truly had a collegiate sports program.
The 1926-1927 season started with a convincing St. Thomas defeat of Alfred University by the score of 42 to 22. St. Thomas followed that with three more victories and little opposition, out scoring their opponents 172 to 97. The Aquinas acclaimed the team as developing into the "Fastest team ever produced in Northeastern Pennsylvania...." St. Thomas Next Defeated Manhattan College by the score of 37-21. Manhattan had previously defeated Fordham, NYU, and Holy Cross and the Aquinas noted that this made St. Thomas one of the best teams in the East. Unfortunately, the Tommies lost a squeaker to St. Bonaventure 36-34 but rebounded with an even closer 34-33 victory over Villanova, in spite of a lack of enthusiasm on part of the St. Thomas fans. They ended the season with three more victories and finished the year with a record of nine victories and one defeat with that defeat occurring by only two points, and after losing two starters to injury in the previous game. St. Thomas outscored their opponents 420-284.
The 1927-1928 season started with two regulars being temporarily removed from the lineup because of health reasons before the season and an opening loss to Western Maryland, followed by a victory against Bloomsburg State Teachers College. The Tommies then lost the next two games, including a rematch against Bloomsburg where the Aquinas hinted that the referee might have ended the game a second too early before a St. Thomas player scored the winning shot. St. Thomas then went on to win all but one of the remainder of its games for a 10-4 record. The Tommies did have another strange experience on the court. During a return match against Schuylkill College, who the Tommies had defeated decisively at home, the local Reading referee apparently did his best to throw the game to the "Pretzeltowners." According to the Aquinas, "His officiating throughout the struggle was so rank that at times it appeared as though you had to bleed from the mouth to draw a foul."
After the game, Schuylkill canceled athletic relations with St. Thomas claiming a lack of sportsmanship by the Tommies. The Aquinas labeled this "perhaps the biggest farce ever to occur in intercollegiate circles...." St. Thomas outscored their opponents 604-416.
There were 16 scheduled games in the 1928-1929 season, which opened on 15 December with a victory against Dartmouth. Harding had quickly established St. Thomas as a college who would face nationally ranked competition. The Aquinas believed that his policy would "cause the home team to enter the fray with a determination and spirit that will be difficult to dominate" and that this has "elevated the standard of St. Thomas College athletics to heights hitherto unknown." The Tommies then defeated Providence College, Alfred University, Mount St. Mary's, Seton Hall, and the United States Coast Guard, before losing to Canisius, St. Bonaventure, St. John's of Brooklyn, Fordham, and St. Bonaventure again, with only a victory over East Stroudsburg in the midst of the losing streak. Harding revamped the team's lineup which helped win a rematch against Canisius. Unfortunately, the good luck failed to hold and the Tommies lost two more games before ending the season with a victory against Villanova for a 9-7 record. The Tommies outscored their opponents 491-482. The Tommies played, and lost, a courtesy postseason game to Rider College, 26-21. The game was arranged because one of the Rider players, Lou Zara of Old Forge was trailing Charlie Hyatt of the University Pittsburgh for individual scoring honors in the East. Consequently, local fans wanted a chance to see the local hero. Unfortunately for the local fans, the Tommies held Zara to only four points. Sports reporting for the Aquinas was handled by Joseph Polakoff who went on to build a lengthy career as a prominent Washington based journalist.
Harding set up a 19 game schedule for the 1930 season starting with a game against Georgia Tech. The Tommies defeated the visiting squad 39-36 and won their next two games before losing a low scoring contest to Mount St. Mary's 19-14. The team recovered with five victories in a row before losing another close low scoring game to St. John's Brooklyn 26-25. From there on the Tommies would win a game and then lose a game for the next few weeks. Unfortunately the Tommies then went into a losing streak which lasted until the last game of the season. St. Thomas finished the season with 12 wins and seven losses and outscored their opponents 605-518.
The 1931-1932 season featured 15 games, but with only three games scheduled away. The Aquinas looked forward to a season of "unparalleled success" because the St. Thomas team was a veteran squad and even though they lost four starters, they were replaced by mostly experienced men. Unfortunately, the expectations were dashed. The Tommies totally destroyed the South Jersey Law School by a score of 50-15 but then the Tommies were convincingly defeated by Geneva College 40-18 and then lost to an American Legion All-Star Collegiate team. But the Tommies turned the season around by winning their next six games before losing a match to St. John's Brooklyn. But the Tommies came back to defeat Temple and finished the season with two more wins to complete a 14-3 season.
In November 1932, St. Thomas College announced that Joe Zinder, a Nanticoke resident and former Tommie basketball guard and captain of the 1931 team, had been appointed head coach, succeeding Jack Harding. Harding was still coaching the football team and supervising the athletic program, however. The 18 game schedule featured 13 home games. The season opened with an away loss against powerful City College of New York. The Tommies beat Muhlenberg in the opening home game. The gain also featured post game dancing furnished by the St. Thomas orchestra. The Aquinas opined that "a great number of students are expected to take advantage of the special rates for the female sex." Furthermore, the Tommies won their next four games before losing to East Stroudsburg away, beating Canisius away, and losing to Seton Hall at home. The Aquinas complained that "student support of the team has been almost entirely lacking" even though the Tommies were having a successful season and were playing competitively, even when they lost. The team continued winning more games than they lost but dropped a couple games late in the season and finished with an 11-7 season. The Tomcats outscored their opponents 649-585.
The 1933-1934 schedule opened with City College of New York visiting Scranton for the first time, and defeating the Tommies 40-35 in what the Aquinas called "one of the most bitterly contested games never witnessed...." Harding had resumed coaching duties and his team rebounded with a close victory over Westminster College and then a convincing victory over Geneva College, followed by four more victories before suffering consecutive defeats to East Stroudsburg and Lasalle. The team then concluded the season by winning four of its last five games to end the season 11-4. The Aquinas acclaimed this to be the greatest team in St. Thomas College history.
