[ COMMENTARY ]
ASSOCIATED PRESS / 1982
Virginia's Ralph Sampson, right, couldn't lead the top-ranked Cavs to a win over Chaminade 20 years ago.
WINGO, Ky. >> The request seemed simple enough, even for a semi-retired sportswriter.
hard to forget
"Write about your reflections of that night Chaminade upset Virginia?" Star-Bulletin sportswriter Cindy Luis said. "You do remember, don't you?"
My wife chuckled when I relayed the conversation.
"How can you remember something that happened 20 years ago, and can't even remember to take out the trash?" she said.
She wasn't joking.
Sportswriters' wives. They never understand the selective memory of their spouses.
Most of us can recall chapter and verse of historic sports events in our lives. Like the first time we saw our favorite major-league team.
Mine was the St. Louis Cardinals. I was 9. The year was 1948 at Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Cards lost 4-2 as Swish Nicholson and Peanuts Lowery hit home runs for the Cubs. Ernie Dusek cranked one for the Cards.
So a mere 20 years? Ain't no beeg ting. After all, it was a historic night for college basketball.
It was and still is my claim to fame. It ranks over two short Muhammad Ali Honolulu Airport interviews (before and after the "Thrilla in Manila" with Joe Frazier); Ben Villaflor winning the junior lightweight title at Blaisdell Arena from Alfredo Marcano; my TKO at the hands of Mario Silva at the same Blaisdell Arena; and my first Interscholastic League of Honolulu football game. It was St. Louis-Farrington at old Honolulu Stadium. And, yes, I still believe it was a lousy pass interference call on the Govs' George Dudoit.
As they say, the Upset of the Century seems like only yesterday.
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Chaminade," the headline blared over what many pundits consider the greatest college basketball upset ever.
On this particular night I wore two hats -- one for the Star Bulletin and one for the Associated Press. I recall the AP bureau getting calls in the wee hours of the morning from morning newspapers all over the mainland. Some foreign calls, too. Especially from Japan. After all, Chaminade, then affiliated with the NAIA, was little known. Only later was it to assume its role as the designated "Giant-killer" of college basketball, with upsets of Louisville (twice) and Southern Methodist.
Ralph Sampson, leaning at right, attended Friday's reunion of the 1982 Chaminade team that upset Virginia.
"Chaminade," intoned one mainland sportscaster. "Sounds like a French perfume."
Other announcers called it CHAM-IN-AID, as in lemonade.
Local writers, myself included, had anticipated a fairly easy Virginia win behind 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, who was the college basketball player of the year three years running. But Cav coach Terry Holland had more than Sampson.
Virginia had an excellent point guard in Othell Wilson, and a high-scoring forward in Jeff Lamp. Memory serves the Cavs came into the game ranked No. 1 by both AP and United Press International and were fresh off two tournament wins in Japan.
The Silverswords of Merv Lopes weren't exactly chop suey either. Lopes' fun bunch oozed confidence and had a great chemistry of local talent mixed in with some mainland stars who could really play. They caught your fancy like the "Fabulous Five" of University of Hawaii fame. Bob Nash, Al Davis, John Pennebacker, Jerome Freeman and Dwight Holiday wowed island fans in the early '70s. The 'Swords of 1982-83 also had a certain swagger and charisma. And they couldn't be intimidated.
They had several point-makers, led by a man who could sky with the best. Tim Dunham was deadly with his dunks off "alley-oop" passes from point guard Mark Wells.
And then there was Wells' back-up, ever-smiling Mark Rodrigues, a player we covered in prep days at St. Louis. Who can forget Dunham soaring and scoring once over Sampson off an alley-oop from Rodrigues, a gregarious kid as was forward Richard Haenisch. The latter was another island favorite (Punahou) and solid scorer and rebounder.
Muscular Earnest Pettway, the other starting forward, had a 6-3 body that enabled him to mix it up with the best inside. Wells, recruited off a Santa Monica playground by Lopes, was also a tenacious defender. Reserve forward Jasen Strickland, who prepped at Kalaheo, was a tough rebounder and looked like actor Keanu Reeves.
But the biggest key in my mind to the upset that night was the play of center Tony Randolph, who may or may not have been 6-7. No taller for sure.
Randolph seemed to get under the skin of Sampson on this night, just as he did a few times when he played against the skyscraper in high school back in Virginia. He hit a few 20-footers from outside early, pulling the 7-4 Sampson away from the bucket. That opened things up inside for Dunham, who had a vertical jump of 42 inches, and Haenisch. Randolph outscored Sampson 19-12.
In retrospect perhaps that trip to Japan was also instrumental in the historic win. The Silverswords may have caught the Cavs in a little bit of a jet lag from their trip to the Orient. They seemed a half-step slow. Sampson supposedly had pneumonia.
But no excuses, please. And Virginia didn't make any. The win was no fluke.
In my mind, the Silverswords outplayed and outhustled the Cavs. As for the officiating -- always a sore spot with visiting players and coaches when they came to the islands -- it was good that night.
There was one controversial call so far as the Cavs were concerned. The official whistled a Cav (think it was Wilson) for traveling late in the game with the Silverswords clinging to a lead. Chaminade scored on that possession and the 77-72 win was just about secured.
Blaisdell erupted like Kilauea when it was over. Two Washington Post writers looked my way, shook their heads, and said, "greatest college upset."
Someone, probably Rodrigues and Haenisch, clipped the nets.
When last seen, Lopes, who was soon to be compared with movie star Charles Bronson (in looks only. Merv could outcoach Charlie), was shaking his head and saying he had no idea of how the win was accomplished. It was all very surreal.
There is one indelible picture in my mind. Holland was leaning against the wall in front of the visitors locker room, surrounded by the news media. He appeared to be in a state of denial. But he took the defeat like the gentleman he is.
Asked what he thought about the shocker, he didn't make any excuses.
"Greatest college basketball upset ever," he said. "That's what I call it."
And so it was.
Jim Easterwood, who wrote for the Star-Bulletin for nearly 30 years, is a gentleman farmer in Wingo, Ky.
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