Hoopsters from 1946 Redux

Reminiscences from the Crimson's last NCAA tournament turn

The 1946 team: Coach Stahl stands at left in back; Don Swegan wears #14, third from left.  [Jack Clark apparently missed the photo.]

With Harvard, Ivy League champions and the #12 seed in the East, set to play Vanderbilt, the #5 seed, Thursday at the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament in Albuquerque, the sports and news media have been abuzz with reflections on the historic game. Jeffrey Toobin ’82, J.D. ’86, of The New Yorker, for example, wrote an online post retailing some highlights from his two years of covering Harvard hoops for the Crimson. The fact that this will represent Harvard’s first trip to the big tourney since 1946, a mere two-thirds of a century ago, naturally fuels much of the excitement, and some attention has turned to those Harvard men who actually played in that 1946 tournament.

The game, at Madison Square Garden, went to Ohio State over Harvard, 46-38. A hook shot in the lane by Don Swegan,  a one-year transfer from Wooster College in Ohio, tallied Harvard’s final points and enabled the Crimson to beat the point spread (the Crimson were 10-point underdogs), eliciting moans, and some cheers, from the gamblers in the crowd. ESPN blogger Andy Katz contacted Swegan and recounted his reminiscences of the game. Swegan will be at the Albuquerque game; members of the Friends of Harvard Basketball privately contributed to cover the costs of his trip.

John D. “Jack” Clark ’47, of Nashua, New Hampshire, was a six-foot, two-inch forward who came off the bench to play in the Ohio State contest; he recalls that all but three of his teammates were Navy men, many completing their officers’ training. (Suffering from a cold, he felt unable to accept the Friends’ offer to fly him to Albuquerque as well.) Clark says that 10 players, two trainers, and coach Floyd Stahl flew in a DC-3 from Logan Airport to LaGuardia. Harvard’s starting lineup, as he remembers it, included Louis Decsi ’46, Paul Champion ’47, John Gantt ’47, Wyndol Gray ’46, and Saul Mariaschin (a.k.a. Saul W. Marsch) ’47. Clark recalls seeing Swegan’s hook (“a fantastic shot”) go in near the end of the game, and the “thrill of being there in Madison Square Garden, the hub of basketball in New York City.”

Two of Harvard’s starters, Gray and Mariaschin, later played professional basketball for the Boston Celtics. Clark, who grew up in Leroy, New York, became a confirmed Celtics fan as an adult, and also follows college hoops. He considers himself “very fortunate” to have watched Jeremy Lin ’10, now of the New York Knicks, play for Harvard. Clark has relished Harvard basketball’s upsurge in recent years, and sent a congratulatory e-mail to head coach Tommy Amaker after the NCAA announced the Harvard-versus-Vanderbilt selection. “Tommy Amaker has done a magnificent job ever since he got there,” he says. “He’s brought enthusiasm, intelligence, charisma, and great recruiting to the program.”

Though Clark had played high-school basketball in upstate New York, Harvard did not recruit him; that wasn't done in those days. Even the idea of playing college hoops was far from his mind. In 1943, “What we were thinking about,” he says, “was whether to enlist or be drafted.”


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