The Aquinas was pessimistic about the 1934-1935 season. The team would only have two starters returning and there were no outstanding undergraduates ready to take the open places. The Aquinas suggested that the team would be lucky to break even during the season, particularly because the team would be facing "undoubtedly the hardest [schedule] they have ever faced." The team started off the year living down to expectations by being overwhelmed by Long Island 61-22 and then losing to City College. But the Tommies broke the losing streak by defeating Catholic University 34-33 in their home opener. The Tommies then lost to Geneva but defeated Wheaton, St. Peter's College, and the Penn A.C. team twice. But in the meantime, the future of basketball at St. Thomas College became the subject of a debate and a poll. Attendance at the games had been dismal all season. Frank O'Hara stated "that unless the students manifest increased and immediate interest, St. Thomas will have no basketball team next season." Although the student body numbered more than 600, only an average of 83 students attended each home game. The Aquinas included a ballot asking students if they were in favor of intercollegiate basketball, why they did not attend the games, and would they support the games if the sport was continued. The ballot received 281 votes and all were in favor of retaining basketball. But the students complained that the extra fee of 25 cents per game, which was added on top of the yearly athletic assessment of $15.00, was too much money. Furthermore, the games were played far enough off-campus to be inconvenient. The college decided that they would attempt to abolish the extra fee and Frank O'Hara, graduate manager of athletics, stated that "St. Thomas will have a basketball squad again next year." However, he also stated that the team could not operate with financial losses. Apparently, the college hired an orchestra to play dance music after the games and this increased costs. The college already had to rent the hall, furnish police and fire protection, as well as pay for uniforms. O'Hara commented "If enough students with musical talent will interest themselves enough to form an orchestra and play gratis after the games, then and only then, will we be able to drop the quarter charge. Under no circumstances are we considering the abolition of admission prices for girls at these contests; it is not for them that the games are primarily staged." The 1934-1935 season continued with a very strange game. The Tommies were leading John Marshall College 33-29 and a major fight broke out. The game had a number of small fights throughout the first half. According to the Aquinas, the John Marshall squad played rough the entire game and had been called repeatedly for fouls. The Aquinas contended that the John Marshall team was under a great deal of pressure to go undefeated in order to get into a "big money game" at Madison Square Garden against Long Island University. But the referees decided to end the game when the major brawl began and blamed John Marshall. Unfortunately for John Marshall, they had to forfeit the game and St. Thomas officially won 2-0. The Tommies completed their difficult and confusing season with a 9-5 record amassing 514 points against 493 for their opponents.
Harding continued to build the Tommies reputation by designing more challenging schedules every year. He also expanded the team's geographic reach by adding additional out-of-state rivals like Roanoke College, Youngstown of Ohio, and Oglethorpe College of Georgia for the 1935-1936 season. Although St. Thomas College was playing teams from more distant parts of the country, they were usually playing them at home. In keeping with the decision of last year, the college was still hoping to drop the 25 cent fee necessary to hire a local orchestra to play after the games, if the college could provide its own student orchestra. In any case, there was still a month of Advent, during which there would be no dances, for the situation to get decided. The season started with a convincing Purple Tide victory over Roanoke College, 40-21. But the team then lost two consecutive games before rebounding against Davis-Elkins. Attendance had picked up for the early games and a college band had been formed. But then the team went on a six game winning streak before losing an away game to Long Island University for which hundreds of Tommy faithful traveled to the Big Apple. The team finished the season with a victory over Canisius ending the season with 13 victories and five losses.
The 1936-1937 season opened the with resounding 42-23 victory over Seton Hall, who was back on the schedule for the first time since 1932-1933. The "new reorganized" college orchestra entertained after the game with a two-hour program of dance music. Students were charged the "usual" 25 cents, with general admission for non-students costing 50 cents. Unfortunately of the team lost two out of its next three games during the holiday season. The Tommies were defeated by Illinois Wesleyan and Nebraska but defeated Marshall College. Controversy concerning the games continued. The Aquinas wondered why "girls are admitted to basketball games for 10 cents when students are charged 25 cents...." Furthermore, the Aquinas complained that the orchestra was only providing 45 minutes to an hour of dancing, instead of the advertised two hours. The team then began a win one, lose one routine for the next few weeks but then received a major shock. Harding announced that he was leaving St. Thomas to take up coaching duties at Miami University at the end of the season. Harding had taken the St. Thomas athletic program from the days when it played high school and college freshman teams to the point where the Tommies were playing sports teams that were national contenders. Unfortunately, the news was not sufficient to spur the Tommies on to victory against one of their premier rivals, Long Island University. In fact, the Tommies went on a road losing streak being defeated by Penn A.C. and Lasalle. The Tommies then lost the season finale at home to Canisius. The Tommies finished with eight victory and nine loss record. As the school year ended a new basketball coach had not yet been selected.
James "Buck" Freeman became the new basketball coach in September 1937. He left his position as director of athletics and head basketball coach at St. John's College Brooklyn. He took the position in Scranton after accumulating a record of 187 victories and 31 losses. Although hired in late September, the team was not formed until late November and would have only slightly more than two weeks of practice before the opening game on December 16. And even those two weeks of practice would not occur, the new coach wound up confined to his home with a "severe case of the grippe" and the team practiced on its own for two weeks using the plays from last year. Nonetheless, the Tommies, now also being called the Imperials, defeated the "Fighting Lutherans" of Wittenberg College of Ohio in its first game. The team lost the next game away in Philadelphia to Lasalle. But then the Tommies defeated their first three rivals at home. Unfortunately, the team had bad luck on the road and lost five games including a loss in their first appearance at Madison Square Garden to Manhattan College. In the meantime, Buck Freeman's bad luck continued when he fell in a campus building and broke his leg. He continued coaching from his hospital bed, but on court practice was conducted by Tom Kelly, the freshman basketball coach. The team rebounded by defeating a professional New York City team, the Crescent A. C., and winning their last home game. The team ended the season 12-9 being unbeaten at home but also unable to win any away games. The team ended the season averaging more than 40 points a game, with a high of 54 against Catholic University and 839 total points. The post game dances were continued and "girls [were] admitted free."
