The Post-Journal

Win Over UCLA Adds To Legacy

DAYTON, Ohio — When I was about 9 years old, I received a board game for Christmas. It was called “Basket Ball.”

Players used spring-loaded levers to pop the ping-pong ball “basketball” up in the air and through the opponent’s hoop. Scoring was the same as real basketball. The playing field was dimpled to coax the ball towards the levers. Levers were angled to shoot the ball at the hoop.

My starting “lineup?”

It was a no-brainer.

In fact, I had the names of Bob Lanier, Billy Kalbaugh, Matt Gantt, Greg Gary and Paul Hoffman written in third-grade script on the floor of my “court.”

To a kid growing up in the Southern Tier during the 1969-70 season those guys were my hoops heroes, a collection of talent that, without an injury to Lanier in the regional semifinal, would have very likely met UCLA in the championship game.

Forty-eight years later, I don’t need to Google “St. Bonaventure starting five 1969-70,” to remind myself of that crew.

But I’ll never forget the Bonnies from 2017-18 either.

And I’ll certainly never forget Courtney Stockard and what he did on a national stage at UD Arena on Tuesday night.

The young man who missed two entire seasons with foot injuries and sat out St. Bonaventure’s Atlantic 10 semifinal loss to Davidson because of a balky hamstring, turned in the performance that will be talked about for years among rabid Bona fans, near and far, leading the Bonnies to a 65-58 victory over UCLA in the NCAA men’s first four.

Need some perspective? The last time St. Bonaventure won an NCAA Tournament game was Lanier’s senior year. I’m not very good with numbers, but that’s almost a half-century of heartache.

The significance wasn’t lost on the emotional St. Bonaventure coach after the game.

“When I got the job here 11 years ago, we heard the stories about 1970 and how disappointing it was that Lanier got hurt and they didn’t have a chance to have a full team and going to play Jacksonville. … This victory is for those guys.”

But it was also for a group of young men who flew under the radar coming out of high school, hardly known by big-time programs, yet still found a way to post a school-record 26 wins, heading into Thursday’s first-round matchup with Florida in Dallas.

“When we came 11 years ago, when I walked into the locker room, we had three players,” Schmidt said. “They had won 24 games in four years. Some people said I shouldn’t take the job. For us to go from having three players to beating UCLA in 11 years, it’s something I’m really proud of.”

Schmidt was especially proud of Stockard.

On a night when star guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley shot a combined 6 of 28 from the floor, the 6-foot-5 forward poured in 26 points and had four steals in a scintillating performance before a raucous partisan crowd.

“For two years he didn’t play one second of basketball and for him to come back and have a day like today it’s a credit to him,” Schmidt said. “He’s the reason why we won.”

Thanks to the victory, the Bonnies were scheduled to board a flight for Dallas at 2 a.m.

“That … flight is going to be the best flight I’ve ever taken,” Schmidt said.

Along with the team and the support staff, the charter will also carry vicariously that special team from generations ago.

“That’s the greatest team that ever played (at St. Bonaventure),” Schmidt said. “I talked to the team about it, because I think that’s really important, legacies and tradition. For our guys to be able to go out and play a great UCLA team and beat them, to me, hopefully that helps the disappointment back in 1970.”

There was nothing but childlike joy as the press conference wrapped up. When Stockard and Adams got up to leave the interview room, they each grabbed the NCAA placard that had their names written across the front.

It’s a souvenir they’ll keep forever.

Somewhere Bob Lanier is smiling.

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