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.

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).