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Navy Men's Basketball: A Tradition of Excellence

Men's Basketball By The Numbers
1 -No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft (David Robinson)
2 - Representatives in the Basketball Hall of Fame
3 - Patriot League Tournament Championships
4 - Conference Players of the Year
5 - Conference Coaches of the Year, including 2008 honoree Billy Lange
5 - Players with jerseys retired (#51 - Vernon Butler; #4 - John Clune; #13 - Don Lange; #50 - Kevin Sinnett; #50 - David Robinson)
8 - NCAA Tournament victories
8 - Patriot League Championships (Tournament and Regular-Season combined), tied for the most in the league
11 - NCAA Tournament appearances
13 - All-Americans, including 2008 honoree Greg Sprink
15 - All-Conference first-team honorees
16 - All-Conference All-Rookie Team accolades
19 - Members of the 1,000-point club, including senior Chris Harris.
20 - NABC All-District selections
23 - Weeks spent in the Associated Press Top 25, the second most of any team in the Patriot League
30 - School-record wins in the 1985-86 season
50 - Points scored by David Robinson in his final collegiate game, a new school record. The 50 points against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament are the sixth most ever in the NCAA Tournament.
102 - Completed seasons of Navy men's basketball
.592 - All-time winning percentage
1,273 - All-time wins
2,669 - Points scored by David Robinson during his career. He is the only player in NCAA history with 2,500 points, 1,300 rebounds and to have shot over 60 percent from the field.
In the 100-plus years since it was first played by a group of Midshipmen gathered at the Annapolis Armory for what amounted to a `pick-up' game in December 1906, basketball at the Naval Academy has provided a stage for some of the sport's best coaches, greatest players and most engaging stories.

Reflecting the evolution of the game at large - from the set shots of those wearing satin shorts in tiny gymnasiums to the present-day slam dunks that electrify sold-out arenas - Navy has spent the last century enriching a tradition of excellence.

When Street & Smith's published a special-edition magazine in 2005 to commemorate the 100 greatest college basketball programs of all-time, the Mids were ranked 87th overall.

In addition, Navy was ranked 61st in ESPN.com's countdown of the most prestgious men's basketball programs since 1984-85, the first year the NCAA?Tournament used a 64-team field. The Navy program is the highest Patriot League-ranked team, and the rankings consisted of 300 teams.

No other service academy appeared in those rankings, assembled from a list of more than 350 Division I members. Meanwhile, the only other current Patriot League program to crack the top 100 was Holy Cross. Today, as they enter their second century of tradition, the Midshipmen have reached such a proud point from the humble beginnings of a 2-2 finish to their first intercollegiate campaign in 1907-08.

In the decades since, Navy has won championships in three separate conferences, advanced to the NCAA and NIT Tournaments a dozen times and featured 10 different players named All-America.

First among them was Harry Hill, who was honored in 1911 after leading the Mids to a 10-1 record. Within the next 11 years, three others achieved All-America status, including Laurence Wild (1913), Lance Farwell (1919) and Ira McKee (1922 and '23).

But those standouts enjoyed individual success during a period of very little continuity at the top of the Navy program. Into the mid-1920s, the Mids were guided by a succession of coaches, changing seemingly on an annual basis.

Until 1926, when a football assistant named John Wilson became the team's 11th basketball coach in the last 20 seasons. It would be another 20 years, though, before Navy needed to hire another.

The Mids went 204-94 under Wilson, whose brightest star was Elliott Loughlin. Doubling as both tennis captain and basketball All-America in 1933, Loughlin was awarded the Academy's prestigious Thompson Trophy.

Years later, Loughlin would return to Annapolis as director of athletics in 1954. In the interim, Wilson's retirement ceded the Mids' basketball program to a legend in the making, Ben Carnevale.

Carnevale spent two seasons coaching North Carolina to a pair of Southern Conference titles and an appearance in the 1946 NCAA championship game, before relocating to Navy and transforming the Mids into a national power.

In 1947, they went 16-1 and were rewarded with Navy's first NCAA Tournament bid, earning Carnevale recognition as the National Coach of the Year.

During the next 19 seasons, Carnevale led the Mids into the postseason five more times - including four NCAA appearances and a berth in the NIT - compiling an overall record of 257-160 (.616) as the most successful coach in Academy history. As such, he helped develop some of Navy's most accomplished players of all-time - most notably the All-America duo of Don Lange and John Clune.

"With those two players, I could go into a game and know we had 44 points before we started," Carnevale said.

