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Basketball celebrates 100 years

Observer Editorial Board | Friday, February 25, 2005

When fans think of Notre Dame athletics, they think football and national championships, Heisman Trophies and legendary games.

But when fans think of Notre Dame basketball, a moment here and there along with a couple of coaches and players come to mind.

This weekend’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of men’s basketball at Notre Dame presents a perfect opportunity to change that.

Unlike the much-repeated legendary history of the Notre Dame football program, the knowledge of the men’s basketball program usually goes unsaid, except for the banners hanging from the rafters of the Joyce Center.

Yes, the sight of UCLA in South Bend on Sunday will bring back memories of the Irish ending the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak in 1974 – a memory even casual Notre Dame basketball fans can recall.

But how many people knew the Irish were the last team to beat the Bruins before that streak started?

The much-repeated chants of 20-1 in the Feb. 8 upset of previously undefeated Boston College made national headlines.

But how many people knew the chants originally occurred in 1977 when Digger Phelps urged the student body to line the court and yell 29-1 prior to the upset of No. 1 San Francisco?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Notre Dame basketball is about more than Digger Phelps, Mike Brey, Austin Carr and Chris Thomas.

It’s about Notre Dame being the only school with three three-time consensus All-Americans – all happening in the 1930s.

It’s about Notre Dame handing four separate teams their first loss after those squads had won 20 or more games to begin their seasons – more than any other school.

Few people know about the illustrious history of Notre Dame basketball because Brey has just brought the program back on the map. The 1990s were a dark era after 20 successful seasons under Phelps – when making the NCAA tournament became expected and not a cause for celebration.

This weekend, cheer the Irish as they continue their trek to March Madness.

Then after the game, go out and pick up one of the well-written books recently composed about Notre Dame basketball.

You’ll be surprised at what you find.