Men's Basketball Tradition
Howie Tucker was a member of Siena's first team in 1938. He was the first Siena athlete inducted into the Siena Sports Hall of Fame.
Since the year after its founding in 1937, Siena has boasted a men's basketball team that has captivated audiences in the Capital Region and beyond. In the original glory days of the late 1940's and early 1950's, the then-Indians advanced to the National Catholic Invitational Tournament four straight years, winning the title in Albany in 1950.
The Rev. Maurus Fitzgerald served as the department's first athletic director publicizing his vision "that one day Siena would gain the same national fame in basketball that has been achieved in football by Notre Dame."
Following the success of the early 50's, the program was well on its way, as the Indians found themselves ranked in the AP top-20 in successive seasons, catapulting as high as 11th following an upset of Seton Hall in Albany's Washington Avenue's Armory.
Siena Hall of Famer Billy Harrell was a big part of the team's success in its teenage years, drawing the praise of national publications on his way to being drafted by both the National Basketball Association (Minneapolis Lakers) and Major League Baseball (Cleveland Indians). "The Flash" was a United Press Honorable Mention All-American as a senior in 1952.
Over the next 20 years, the program struggled, winning no more than 14 games in any season. During that time, the Saints played in the longest game in NCAA history, a six-overtime loss to Niagara in 1952-53 (now the second longest). The following year, the player who provided the brightest moments during the "dark years", Bill Kirsch a 5-8 guard who was described as a "set-shot artist", supplied one of the most memorable moments in program history, sinking a 60-foot shot at Madison Square Garden to beat Iona at the buzzer. Sportswriter David Eisenberg described the shot as "the most sensational basketball shot in Madison Square Garden history, a three-quarter courter from 60 feet out."
In 1972, the former set-shot standout took over as head men's basketball coach and athletic director. It was under his leadership, and through his imagination, that Siena was given Division I status in 1976. After a brief incubation period, the program began to flourish, and has since periodically experienced the national acclaim Fitzgerald dared dream of over 60 years ago.
Head Coach Mike Deane guided Siena to the promise land of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament, for the first time in 1989--the year after the program made its initial NIT appearance. After capturing the nation's attention throughout the season as a result of a measles outbreak on campus that forced several games (including the North Atlantic Conference Tournament) to be quarantined, Siena knocked off third-seeded (and 13th ranked) Stanford in Greensboro, N.C. to become one of the NCAA's first "Cinderella teams." "Showbiz" Mark Brown, Siena's all-time leading scorer with 2,284 career points, keyed the win with a game-high 32 points.
Deane's teams won 20 or more games four times in his eight years with the program, and advanced to the NIT three times, capped off by an unforgettable 1994 run. In his final season at the helm, the Saints played well into March thanks in large part to the efforts of another 2,000-point scorer, Doremus Bennerman. Bennerman went on to earn NIT Most Valuable Player honors after setting the Tournament record with 174 points (including a school-record 51 at Madison Square Garden against Kansas State) as the now-Saints captured third place in the Mecca of college basketball.
After taking a step back after Deane's departure, a period of time memorable only because of the full-time move to Pepsi Arena prior to the 1996-97 season, the program enjoyed a great renaissance that coincided with the arrival of Head Coach Paul Hewitt in 1997. Following seventh and eighth place finishes in the eight-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the two years prior to his arrival; the Saints averaged 22 wins in Hewitt's three seasons at the helm. The run was highlighted by successive postseason appearances in his final two years, the first of which was a return-trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1999.
Louis Orr continued the success in 2000-2001, leading the program to another 20-win season. The following season, the Rob Lanier era began. Lanier became the first coach in program history to orchestrate consecutive postseason appearances in his first two years as head coach. In 2002, the Saints rallied from a sub-par regular-season to win four MAAC Tournament games, advancing to the NCAA Opening Round where they became just the second team in Tournament history to win a game with a losing record. Siena knocked off Alcorn State 81-77 in Dayton, Ohio before succumbing to eventual National Champion Maryland in Washington, D.C. two days later. In Lanier's second year of work, the Saints won 21 games including two Postseason NIT clashes on their home floor.
Edwin Ubiles, Ronald Moore and Alex Franklin celebrate their third straight MAAC title in 2012.
In 2005, an exciting new chapter in Siena basketball began as Fran McCaffery assumed the reigns as head coach. McCaffery made an immediate impact, guiding Siena to the fifth greatest turnaround in all of Division I in his first year, and to a 20-win season and MAAC title game appearance in his second season. In his third season, the Saints enjoyed one of the great years in program history, winning the MAAC regular-season and postseason championship before stunning #4 seed Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tournament First Round. During the 2008-09 season, McCaffery's Saints equaled a program-record with 27 wins and made another run to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. They won the MAAC regular-season and Tournament Championship before knocking off Ohio State 74-72 in double overtime in the First Round of the Big Dance. During McCaffery's final season in 2009-10, the Saints won their third straight MAAC Tournament Title and made a third straight postseason appearance.
In April of 2013, Jimmy Patsos was hired as Siena's 16th head coach. In his first season, Patsos led the Saints to their 19th 20-win season in program history and the College Basketball Invitational Postseason Championship setting the stage for an exciting new era of Siena basketball.
From four Catholic Invitational Tournament appearances, to five National Invitation Tournament bids, to six berths in the NCAA Tournament. From the Washington Avenue Armory, to the Alumni Recreation Center, to the state-of-the-art 15,500-seat Times Union Center. The scope of Siena basketball has changed in the 74 seasons of Siena basketball, helping to carry through the bold ideals set forth that many years ago by Rev. Fitzgerald.