Digger Phelps, in town for College GameDay, is already quite familiar with the Palestra – from the 1960s

Digger Phelps, in town for College GameDay, is already quite familiar with the Palestra – from the 1960s

There are many things you can read to get excited for today’s Palestra visit from the ESPN College GameDay Crew, starting with this ESPN.com piece from Dana O’Neill on everyone’s favorite retired Palestra custodian, Dan Harrell, and ending (key word: ending) with Nick Menta’s writeup about T-shirts or something for The Level.

But what you probably won’t see in any of the pieces about the Palestra is the interesting connection that College GameDay commentator Digger Phelps has to the glorious old building on 33rd Street.

Well, aside from this Tweet from Rece Davis, who brought to light Phelps’ past life as an assistant basketball coach from Penn in the late 1960s.


Luckily, as The 700 Level’s beat writer on Penn assistant coaches from the late 1960s, I can share a few stories on Phelps’ time at the Palestra, having interviewed him (and a few of his old players) for this piece I wrote a few years ago on the 1970-71 Penn basketball team that won every game until getting trounced in the NCAA tournament by Villanova. (It’s entitled “Almost Perfect” but I can assure you the story itself is PERFECT, so you should read the whole damn thing).

So for all of you diehard Digger fans out here, here are a few highlights:

  • Tom Petroff is the reason that Phelps was a successful coach at Notre Dame for a couple of decades and is now that guy on ESPN that matches the color of his highlighters to his tie. Who’s Tom Petroff? He was the Rider baseball coach while Phelps played basketball there, and knowing Digger quite well, he demanded that his friend Dick Harter hire Phelps as an assistant when Harter took over the Penn basketball program in 1966. Harter agreed and now Digger’s face is on the side of the College GameDay bus. Thank you, Tom Petroff.
  • Although Phelps left Penn after the 1969-70 season to take the head coaching job at Fordham and then Notre Dame, he recruited many of the star players on the 1970-71 Quakers team that, at one point, was ranked No. 3 in the nation. One of those players was Bob Morse, who he watched play at Kennett High School alongside future Sixers coach Jim Lynam (then an assistant at St. Joe’s) one day. Lynam didn’t like Morse because he was a big man shooting jump shots – at which point Phelps told him, “Wow, I like him because he’s a scorer and can shoot from the perimeter.” Morse went on to became an all-time great at Penn and one of the best players in European basketball history, while Lynam will forever be haunted by passing on him (probably not).
  • He drove a little red Mustang on his all of his recruiting visits. (You're welcome for this truly remarkable detail.)
  • Early in Phelps’ tenure at Penn, he remembers seeing a sign from an opposing team that said “Big 4 and Penn,” as if to indicate Penn was worse than the other four city schools. The nerve! But Digger had the last laugh. After Penn went a perfect 4-0 in the Big 5 in 1969-70, he turned to the late, great Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson on press row at the Palestra and said, “Do you remember that sign from a few years ago? Yeah, they were right. It is the Big 4 – and Penn.” Do you get it? Because the Quakers were in a league of their own!
  • Digger also coached the freshman team at Penn (freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity back then), and on the first day of practice in 1968, he gathered his players at the center of the Palestra floor – a group that included Morse, future NBA star Corky Calhoun and a player named Alan Cotler (who told me this juicy story about Digger’s glorious disdain for Princeton – Penn’s biggest rival). “He pointed an index finger at each of our chests and said, ‘I just want you guys to know one thing,'” Cotler told me. “You’re at Penn now for one [bleeping] reason – and that’s to beat the [bleeping] Tigers.”

Someone please bring a sign that says that to the Palestra today.

Future Eagle (?) Latavius Murray posts workout with Carson Wentz on Instagram

Future Eagle (?) Latavius Murray posts workout with Carson Wentz on Instagram

Could the Eagles be interested in signing another top free agent running back named Murray?

No, not that guy. 

Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders running back Latavius Murray.

Murray posted a picture on Instagram of the soon-to-be free agent working out with Carson Wentz with the caption "im just here to help."

"im just here to help"

A post shared by Latavius Murray (@lataviusmurray) on

It's no surprise the Eagles can stand to upgrade their running back corps this offseason — as several mock drafts have suggested. Could Murray be the answer?

 

Instant Replay: UConn 64, Temple 63

usa-temple-uconn-jalen-adams.jpg
USA Today Images

Instant Replay: UConn 64, Temple 63

Temple’s roller coaster season continued with a new low on Sunday afternoon.

The Owls, who led nearly the entire way, allowed UConn guard Jalen Adams to make a reverse layup with 2.9 seconds remaining in a 64-63 loss at the Liacouras Center.

Shizz Alston Jr. missed the potential game-winning shot from half court as time expired.

Turning point
The Owls (14-14, 5-10 AAC) looked like they might avoid blowing a 10-point lead after Quinton Rose responded to Rodney Purvis’ game-tying three-pointer with a three of his own to give them a 63-60 lead with 2:32 left.

However, the Huskies (14-12, 9-5 AAC) responded with a pair of free throws from Adams before he snaked his way into the lane with the clock running down for the game-winner. The layup gave UConn its seventh win in the last eight games.

Big men on campus
The Huskies were led by Rodney Purvis’ game-high of 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting. He also added five assists. 

Adams shot just 5 of 13 for 13 points, but connected with the game on the line. He also chipped in five assists and five boards.

The Owls received a jolt Sunday from their young players, as freshmen Damion Moore and Alani Moore II scored a combined 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting. 

In a solid all-around effort, Temple’s Daniel Dingle scored 17 points, with six boards and six assists. Alston Jr. contributed 11 points, six assists and 5 rebounds.

Inside the box score
• After making 5 of 9 shots from three-point range in the first half, Temple finished the game 7 of 21 from deep.

• UConn's Kentan Facey had a big game in the first matchup between the two teams with 23 points and 10 rebounds. On Sunday, the senior was held to eight points and four rebounds after dealing with foul trouble in the first half.

• Temple couldn’t find any room inside, as the Owls lost the points in the paint battle 26-16.

History lesson
With the win, UConn improved to 9-7 in the all-time series. The victory was the Huskies’ third straight in the series.

Up next
The Owls will continue on a three-game homestand Wednesday at 7 p.m. against UCF.

UConn will stay on the road and play at Houston also on Wednesday.