The beginning of the 1938 school year brought a significant change for the institution. No longer St. Thomas College, the institution would now be known as the University of Scranton. But the old nickname stuck, at least for a time, and the basketball team continued to be referred to as the Tommies. It also brought change to the basketball program. Buck Freeman resigned in order to take a position as director of athletics at Iona Prep school in New York. He was succeeded by Red Coleman who had just graduated from St. Thomas where he had been a basketball star. Freeman stated "every time Red went on the basketball floor I learned something about the game. He is the greatest basketball player I have ever seen." Finally, the University bought new baskets and glass backboards for the basketball court at the Watres Armory were the Tommies played their home games. But all these changes were less important than the fact that the Tommies had lost most of the varsity squad to graduation and were practically starting over with inexperienced players. The team started the season with an impressive victory over St. Francis of Loretto in Front of a crowd of 2500, the largest ever for an opening game, but unfortunately followed with their first home loss in nearly three seasons to the Fighting Lutherans of Wittenberg 43-41 in overtime. The uneven season continued with the team winning a game during the holiday season but then dropping two consecutive games to New York City teams. The team continued to lose more than they won for the rest of the season, ending with a 9-10 record. The team scored 833 points against their opponents 803. The team also surpassed the previous record high single game point total of 54 by scoring 57 against Westminster and 56 against the Crescents.
The ambitions of the basketball squad continued to expand as they faced a 24 game schedule during the 1939-1940 season, although 18 of the games were played at home. The football season had ended with the Tommies undefeated and a tremendous amount of school spirit remained on campus. The Aquinas complained, however, that the school spirit never carried over into the basketball games and that the people responsible for pep rallies during the football season should at least attempt to invigorate the student body for the basketball season. The season started on a negative note with the Tommies losing 41-23 to Lasalle, but the team rebounded with a victory over Millersville State at home before, heading into the holiday games. The team emerged with three victories and one defeat from the holiday games but then lost to Ohio at the beginning of January. The Tommies then began to win regularly, often in the final quarter. Near the end of the season the team managed a six game winning streak before dropping two consecutive road games to City College of New York and Seton Hall. The team rebounded with a couple victories at the end of the season and finished with 16 victories and eight defeats. The Tommies averaged 42 points per game, a new record for the basketball team and scored a total of 965 points during the season.
The 1940-1941 season featured 20 games with 16 scheduled for the home court. The schedule also featured a number of newcomers to the Scranton schedule including the University of Detroit, Loyola University of Chicago, Morris-Harvey, and the University of Mexico. The season started with a convincing victory over Morris-Harvey which was followed by three more victories against Millersville, Lehigh, and Wittenberg. Unfortunately, the season did not continue in such a positive fashion as the Tommies then dropped the next four before winning the three after that. The team continued with short winning and losing streaks essentially through the end of the season and wound up with a record of 11 victories and nine losses. In games with the newcomers on the schedule, the Tommies defeated Morris-Harvey, Loyola and the University of Mexico, but lost to the University of Detroit. The team totaled 970 points while their opponents scored 834 points. Mike "Red" Wallace was the first Tommy to score more than 300 points in the season with a total of 327 points surpassing the old Tommy record by 127 points.
The opening two Tommy victories of the 1941-1942 season were overshadowed by the entry of the United States into World War II. Nonetheless, the 23 game schedule continued and included a game with newcomer Tulane University. Seven of the 23 games would be played away. The Aquinas was cautious in predictions for the season. Although the first two games were won handily, the Tommies had very tough opposition and would have a difficult season. Nonetheless, the team defeated the impressive, and very tall, Morris-Harvey team in its third game before losing to Tulane. The team won one-half of its holiday schedule before starting starting a downhill trend for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, coach Edward "Red" Coleman resigned unexpectedly in the middle of the season because his coaching duties conflicted with his position as deputy sheriff of Lackawanna County. Joe Zinder was appointed head coach but was unable to improve Tommy prospects. The situation was made worse for the Tommies, although certainly not unique to them, by the fact that a number of starting players were leaving school to join the military. The Aquinas blamed officiating for some of the defeats. "Once again the University of Scranton basketball squad has gone down to defeat because of incompetent officials judging the game. The referees used in many of the home contests have been of a caliber suitable only for a kindergarten league." But it is doubtful that poor officiating could be solely responsible for the continuing Tommy losing streak. The team did rebound with three consecutive victories near the end of the season but finished with a final record of nine victories and 14 defeats.
The 1942-1943 season featured a number of changes. Football coach, Robert "Pop" Jones took over coaching duties for the basketball team. The team was no longer playing at the Watres Armory but had moved to the South Scranton Junior High School gym. Finally, the first military teams, the Manhattan Coast Guard squad and the New Cumberland Reception Center team, appeared on the 18 game schedule, which featured six away games. One thing that did not change from the previous year was the Tommies' downward spiral. The team lost its first three games before winning 2 in a row, including a victory over New Cumberland a military team that featured one former professional basketball player and a couple former pro baseball players. But the good luck did not continue and the Tomcats lost three consecutive road games. The team continued to lose most of the games through the end of the season with a few victories. Because of the overwhelming attention being paid to the war effort, attendance at the games was also very poor. The team finished with four victories and 14 defeats. The team totaled 776 points for the season.
Due to the manpower shortage in 1943-1944 season was essentially canceled. The junior varsity squad played a number of local high schools. Furthermore, the Aquinas ceased publication after the Dec. 1943 issue and did not begin publishing again until September 1945. Pete Carlesimo was appointed athletic director and coach of both the football and basketball teams in 1943.
The 1944-1945 season started with Marine veteran Leo Kelly being appointed as Captain. Unfortunately, the team started by losing to the Sampson Naval Training Station quintet 51-27 followed by losses to Marshall College and LaSalle at home. Scranton entered the winning column by defeating Princeton, and following that with consecutive wins against Kutztown, Cornell, Bucknell, and the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard before seeing the streak ended by Bloomsburg, 66-65. After a couple defeats, the Tommies had their most impressive ictory of the season convincingly defeating the unbeaten New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, 57-38. Scranton followed this triumph with a victory over Stroudsburg but could not maintain the momentum and fell to Bucknell. The Tommies then entered a win one-lose one phase for the next four games before finishing the season with consecutive victories giving the team a 12 victories and eight defeats. During the season, The Tommies had the misfortune of losing their home court, the Watres Armory, because the Armory was leased by Fleet Wings, Inc. to produce shell boosters. Scranton used the South Scranton Junior High School gym for the latter part of the season.
With World War II finally over, campus life began to return to normal. The Aquinas began to publish again, and sports returned to its traditional role as the center of extracurricular entertainment at the University. The only things unusual in the 20 game 1945-1946 schedule were that the Tommies were still playing four military teams, as well as the typical college lineup, and that they were playing half of the schedule away. Previously, the Tommies had played the overwhelming majority of their games at home. The season started well with a victory over Georgetown followed by a loss to Manhattan but then victories over City College and Loyola. Unfortunately, the season went downhill from there and the Tommies lost nine straight before defeating Stroudsburg, LaSalle, and Ithaca near the end of the season. The team ended with six victories and 14 losses. Besides the upset of City College, the only other highlight of the season was the naming of the Bill Griglock to the Associated Press All Pennsylvania basketball team.
