“Our goal is to be vigorous in pursuit of restoring the basketball program and the reputation of our great school.”
Those were the words of then-interim St. Bonaventure president Rev. Dominic V. Monti on April 17, 2003, when the school announced its decision to fire then-head basketball coach Jan van Breda Kolff and accepted the resignation of athletic director Gothard Lane in connection to a major recruiting scandal.
Along with former school president Robert Wickenheiser and his son, assistant coach Kort, the four approved the transfer of junior college center Jamil Terrell, whose academic credentials consisted of a welding certificate.
It took a long time and the firing of another coach in Anthony Solomon, who could never push the program in the direction of being able to make the steep climb back to respectability. But on this day St. Bonaventure is headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years.
Andrew Nicholson finished two blocked shots short of a triple-double with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in the Bonnies’ 67-56 win over Xavier, who will also be a part of the 68-team field when it’s unveiled later today.
Nicholson was the bell cow offensively, which is par for the course for the A-10 Player of the Year, but it takes more than just one man to win a championship. St. Bonaventure limited the Musketeers to 33.9% shooting and out-rebounded them 37-25.
Tu Holloway led Xavier with 17 points and five rebounds, but he was 5-for-13 from the field and Kenny Frease shot 2-for-10 with the majority of his looks coming within five feet of the rim. After trailing by as many as 17 points in the second half Xavier could get no closer than five down the stretch, with the Bonnies making seven of their final eight free throws to close out the game.
The finish to that fateful campaign was an ugly one, from the games forfeited and sanctions handed down to the players voting to not play their final two regular season games. For an area passionate about its school and its basketball, this was rock bottom.
It may have taken a while to turn things around but the school kept fighting, just as Coach Schmidt and his players did after dropping three of four games to start February. Since a February 15th loss to Temple the Bonnies have won seven of eight games, winning their way into the Big Dance.
Nearly nine years after the program’s darkest moment (and 12 since their last NCAA appearance), St. Bonaventure’s name will again show up on TV screens across the country. And this time a school will rejoice.