In the land of giants 

Bruce Fitzgerald (left) and Dee Rowe (right) pose together for a picture. Coach Dee Rowe was the coach during the 1975-76 basketball season and led the Huskies to a 19-10 record in the Yankee conference. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Author’s Note: Howard Horvath graduated from UConn with a BS in Business in 1979 and an MBA in 1982.

This latest taste of victory is surely sweet! As a UConn graduate (1981) it seems a guilty pleasure, i.e., five NCAA men’s championships since 1999 (not to mention the 11, yes, 11 championships by the women’s team in that same time span, with their first in 1995).  You can see why I consider myself one fortunate fan. That said, I would suggest that despite all the rhetoric to suggest otherwise, the Huskies’ ascent did not actually start in 1987 with the arrival of legendary coach Jim Calhoun or with the first woman’s championship under another legendary coach, Geno Auriemma.  

It started back in 1975. Please understand, this is not to say coaches Calhoun and Auriemma’s teams didn’t lead UConn to the “promised land,” rather, I believe the years prior were not spent aimlessly roaming the basketball “desert.” I was there on campus from 1975 to 1981 (yes, I wasn’t anxious to graduate) to experience their success firsthand, albeit in Guyer gymnasium (a far cry from the grandeur of Gampel Pavilion) with fewer, but no less rowdy, fans. 

Coach Dee Rowe was the coach during the 1975-76 season and led the Huskies to a 19-10 record in the Yankee conference. That team was made up of some great basketball players that included dynamic long-haired point guard Joey Whelton, razor thin and deadly-scoring two guard Al Weston, three big men “studs” who could rebound, defend, and score — John Thomas, Jeff Carr and James Abromaitis — and an all-around super-star multi-talented guard Tony Hanson (think Andre Jackson Jr. scoring 20 points a night). They went on to the NCAA tournament beating Hofstra in the first round and losing to Rutgers in the second. UConn’s 1978-79 team added high school All-American big man, Cornelius Thompson and Bridgeport sharpshooter Mike McKay, going on to win 21 games as well as an invite to the Big Dance as a No. 5 seed. They lost to Syracuse in the second round. UConn then became an original member of the Big East in 1979-80 and notched another 20 victories. Collectively, from the 1975-76 basketball season to 1980-81 UConn men’s basketball won approximately 66% of their games. These years, I humbly submit, provided the program’s foundation, if not the cornerstone, for the twin dynasties to come. 

As Isaac Newton once said in a 1675 letter, “if I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Forgive me for saying, but it appears the University of Connecticut has officially become the land of the giants given the continued and collective success of the women’s and men’s basketball teams. And while for some, coach Calhoun’s arrival in 1987 and that first NCAA championship by coach Auriemma’s team in 1995 marks the beginning — I will continue to believe that any who take the time to climb the ladder and look back just a bit will see and appreciate the original seeds of our current basketball bounty. What a wonderful, strange trip it’s been — one this loyal Husky fan is incredibly thankful for. Go Huskies 2023-24! 

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