In September 1946 Rev. John J. Coif, Director of Athletics announced that since the school had not been St. Thomas College for years, it was no longer appropriate for the teams to be nicknamed the Tommies. Consequently, the University chose The Royals to be the nickname of the sports teams. Pete Charles decided to concentrate on football and former Tommy star Les Dickman took over the head coaching duties for the 28 game schedule. The military squads had disappeared from the schedule. The Royals began the season with a convincing victory over Bloomsburg, but then lost their next eight games partly due to an injury to leading scorer Bill Griglock. In the midst of the losing streak Coach Les Dickman resigned "because of pressing duties which require more this time" (he had a full-time job with the highway department) and was replaced by former Tommy head coach James "Buck" Freeman who had coached the team in the late 1930s. The Royals began to turn the season around under Freeman's leadership, at least they began to win some of the games. Nonetheless, all the Royals could manage were 10 victories against 18 defeats.
Coach Freeman started the 1947-1948 season with a press blackout. "Pre-season press releases are one of the most detrimental factors against any prospective basketball club. Every rival coaching staff... religiously tries to obtain every detail, as to the ability, size, speed, stamina and all-around talents of opposing players." The Royals had a 27 game schedule "against some of the best clubs in the nation" and Freeman wanted to keep his team's potential secret. In fact, Freeman kept the opening lineup secret until the team took the court against the Connecticut State Teachers club. Scranton won their opening game but then dropped three consecutive road games and eight games overall before defeating Albright and Lebanon Valley at home. But the winning streak did not continue although the team began winning more regularly and finished the season with seven victories and 20 defeats. Mike DeNoia became the fourth Scranton player to score more than 300 points in a season with a total of 304. Although the Royals did poorly the team could look forward to having all but one of the starters return for the next season.
The Royals opened the 1948-1949 season with a victory over King's College followed by two more victories before losing the first game away at Lebanon Valley. The Royals moved into the middle of the season with a winning record, after a couple one point victories, but then lost four games in a row. Victories over Moravian and Mount St. Mary's broke the losing streak but the Royals began losing again and finished the season with nine victories and 13 defeats. The Royals, however, had won four conference games, losing two, which put them in a tie for the Western Division Middle Atlantic States Conference championship with Albright college. The conference was composed of Albright and, Lebanon Valley, and Moravian. Albright won the playoff and the conference. The final record was nine victories and 16 defeats including two playoff losses and a loss to King's in a benefit game. Jack Leighton finished the season with 312 points. Mike DeNoia, who had topped 300 points in the previous season, signed a professional football contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Buck Freeman left the University to become baseball coach at Ithaca college.
Douglas M. Holcomb was hired as basketball coach and sports publicity director in August 1949. Albert J. Widmar a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns was hired as assistant basketball coach. Widmar also coached the freshman team. Holcomb started practices in October and planned "to use a fast breaking offense based on set pattern plays. One basic play will allow different adaptations to work from it." The team had a 27 game schedule with 11 home games and 14 away contests covering approximately 3000 miles. The season started with a victory over the newly formed LeMoyne College team at Syracuse but then followed that victory with two defeats. But when the team finally opened at home they won three out of four games at the familiar Watres Armory. The team also defeated King's College before losing to St. Bonaventure and Manhattan College. The Royals continued to win a few and lose most, but they were winning enough to be in contention for the Middle Atlantic Conference race as the season wound down. Unfortunately, the Royals lost eight games in the latter part of the season, including the all-important conference contest against Albright which determined the Western Division Championship. The team finished with a victory over King's College and 10 victories and 17 defeats. Jack Leighton scored 363 points to lead the Scranton team. The Royals scored 1545 points during the season and their opponents scored 1687.
The 1950-1951 season featured a 31 game schedule and a new home court, the Catholic Youth Center or C. Y. C.. Although the Korean War had started, the draft did not affect the basketball team as it had during World War II. The Royals were, however, once again facing some military teams. The season started poorly with four consecutive losses before the team began to win consistently. The team had one significant disadvantage. The average height of the Royal players was 6'1" with their tallest player being 6' 3" while their opponents averaged 6'4" and had individuals as tall as 6' 9". They were also playing at least a few teams who went onto championship play every season. But the team scored some upsets and made it into the finals of the holiday tournament before losing to traditional nemesis, and spoiler, Albright. As was often the case, student attendance at basketball games was relatively low and only a small crowd was present when the Royals set five scoring records in a 110 to 95 victory over Moravian. The Aquinas reported that the combined 205 points were the highest in a Collegiate contest for the entire nation that season. Unfortunately, the one record-setting game could not offset a rather poor season. The Royals also suffered the insult of having some personal belongings stolen during the home game against Manhattan College. Seven watches and wallets, which had been put in a bag in a storage room, were stolen from members of the team during the game. Although the team finished with a disappointing 11-19 record, the season did have a few high spots in the form of individual performances. Len Pearson scored 422 points and three other players scored more than 300. The team as a whole set a Scranton scoring record of 1909 points.
Low attendance at both football and basketball games prompted the University to eliminate admission fees for students; they still had to pay for their dates though. Douglas Holcomb resigned as coach and was replaced by Pete Carlesimo, who also served as football coach. His assistant was Pete Medvecky who was a former Scranton athlete. The team warmed up for the 26 game 1951-1952 season by playing, and losing to, the Scranton Professional Miners in a benefit game 64-47. But the game also was the debut of 6' 4" freshman Bob Bessoir, would go on to become the Royals coach from 1972 through 2000. The team started with three away games but manage to win their opening game against LeMoyne college before dropping the next two. But the Royals rebounded by winning their first three home games. The Royals' luck did not continue as they dropped the next four before soundly defeating Moravian. But then they suffered another lengthy losing streak in middle of the season. But then the Royals began to turn the season around and had a six-game winning streak before losing the conference deciding game to Lebanon Valley. Nonetheless, the Royals finished the season 13-13 and were invited to the National Catholic Intercollegiate Basketball Invitational Tournament. In the NCIT, the Royals won two games and made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Sienna. Gene Carbona lead the team with 393 points, with Joe Fitt scoring 371 points and Sam Cavalier scoring 348.