Actually, in 1953-54 it was more like 48 points - considering that Clune averaged 24.4 points while Lange added 23.6 points per game. Lange also posted the two highest rebound averages by a Midshipman, including 17.8 per game in 1952-53 and 13.0 an outing in 1953-54, when he and Clune led Navy back to the NCAA Tournament.

In the opening round, Clune scored 42 points to propel the Mids past Connecticut, 85-80. Then Ken McCally hit a last-second shot to beat Cornell, 69-67, and put Navy in the East Regional final, where it fell to LaSalle and star Tom Gola.

The Mids marked their return to the postseason in 1959 with a stunning 73-63 victory over a North Carolina team that - under Carnevale's former assistant Frank McGuire - had been ranked No. 1 during the regular campaign. But three days later, Navy's championship dream was denied by Boston University.

Still, the Mids revisited the NCAA tourney in 1960, only to succumb to West Virginia and its all-everything guard Jerry West, 94-86. It proved to be Navy's final postseason appearance under Carnevale, who resigned in 1966 to become athletic director at his alma mater, New York University.

In doing so, he entrusted the program to assistant Dave Smalley, who'd been a standout under Carnevale in the mid-1950s as the first two-time Navy basketball captain as well as a two-time team MVP.

Smalley remained in the role for 10 years, coaching the likes of John Tolmie, who scored nearly 21 points per game from 1966-69. He also recruited the tandem of Hank Kuzma and Kevin Sinnett, who each compiled more than 1,300 points and 700 rebounds in the late 70s.

With the onset of the eighties, arrival of a new coach and emergence of one of the all-time greats, Navy soon authored what remains one of the most compelling chapters in college basketball history.

The coach was Paul Evans, who soon after coming to Navy in 1980 persuaded local product Vernon Butler to commit to the Academy. A year later, he and his staff discovered a kid from Northern Virginia who'd show up as a skinny, 6-foot-7 plebe named David Robinson.

While Butler and his classmate Kylor Whitaker were cornerstones in Evans' effort to build Navy into a consistent winner, it was Robinson and guard Doug Wojcik who followed them to help make the Mids the national darlings they were bound to become.

No service academy had ever enjoyed back-to-back 20-win campaigns before Navy reeled off four in a row en route to an amazing 106-25 (.809) record from 1983-87.

In that time, Butler set the Mids' career scoring (1,952 points) and rebounding (1,115) records, only to be surpassed by Robinson. Having grown six inches between plebe summer and graduation, Robinson ended his career with 2,669 points and 1,314 rebounds counted among his 33 Academy records.

Together, they led Navy into the 1985 NCAA Tournament, upsetting LSU in the opener before falling narrowly to Maryland in the second round.

Upon returning to the tourney in 1986, the Mids weren't eliminated until they achieved the improbable - beating Tulsa, Syracuse on its home floor and Cleveland State to advance to the `Elite Eight'. Separating them from the Final Four was a loss to No. 1 Duke.

Nonetheless, at 30-5, the Mids experienced the most exhilarating postseason ride in service-academy history.

After Butler, Whitaker and their combined 3,000-plus career points graduated and Evans left for the University of Pittsburgh, Robinson returned to earn consensus National Player-of-the-Year honors for coach Pete Herrmann in 1986-87.

And though on the short end of an opening-round encounter with Michigan, Robinson delivered one the most remarkable individual performances in NCAA Tournament annals. In his final collegiate game, he dumped in 50 points with 13 rebounds and two blocks in a 97-82 loss to the Wolverines. The 50 points remains the sixth-best scoring total in NCAA Tournament history. In the regular season against Kentucky, Robinson had 45 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots before 24,000 fans at historic Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., giving him two 40-point games during his senior season.

In 1991-92 Navy joined the recently-formed Patriot League, while mired in the midst of four straight 20-loss seasons. But by 1994 - in only their second year under Don DeVoe - the Mids were once again consumed by March Madness, meeting Missouri in the first round.

In all, DeVoe took Navy to the tourney three times - most recently in 1997 and '98 - amassed a .533 winning percentage (184-161) and was a three-time Patriot League Coach of the Year in his 12 years on `The Yard'.

His successor was appointed in March 2004, when a then 32-year old Billy Lange was introduced as one of the nation's youngest coaches, and as the caretaker of one its oldest and proudest basketball programs. Since Lange's arrival on the Yard in 2004, he has helped restore the tradition of Navy basketball, increasing its win total in each of the four seasons and putting the program back in position to compete for Patriot League titles and NCAA?Tournament berths.

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