Yale University

Class News

Rick Kaminsky ’64 remembers the 1962 basketball championship

In the following story on the current Yale men’s basketball team, The New York Times interviews Rick Kaminsky ’64, one of 5 members of the Class of 1964 who, as sophomores in 1962, were mainstays of Yale’s last basketball team to win the Ivy League and reach the NCAA tournament. Those 5 sophomores were Rick Kaminsky, Denny Lynch, Dave Schumacher, Dick Derby, and Bob Reum.

Rick went on to be twice-named All-Ivy, and in his senior year he was captain of the team and named All-American by the Helms Athletic Foundation. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers but did not play in the NBA. For more on this team, see the In Memoriam page for Dick Derby, who died in a September 1962 automobile accident.

Here's a short ESPN interview with Rick, who comments on why Bill Bradley didn't come to Yale.

After this story was published, the 2015-2016 men's basketball team went on to win the Ivy League championship, finishing alone in first with an Ivy League record of 13-1, edging out Princeton. In the subsequent NCAA tournament, 12th-seeded Yale upset 5th-seeded Baylor 79-75 in the first round, but then lost to 4th-seeded defending national champion Duke 71-64. The Bulldogs trailed by 27 points early in the second half, then surged back to within 3 points with less than a minute to play. But the clock forced Yale to foul, and Duke finished out the game from the free-throw line.

Yale Banishes Demons. Next Are Tigers and Lions.

The New York Times

February 21, 2016

Coach James Jones and the Bulldogs on Feb. 5. Another Ivy League arena, Penn’s, has been the site of some tough Yale losses.

PHILADELPHIA — Yale may always be, as its fictional alumnus C. Montgomery Burns once put it on “The Simpsons,” first in gentlemanly club life, but in Ivy League men’s basketball, it has not finished alone in first since 1962.

Putting aside the five teams that have never appeared in the NCAA tournament, Yale’s 53-season tournament drought is, according to the NCAA, the second-longest in Division I (bested, if that is the word, by its conference rival Dartmouth).

But this year, that dry spell could end. By beating Penn, 79-58, on Saturday night, Yale (18-6, 9-1) retained a precarious hold on the Ivy League lead and continued to threaten to shatter one of college basketball’s most ignominious streaks.

“Everybody’s in the same boat,” James Jones, Yale’s coach for 17 seasons, said, referring to the Ivy League’s contenders, which include Princeton, a half-game back in the standings, and Columbia, a game back.

Justin Sears of Yale, which leads Princeton and
Columbia in the Ivy League standings. Sears could
repeat as the conference’s player of the year.

Yale and Princeton split their games. Princeton, which beat Columbia on Feb. 13, hosts the Lions on Friday; Yale, which beat the Lions on Feb. 5, will travel to Columbia for its final game of the regular season, on March 5.

“All we need to do is go out, try to take care of business as best we can each and every week,” Jones said. “One at a time. Coach speak, but that’s really what you’ve got to do.”

A few days earlier, Joseph Vancisin, the coach of Yale’s tournament team in 1961-62, had expressed an optimism that probably comes more easily to retirees.

“From all I can read and gather from former players, Yale’s going to win it all this year,” Vancisin, 93, said by telephone.

The best player on that squad, Rick Kaminsky, recalled that season in a separate interview.

“It was great,” he said. “I hope they can do it again.”

Saturday’s game might have made an impact beyond the standings: It allowed Yale to confront and, at least temporarily, banish its haunting memories from decades of games at the Palestra, Penn’s airy old field house, where blunt lights bathe the court and leave the upper stands in shadows.

This was Yale’s first game at the arena since a heartbreaking loss to Harvard in March 2015 — a one-game playoff between two first-place teams that could happen only in the Ivy League which, uniquely among the 32 Division I conferences, does not stage a championship tournament to determine the team that receives its automatic NCAA tournament bid. The Yale senior Javier Duren missed a floater at the buzzer, and Harvard won, 53-51, prolonging Yale’s tournament drought.

It was the second such playoff that Jones’s Bulldogs had contested. At the end of the 2001-2 season — with Princeton also involved in a three-way tie for first — Penn beat Yale, 77-58.

There have been a few reports that a conference tournament is on the way, perhaps next season. (Several conference officials declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.) According to The Yale Daily News, the tentative plan is to hold the tournament — where else? — at the Palestra.

A Yale spokesman confirmed that a one-game playoff this season against either Princeton or Columbia would be expected to take place at the Palestra.

After Saturday’s game, the senior forward Justin Sears, who could repeat as the conference’s player of the year, dismissed the drama of returning to the scene of a tragedy.

“I didn’t think about it,” he said. “Coach didn’t mention it. This is a new team, new look.”

Yale has gone the last four games without its captain, Jack Montague, a senior guard who is second on the team in assists per game and first in steals but who is on a leave of absence for unspecified personal reasons. Montague helped Yale jump to a 6-0 start in conference play that included a 79-75 win over Princeton. Without him, the Bulldogs lost at Princeton, 75-63, on Friday night.

Still, Yale’s strength is its defense, which entering Sunday ranked 31st overall in the efficiency rating listed at the college basketball analytics website kenpom.com. Yale held Penn, which was averaging 69 points per game, to 26 points in the second half Saturday.

On offense, Yale’s most valuable asset is Sears, who is fourth in the conference in scoring, at 17.0 points per game. He displayed exceptional wiliness Saturday in using his 6-foot-8, 205-pound frame to receive the ball in the low post and back his defender down. He finished with 31 points and 9 rebounds, each figure a game high.

“I honestly could sit here and tell you I think he could have got 40 and 20,” Jones, the coach, said of Sears.

Kaminsky, the leading scorer on the 1961-62 team, was, by his own admission, a less dominant offensive player.

“I was about 6-2½, 210 pounds — not your classic basketball player,” Kaminsky said. “I could shoot well. I was a good rebounder. Played real good defense.”

That team ran the shuffle offense, which is heavy on picks and light on isolation plays, to compensate for its shortcomings in talent. Vancisin, the coach, said he picked up the system during his time as an assistant coach at Minnesota and Michigan. His teams would play Oklahoma, whose coach, Bruce Drake, had invented the offense.

Referring to John J. Lee Jr., who led Yale to the 1957 Ivy title, Vancisin said, “There weren’t five Johnny Lees or Rick Kaminskys at Yale all at once.” (Lee, drafted by the Knicks, instead entered the oil business, a far more lucrative career at the time.)

The 1961-62 Bulldogs gave Kentucky and Connecticut good games and beat out-of-conference opponents in Holy Cross, Fordham, and Tennessee. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, they faced Wake Forest, which went on to the Final Four. Center Dave Schumacher had a chance to put Yale ahead late with a free throw, but he missed, sending the game to overtime. Yale lost, 92-82.

That game, too, took place at the Palestra.

After that loss, Kaminsky said, Yale figured it had a dynasty in the making because most of the team’s stars were underclassmen; Kaminsky himself was just a sophomore.

“This whole group will be back next year to try and do it again,” a Yale Daily News columnist wrote at the time. “It is our considered opinion that they will succeed.”

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, a prized recruit from Missouri — who had stayed in Kaminsky’s dorm room when he had visited Yale’s campus — ended up choosing Princeton and began his basketball career there the following season. That player, Bill Bradley, went on to be an Olympic gold medalist and a two-time N.B.A. champion with the Knicks (not to mention a United States senator). He also led Princeton to three Ivy League titles.

“Bill was a good guy — we got along fine,” Kaminsky said, adding: “We’ve stayed friends. We could have been better friends had we been teammates.”