Although 10 veterans returned for the 25 game 1952-1953 season, assistant coach Pete Medvecky commented "We still lack the big men." That lack of size was certainly a factor helping the Royals lose its opening three games before defeating Maryland State and Bloomsburg State during the Christmas Holidays. But the winning streak did not continue and the Royals put together another season of short winning and losing streaks. Although the season was rocky, Bob Bessoir's play was spectacular. "Bessoir who has been a big factor in every Royal victory was superb as he took control of the boards and at the same time managed to throw in 20 points." But he wasn't the outstanding player on the team, Joe Fitt of Old Forge ended the season as the team's leading scorer with 511 points for the season (Bessoir scored 334). Fitt also scored a Royal record of 46 points and set a record of 16 free throws. While Fitt set the records, Bessoir was the most improved player "A year ago Bob Bessoir was a rookie who came here rated highly. He simply could not get adjusted to college basketball and both you and I probably had the same thought in mind--here is another fizzle. Bob was crude then and saw varsity action primarily because of the 6'6" frame that went along." The Royals finished the season with 10 victories and 15 defeats.
The 1953-1954 season started on a down note with the Royals losing three out of their first four, even with a seasoned team. Bessoir and Fitt continued to lead the team in scoring. Fitt passed the 1000 point career mark early in the season. It had taken him 63 games and he still had a year of eligibility left. The previous Scranton scoring record was 990 points held by Mike DeNoia. But the fortunes of the team were not so grand and attendance was poor. The Aquinas noted that a decade ago the team could draw 2000 or 3000 fans but now student attendance of 300 at a game is considered to be a good night, even though the team was playing some of the best college competition in the East. But this was also part of the problem. The Royals could not compete with some of the schools that they were scheduling. The " luckless dribblers" managed to get a brief winning streak going during the middle of the season but it wasn't enough to salvage the season and they finished the season with seven wins and 14 losses. Besides playing against superior competition, the Royals also had to contend with limited practice time at the CYC gym. Although most teams began a workout with an hour of shooting practice, the Royals generally only had one hour per day for their entire practice. Bessoir finished the season with 389 points and was awarded the first Les Dickman Most Valuable Player award.
Pete Carlesimo announced the 1954-1955 season as "absolutely the toughest schedule we've ever attempted" and he suggested that the team would do well if it won as many games as it had in the previous year. The team would be facing some of the highest ranked squads in the country. Bob Bessoir was elected Captain of a team that featured nine returning lettermen. Consequently, the team surprised everybody by winning three of their first four games, losing to Cornell. Unfortunately, the good luck did not continue and the Royals dropped six consecutive games. But the team began to win consistently during the middle of the season but not enough to get close to a.500 season, finishing with 9 victories and 15 defeats. Although the Royals did not seem capable of a winning season the Aquinas stated that the team had gained the honor of being "capable of upsetting any team in the country." Bessoir ended his career with more than 1000 points and Fitt finished with 1560. Bessoir finished his last day with the Royals with 43 rebounds, a Scranton record and just three short of the all-time small college record. Joe Fitt received the Les Dickman award.
Ray Welsh became head coach for the 1955-1956 season (in the offseason he worked as a baseball scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates). He emphasized that he wanted all candidates for the team to report in condition for the first day of practice. He also initiated with the Aquinas called a "race horse type of basketball, employing an extremely fast break and snappy ball handling." Once again, the team was lacking in height and faced with tough opposition for its 21 games season. The team opened the season with two losses before beating local rival King's. But once again the team's lack of height proved a fatal problem as the Royals lost far more games then they won. And one of the games that the team won was a forfeit by St. Peter's. Apparently a fight broke out on the court near the end of the game and then spectators began harassing the St. Peter's bench. At which point St. Peter's head coach Don Kennedy refused to allow his team to finish the game stating that he was trying to save his players from "further harm." The team managed to put together a small winning streak near the end of the season and finished with a nine victory and 13 loss record. Jerry Curtis lead the team with 370 points and received the Les Dickman award.
The 1956-1957 season saw the Royals with their second new coach in two seasons, Fiore Cesare. The new coach, however, could not change Scranton's luck. The team opened with three consecutive defeats, which the Aquinas attributed to poor performance in the foul shooting department. Cesare stated that the team did not have the facilities where they could devote time to practicing foul shooting. As usual, the team managed a brief winning streak in the middle of the season and the team finished the season with 9 victories and 14 losses. Ed Kazakavich lead the team in scoring with 473 points.Tom Keefe won the Les Dickman Most Valuable Player award.
The 24 game 1957-1958 season featured a mostly veteran squad for the Royals. But once again the team had a difficult schedule and were significantly shorter than most of their rivals. The Royals opened with a victory against Albright, but then lost five of their next six games. But suddenly the team turned the season around and won 11 games in a row including a convincing victory over Georgetown and an impressive victory over Villanova. The team finished the season with 17 victories and eight defeats, their best record since 1939. The team won their first playoff game in pursuit of the Middle Atlantic States Conference championship but lost to Widener ending the Royal's season. Coach Cesare used seven players regularly, substituting a couple players who had special talents. Ed Kazakavich broke a number of records for the Royals. Among other records, he scored 602 points for the season and scored 56 points in one game against King's. After only two seasons of play he had scored 1075 points and received the Les Dickman award. The Aquinas was finally able to complement the student's school spirit.
