In this, the 125th anniversary of The University of Scranton, it seems only fitting that the Royals’ men’s basketball team will return to the site of some of its finest moments.
On Tuesday, Dec. 31, the Royals (7-2) will take on Keystone College (5-2) at 6 p.m. in the Student Union on the campus of Lackawanna College, which was formerly known as the Scranton Catholic Youth Center (CYC), the University’s home court from the early 1950s until the Long Center opened on campus in January 1968.
The game caps off a tripleheader, with high school games scheduled for 2 and 4 p.m. in the afternoon, and is part of a local “Coaches vs. Cancer” program.
Long-time fans will never forget All-American and Scranton native Bill Witaconis’s 43-point outburst against arch-rival King’s College there on January 18, 1964, or when legendary head coach Bob Bessoir pulled down a Royal single-game record 43 rebounds in his final game as a player, against King’s on March 5, 1955.
Other notable Royals who entertained fans at the CYC include Scranton native Ed Kazakavich, the first All-American in the program’s storied history; Old Forge’s Joseph Fitt, still to this day the 13th all-time leading scorer in Scranton history and a draft pick of the then Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Hawks of the National Basketball Association (NBA); and another Scranton native, Everett ‘Rhett’ Jenkins, who poured in 1102 points in just two seasons.
In an era long before three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Royals battled some of the premier programs in the country at the CYC, including Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, Temple, Niagara, and La Salle, to name just a few.
Some of the game’s greatest players and coaches are also a part of the CYC’s lore.
Former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson led Providence College to a 95-75 victory over Scranton on February 18, 1964, scoring 25 points for a Friar team that was coached by Joe Mullaney, who eventually went on to coach the Los Angeles Lakers (1969-1971) and Buffalo Braves (1976-1977) in the NBA and with four different franchises in the now defunct American Basketball Association (ABA). Legendary Villanova head coach Jack Kraft brought his Wildcats to the CYC in 1962 and 1964, spoiling the Royals’ home opener each time.
After next Tuesday’s game, the Royals will return to the Long Center on Friday and Saturday, January 3-4, to host the third annual Cross County Challenge. Friday’s games will feature Wilkes University against Marywood at 5 p.m., followed by Scranton and King’s at 7 p.m. Both games will be televised live by Fox 56 Sports, with Bob Ide and Doug Walsh calling all the action.