By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Many people know about the fast-paced, end-to-end action, three-point shooting style that is today’s NBA. But back in the ‘70s, the game looked nothing like that.
The three-point line did not exist, hard fouls were just ordinary fouls as flagrant fouls didn’t even come into existence until 1990; and if you wanted to get into the paint (inside the key and under the basket), you had to pay a price as there was no such thing as a defensive three-second rule.
Yes, today’s NBA players have it easy compared to the physical side of the game in the ‘70s.
Two players that really come to mind from that era are DR J (Julius Erving) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor).
They were considered the kings of the court, both technically gifted in their own way.
One was a sublime passer, the other an excellent rebounder. One, the master of the finger-tip roll, and the other, the hook shot. They both put up lots of points and dunked on anyone who got in their way!
In Canada during this time, there was a basketball team whose individual skill sets complimented each other really well. They had decent size and tenacity, a winning attitude, and talented shooters, rebounders, and passers. Above all, they all shared a love of the game, and it led them to winning three senior A Canadian basketball championships. That team was the St. Andrews Super Saints.
How It Started
It had been 18 years since Manitoba won a Senior A National Basketball championship. Heading into the ‘72 season, the players believed they had something there.
Ross Wedlake, a member of the ‘72 team, said it best entering his first season.
“We were not really sure what to expect. It was just great to be able to keep playing at a competitive level after university, and our focus was always a National Championship,” said Wedlake.
He also mentioned that there was some added motivation in that season due to many players losing the CIAU championship to the Acadia Axemen, who now played on the team from Wolfville, Halifax — a team they would later face in the round robin of the National Championships.
In the National Championship tournament, they had a 3-0 record in the round robin, including a win over Wolfville, which Ross called “sweet revenge”. This put them into the final against a tough Vancouver Villas team.
With a half-time score tied at 35 in the final, the Super Saints came out flying into the second half. Led by Ted Stoesz and his 29 points, they went on to win the championship 74-63, breaking that dreaded 18-year drought!
The Gang is Back
After their first National Championship title in 1972, most of the team stayed together, but the Super Saints still suffered from a two-year championship hangover.
They managed to reach the finals once again in 1974, but this time, the outcome was different.
They played their hearts out, but could not get past the Vancouver Capilanos. It was a bitter pill to swallow after winning it all two years prior. According to Bob Town, Olympian and player for the Saints, both years they felt they should have won.
“It’s funny how the losses are often more memorable than the victories in some way,” said Town. “In ‘73, we were up at halftime and played poorly in the second half, both defensively and offensively. We had great shots and didn’t make them. I think in ‘75, we were really committed to win.”
The following year in ‘75, it was again, a season of redemption for the Super Saints. This time, if they made it to the National Championship tournament, it would be played in front of their home crowd in Winnipeg.
In a single game elimination tournament, the Super Saints found themselves down at the half against Windsor. But once again, the team rallied around some stellar play from their veterans to put up an 80-71 come-from-behind victory.
They then had to face the Halifax Raiders in the final.
This game was not particularly close, though. The crowd cheered and roared for their team and they emphatically battered the Raiders to the tune of a 93-72 win. They had captured their second championship in four years.
Capping Off a Dynasty
In the ‘76 season, the Super Saints were determined not to let the dreaded championship hangover ruin the year.
They faced adversity along the way, and the season was “physically demanding” according to Wedlake. But in the end, they persevered.
They had a little luck go their way in the National Championship tournament when the Super Saints lost their opening game, but beat a very good Halifax team 98-82 and set up a winner-take-all final against the hometown favourite, Victoria Scorpions.
In the final, the Scorpions took the lead early, but the Saints came storming back in the first half and never let up.
The Scorpions got close a couple of times with some mounting pressure, but Town said his team answered back.
“A few layups against the pressure and it was pretty much over,” said Town.
The final score read 83-77, capping off another great year for the St. Andrews Super Saints as they defended their National Championship.
A Coach Knows
A talented team that made noise in the basketball community for Manitoba, many of them continued to play for the love of the game. Their 1975 and 1976 coach, Bob Hazell, said it best.
“I think I got lucky,” said Hazell. “The Saints teams I coached were not teams I put together. I always say that I felt like a coach from the old NHL, where you were given all the best players in the game and all you had to do was put them on the ice.”
“For me, I just had to manage the game. All the players on those Saints teams had skills, and they all had all their fundamentals down pat. They were friends and they all played well together”.
Well said, coach, well said!