Bob Bessoir returned to Scranton as assistant basketball coach for the 1958-1959 season. He was also responsible for coaching the freshman team. Most of the starters were selected by mid-November and Ed Kazakavich was selected by Dell Basketball Magazine as one of the top 10 players in the East. The previous successful season meant that the Aquinas covered the new year in great detail publishing player profiles for the first time. Unfortunately, the season began on a down note with two defeats. The Aquinas attributed the defeats partly to a lack of school spirit, once again, because only 50 students attended the opening home match. But then the Royals scored one of the great victories in team history when they defeated Seton Hall for the first time in 20 years, 61 to 58. The Royals then won five of their next six games. The University radio station broadcast its first basketball game when it covered the Jan. 7 Scranton victory over King's. The most unusual game was a 75 to 74 overtime victory over Gonzaga. The Gonzaga squad featured 7'3" 280 pound Jean LeFebvre who, the Aquinas commented, "proved to be no more than a spectacle at which to gape." Kazakavich sent the game into overtime with a foul shot. But Gonzaga had fouled so many times that they were only able to use four men during overtime and Scranton was able to squeak out a victory. Although the Aquinas does not specify how many students attended the game, 4500 tickets were sold. There were approximately 1200 Scranton students so the general population was also turning out to see the Royals perform. The team continued its winning ways and finished the season with 16 victories and six losses. Unfortunately, a late season defeat by Moravian eliminated the Royals from Middle Atlantic States Conference championship contention. Bessoir's freshman team finished the season with 13 victories and only one defeat, and that defeat was by only one point. Bob Meckwood was awarded the Les Dickman Most Valuable Player award. Kazakavich graduated holding eight University records. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics and the University Student Council proposed retiring his number.
Pete Carlesimo, Director of Athletics, stated that scheduling was the biggest headache that he had each year. And the 1959-1960 25 game basketball schedule was extremely difficult to put together and included an initial seven game series with only one home game and with no more than two back-to-back home games at any time during the season. And once again Coach Cesare noted that his team would be much shorter than most of their opponents and hoped to offset that disadvantage by emphasizing a fast break game. Furthermore, only four veterans were returning. The season would not be a repeat of the previous successful outings. The team struggled all year, particularly after losing captain Bob Meckwood for six games with an ankle injury. The team never got on track and finished the season with 9 victories and 16 defeats.
Only three lettermen returned for the 1960-1961 campaign and Coach Cesare was once again concerned about height. The Aquinas considered the season to be a rebuilding year. By the time the season opened, only two seniors and four juniors were on the 13 man roster, the rest of the team was made up of sophomores. The Royals lost to Villanova 106-72 in the opener and then lost to Muhlenberg in the first home game. The team won the next two games but then began a new losing streak. Although the Aquinas accepted "the old height nemesis" as a reason for the team's poor results, the paper also stated that that was not enough to "excuse the ineptness of the team's play." This unusually critical commentary may have been due to the fact that the article was published in the same Aquinas that reported on the discontinuation of the football program. By mid-season the team had only won three games, at which point the Aquinas' sports editor predicted a dim future for the team. After an eight game losing streak had been snapped by a convincing win over Wilkes, the Aquinas debated whether the Royals should be playing higher ranked opponents like Villanova, Temple, and Hofstra but also whether it was fair for the Royals to take on much smaller schools like Wilkes. The terrible season and the relentless Aquinas criticism continued and the team finished with a five victory and 25 defeat record. The Les Dickman trophy was given to the first sophomore to win the award, Tom Foley. Sophomore Joe Barbuti received an honorable mention for the Catholic College All-American team.
Only two seniors returned for the 1961-1962 campaign and the team would rely on the now experienced sophomores who had learned the game the hard way during the previous dismal season. Since there was no longer a football team to compete for attention, the basketball squad was given heightened attention during the late autumn. A player preview appeared and as even did an article about the team's managers and statisticians. And for the first time the Royals were not at a significant height disadvantage. Nonetheless, the team had a rocky season and lost convincingly to some of their powerhouse opponents like Villanova and Temple. But the team also lost to Muhlenberg as well and were at 500 near the middle of the season. Although the team was struggling they were scoring well and were the top scoring outfit in the Middle Atlantic Conference with an average of 87.4 points per game. One highlight of the season was a 95-90 upset over Susquehanna, the Middle Atlantic Conference leaders. That victory was followed by wins over Elizabethtown and Moravian but the surge came too late to give the Royals a chance at the conference playoffs. The team won six of their last eight games and finished with 12 victories and 12 defeats. Will Witaconis was awarded the Les Dickman award and was also named to the MAC All-Star squad.
The 1962-1963 season started on a negative note with two consecutive away losses to Buffalo and Niagra, both by significant margins. The season got worse with five more defeats interrupted only by a convincing victory over previously undefeated LeMoyne. The team rebounded with victories over Wilkes and Moravian. But those victories kept the team in the running for the MAC title. The Royals managed to win four straight games in the middle of the season and had a 5-0 record in the MAC. Unfortunately, the team then lost their next six before ending the season with a three-game winning streak. Unfortunately, the late surge was not enough to keep the them in contention for the MAC title. The Royals finished the season with 11 victories and 15 defeats. Will Witaconis led the team in scoring and in only two years scored 1129 points. He averaged 28 points per game which placed him number 7 of small college scorers. He also was the first player in University of Scranton history to be named to the AP first team Little All-American squad. Senior George Clum, who was awarded the Les Dickman trophy, put in a solid season consistently scoring in double digits and pulling down an average of 13 rebounds per game.
Only three lettermen returned for the 1963-1964 season, fortunately Witaconis was one of them. Scranton once again lacked height but were hopeful going into the season. The team lost its opening away games against Canisius and LeMoyne because of poor play. But they won the home opener against low ranked Wilkes which gave the team some life and they won two of their four holiday contests. The season continued in a similar manner as the Royals won three of their next six including a home court victory over King's College. The game took three overtimes to conclude and featured a stands clearing fight after a King's student stole the beret from the head of a Scranton cheerleader. The cheerleader went over to the King's stands to retrieve his beret, the King's students attacked him and the Scranton student body rushed over in mass and the fight broke out. The fight was stopped when the police turned off all the lights making it impossible for the fighters to see who they were punching. The team also defeated Susquehanna by a score of 121-65, which was the highest point total the Royals had ever attained, the second-highest being 117 points accumulated against King's in the triple overtime. Although the Royals had a chance at the MAC playoffs, a less than .500 finish left the team out of contention. The Royals finished the season with 12 victories and 14 defeats and were 8-4 in the Middle Atlantic Conference. The high point of the season came when Bill Witaconis broke Ed Kazakavich's all-time scoring mark. He finished his career with 1712 points and the University retired his jersey. Bud Cooper received the Les Dickman award.
The Royals only lost two starters to graduation, Bud Cooper and Bill Witaconis. But probably more important the schedule underwent a significant change. Scranton dropped games against "perennial powerhouses" Lafayette, Niagra, Canisius, and Providence. The team thereby eliminated long road trips and also eliminated teams that Scranton simply could not defeat. The Aquinas noted that some students were planning to boycott the games unless the team started winning immediately. The Aquinas responded that lack of school spirit has traditionally been a reason why the Royals did not fare better. As the season was about to start, coach Fiore Cesare resigned and freshman coach Jack Koniszewski took over the position. Koniszewski had spent four years as the freshman basketball coach. Cesare agreed to help out by scouting the opponents for the rest of the season. The Aquinas summed up the Royals problems by saying that they will have basically the same type of team that they have had for the past six years. "They will have great shooting, a fair defense, and terrible rebounding." The rebounding problem was due to the team's perennial lack of height. The tallest player on the Scranton squad was 6'3" but opening night opponent Villanova had four men 6'7" or taller. The Royals started the season poorly with three victories and five defeats, but fortunately for the Royals the three victories were against MAC opponents and four of the defeats were against nonconference teams. Consequently, the Royals were in decent condition going into the middle of the season. The Royals actually managed to compile a 6-1 MAC record before losing two consecutive conference games which put them out of contention. The team suffered another blow when one of its players, Rhett Jenkins, was declared ineligible because of a deficiency in the number of credits he took in the previous year. Jenkins had transferred to the University in February 1964 and was only able to take two classes. For some reason East Stroudsburg State College challenged his eligibility and the conference required that he sit out the remainder of the season. He continued to practice with the team but the Royals had lost one of its better players. The losing streak continued for the rest of the season with the exception of the finale, against the East Stroudsburg squad that cost the Royals one of its star players. The Royals ended the season with 9 victories and 15 defeats. The Les Dickman Award was given to Jim Dooley. Although the season had ended there was the some controversy with the athletic program. A full-time head coach needed to be appointed and the student body got very upset and staged a mass demonstration when it was announced that Pete Carlesimo had accepted the head coaching position of a professional football team in Scranton but would also continue to carry on his duties at the University. The demonstrators, consisting of approximately 200-300 students marching down Lyndon Street and chanting "We shall overcome," were concerned that Carlesimo would not be able to give the athletic programs enough attention if he also had a full-time coaching position. The University responded that Carlesimo had attained approval from the University and that all parties were confident that he could continue to give the University's athletic programs sufficient attention.
The Royals would be challenged by the loss of five lettermen going into the 1965-1966 season. The team also acquired a new head coach, Nat Volpe. Volpe, considered to be a strict disciplinarian who stressed fundamentals, had been basketball coach and director of athletics at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains NY since 1948. He would also be a full-time, fully professional coach would have the ability to recruit players from out of the area, particularly from the New York City area. The coach was immediately thrust into the limelight with a "rally round Volpe, V-Day" ceremony and expectations that he would be the "saviour of basketball at Scranton." Although the team had lost five lettermen, there were seven sophomores who had played on the winning freshman team trying to take their places. The team started the season by losing to Villanova away and defeating Elizabethtown at home. The Aquinas commented that the team appeared to be "well schooled in the fundamentals" for the first time in many years. But the team then lost two more games before beginning a four-game winning streak which included a 109 to 98 victory over Upsala, followed by a 105 to 74 defeat by Bucknell. The team was losing more games than it was winning but was still in the hunt for the Middle Atlantic Conference at midseason. The coach tried different strategies to keep his team competitive. Against Wilkes, for instance, he started the second string and had them run the opponent up-and-down the court in an effort to tire them out. He then put a fresh first-team onto the court in the second half and took the team from a one point deficit to an 18 point victory. The star of the team at midseason was Everett "Rhett" Jenkins, who had been regularly scoring in the high 20s and was selected as one of the All-East players of the week for three games. And although Jenkins continued to score well the team continued to lose more than it won, including a critical conference game against Moravian where Coach Volpe was called with a technical foul that resulted in Moravian eliminating the Royal lead and then staying ahead for the last couple minutes. The team then lost four of its last five games and finished with 10 victories and 14 defeats. Senior Tom Yucka received the Les Dickman award and Jenkins made the Middle Atlantic Conference first-team. Coach Volpe commented that it had been "a year for me to get acquainted with the material at hand; it was a year for me to bring in my theories of basketball to a group that was totally unfamiliar with them."
Workouts for the 1966-1967 season began with four returning lettermen and six out of eight front-line performers from the previous season. Rhett Jenkins was named Captain. Among the returning lettermen was Charlie Witaconis, brother of former Royal star Bill Witaconis. Sports columnist Alan Mazzei wrote that Coach Volpe, the five foot tall "little tyrant" had toughened his players through repeated drills. The straight talking Volpe stated "See what those drills are doing to them. They're becoming animals." The "animals" started the season in a convincing fashion with two double-digit victories over Wilkes College and Elizabethtown with Rhett Jenkins and Charlie Witaconis leading the scoring. The team lost its next game to Temple but then went on a six game winning streak. The streak included in some impressive victories such as a 28 point victory over LeMoyne, a 31 point victory over Delaware Valley, and a 24 point victory over Juniata. Jenkins was averaging 30 points a game for a few games. Charlie Witaconis was leading the team in rebounds and also scoring in double digits. The winning streak ended with a 92-86 loss to King's followed by a victory against Drexel and then a loss to Albright. The team won and lost a couple more, and looked "sluggish" in their victories. But then the Royals managed a seven-game winning streak going into the Mid-Atlantic Conference playoffs. Their victory over Moravian on February 16 was particularly sweet. First of all the team won by 27 points, they clinched a spot in the MAC playoffs, and Rhett Jenkins became the six player in Scranton history to score 1000 points. The team finished the regular season with 17 victories and five losses and won the MAC with a 14-1 record. The team met Wagner in the playoffs. The Royals had just recently defeated Wagner 101-86 but the playoff would not be a repeat. Unfortunately for the Royals, lead scorer Rhett Jenkins had been hospitalized prior to the game and Bobbie Moylan, another offensive star, was also ill. The two offensive stars played but were ineffective. Nonetheless, the Royals managed to hold the lead at the half. But the Royals had a height disadvantage and Witaconis and Bob McGrath both started the second half in foul trouble. Wagner slowly pulled in front and won the game 91-80. It was, however, the most successful season the basketball team achieved in 35 years. Rhett Jenkins was selected to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division II All-Star team with a 23.9 points per game average which ranked him 45th in the nation. Unfortunately, the Royals would have to replace the graduating Jenkins. Jenkins received the Les Dickman Award and also received the Pete Fidati trophy, an annual elective gift by the student body to the outstanding senior athlete. Charlie Witaconis was selected as the outstanding center in the Middle Atlantic Conference Northern Division.
The Royals entered the 1967-1968 season with only Rhett Jenkins missing from the lineup due to graduation. Coach Volpe said "Rhett is definitely the most difficult man to replace from last year's ball club. [Image: The Scranton Royals] He was a great shooter and he did a good job off the boards." Volpe also considered Charlie Witaconis to be the "key man because he is an excellent rebounder and scorer. He has been working hard not to commit the fouls he committed the last two years."
The team would also be treated to its first on-campus full-time basketball court in a newly constructed gymnasium, which would be named the Long Center after former University president Father John J. Long. The team opened its season at its old home court at the Catholic Youth Center with a victory over Loyola and a conference victory over Susquehanna before losing to LeMoyne on the road. A win one/lose one stretch ensued and at midseason the Royals were at 500. They had won three home games in a row defeating Lycoming, King's, and Upsala in the new Long Center. Volpe stated that the problem was "We don't have a leader. We have four captains, but not one of them has taken over to inspire the whole group. To sum up the first half of the season, our losses can be attributed to just this--the inability of a big man to score the consistent 25 points that are needed to win. The reason for last year's success was that we had Rhett Jenkins, who could always produce 25 points." The team lost two more games, to Moravian and Lafayette, before winning six of their next seven games including eight straight home victories in the Long Center. The Royals ended the season on a disappointing note with a 28 point loss to Seton Hall and a failure to make the MAC playoffs. Charlie Witaconis came within 27 points of the 1000 career point market and shared the Les Dickman Award with Bob McGrath.
Coach Volpe instituted a tough conditioning regimen for his 1968-1969 squad. The team lost four starters (only Ed Moroz returned from the starting lineup) but did have some returning veterans and promising freshman. Volpe planned a running offense because the team did not have great size. He also stated: "Overall, this is a team that if it really gels can be outstanding." The team started with a victory over Moravian at home but then lost two away games to Philadelphia Textile and Loyola before putting together a three-game winning streak going into the holiday season. The University hosted its First Annual Basketball Tournament at the Long Center on Dec. 27 and 28. Boston University, Colgate, and Lehigh University were participating along with the Royals. The Royals took top honors by first beating Lehigh and then squeaking past Colgate. Gene "The Machine" Mumford quickly emerged as the star of the team winning the MVP award at the tournament. With the exception of a loss to King's, the Royals then won their next 13 games before losing to Elizabethtown in the season finale. But by that point the team had secured second place in the conference and was going to the playoffs. Mumford regularly scored in the 20s, but other players like Roger Yost and Bill McCue were averaging in the double digits as well. Perhaps the most dramatic victory was an overtime triumph over Seton Hall, the first time the Royals defeated The Pirates in 11 years, when John Scott scored his only basket to win the game with 14 seconds left. This victory was immediately followed by another overtime triumph, this time over Wagner. The biggest controversy of the season occurred off court. A February 8 game against King's College resulted in a "wild melee" between students from King's and Scranton police. The game was sold out but approximately 60 King's students had walked 25 miles from Wilkes-Barre to see the game. Most of the students had tickets but University athletic director David Ocorr had apparently allowed the game to be substantially oversold and, consequently, not only the King's students but also University of Scranton students and even season ticket holders were turned away. There had been some skirmishes between the University students and the police but the King's students are quite upset and police moved in to remove the students from the steps of the building. According to the Aquinas, Scranton police used Mace and Billy clubs to clear the steps, arresting six King's students in the process. The Aquinas laid the blame completely on Ocorr for overselling the game "Perhaps someone should tell Mr.Ocorr what the capacity of the Long Center is and that it is not a good practice to oversell that capacity.... It especially seems that an apology is owed to the students of King's College by Mr. Ocorr...." The Royals faced Delaware Valley in the first playoff game. The Royals won convincingly by a score of 74 to 63, with Mumford scoring 39 points. Juniata had upset conference champions Wagner and faced Scranton in the final. The small but tenacious Juniata squad gave Scranton a tough game but the Royals pulled ahead with less than a minute and hung on to win 63 to 61. University of Scranton Royals had won their first MAC Division Championship. The team finished with 20 victories and five defeats and 13 victories against three defeats within the conference. Team captain Ed Moroz won the Les Dickman award. Gene Mumford led the team in scoring with 657 points and a a 26.3 game average.
The Royals were looking forward to the 1969-1970 season partly because they had six returning Letterman and partly because the rigorous training had the team in top physical condition. The team opened with two away victories before losing to LeMoyne also on the road. The Royals then lost their first home game ever in the Long Center to Philadelphia Textile but recovered with five consecutive home victories, including victories over Vermont and Hofstra to give the team the Holiday Tournament crown for the second year. They lost to Rider but then put together a four-game winning streak including a 102-66 victory over Moravian. Up until this point the team had been playing competently but had been winning games from the foul line. The team had earned nearly 100 more foul shots than their opponents about halfway into the season. Mumford was averaging 30 points per game at midseason and scored his 1000th point in the rout of Moravian. The Royals had a rough stretch near the end of the season losing consecutive games to King's and Delaware Valley in a double overtime defeat. The closing stretch also featured a 24-22 victory over Susquehanna, who decided the only way to stay in the contest was to slow the game down as much as possible, and a loss to Wilkes. But the Royals ended the season with 11-3 MAC record which put them in second place and sent them to the playoffs. The Royals convincingly defeated Upsala but then lost, again at home, to Philadelphia Textile 103-83. The Royals finished the season with an away loss to Seton Hall that would be the final game between the two teams, ending a four decade relationship. The season ended with a 15-8 record. The Les Dickman award was presented to Ed Moroz.
As the 1970s dawned, The University of Scranton basketball team would see significant changes that would lead it to championship seasons. Now that the team had shown that it could win consistently, the University decided to upgrade the schedule by adding well-ranked teams like Canisius and Iona, which contributed to a couple more mediocre seasons. But more importantly, the team appointed former Royals star Bob Bessoir head coach in 1972. Within a couple years the team was consistently winning Middle Atlantic Conference championships and even NCAA championships in 1976 and 1983. It had taken Scranton decades to develop a championship team, but the early years had their highlights and their stars.