Since the White & Blue first tapped off in 1906 basketball has
been one of the most successful sports at Washington and Lee. The
school has also produced a number of outstanding players.
The first W&L great on the hardwood was Harry (Cy) Young who was
named to the Helm Foundation's 1917 All-America team. Young led the
Generals to a perfect 13-0 record that season.
W&L enjoyed numerous winning seasons over the next decade and
a half, but it wasn't until Young returned as a coach that W&L
won a championship. The Generals won the 1934 Southern Conference
championship with a narrow 30-29 win over Duke. That would prove to
the first of four straight trips to the Southern Conference finals
The Blue Comets, as the W&L basketball teams of the late 1930s
were called, brought home a second Southern Conference title in 1937
by beating North Carolina 44-33. The victory avenged losses to the
Tar Heels in each of the previous two championships.
Those teams were led by the All-American duo of Norm Iler and Bob
Spessard. Iler was a three-time All-Southern guard and earned All-America
honors in 1936. Spessard was also a three-time All-Southern basketball
player and the high-scoring center was an All-American in 1937. Spessard
was the first player in school history to reach 1,000 career points.
The W&L teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s didn't win often,
but featured one of the nation's most explosive scorers in Jay Handlan.
Handlan finished in the top 16 in the nation in scoring every year
and ended his career with 2,002 points. At the time he was just the
third player in collegiate history to reach 2,000 career points. Handlan
holds seven school records, including most points in a game - a 66-point
performance against Furman in 1951.
W&L's last years in the Southern Conference came in the late 1950s
and provided W&L with one of its greatest teams. The University
decided to abolish the practice of awarding scholarships in 1954,
but honored those that had already been awarded. The 1956-57 team,
led by legendary coach Billy McCann, included five scholarship players
who played almost all of the minutes that year. The team became known
as the "Five-Star Generals."
Dom Flora, Lee Marshall, Barry Storick, Frank Hoss and Barclay Smith
led the team to a 20-7 finish, including a loss to West Virginia and
its star "Hot Rod" Hundley in the finals of the Southern
Conference tournament. It was the first time a W&L team won 20
games in a season. Marshall and Flora were named to numerous all-star
teams with Marshall averaging 22.0 points a game and Flora 19.1.
Flora had one more year left and made it one to remember even though
the Generals finished just 9-16. Flora earned All-America honors averaging
25.4 points a game. Flora finished his career with 2,310 points, still
the school record.
That season was the first of nine straight losing seasons. W&L
turned it around in 1966-67 with a 20-5 record under third-year coach
Verne Canfield. Since that season the Generals' basketball program
has had only six more losing seasons while enjoying numerous successes.
Beginning with the 1966-67 season the Generals won four of five College
Athletic Conference championships. Those teams were led by the duo
of Mel Cartwright and Mike Neer. Cartwright became the first General
Handlan to lead the team in scoring four straight years. Neer made
the most of a three-year career in Lexington by scoring 1,289 points
and grabbing 1,003 rebounds, including a school-record 403 in 1969-70.
Cartwright and Neer are the only two players in school history to
reach both 1,000 career points and rebounds.
W&L had established itself as one of the top small college programs
in the nation and the Generals were invited to the first-ever Division
III national tournament in 1975. The Generals went just 15-12 that
year, but defeated Navy 54-47 and lost to Virginia by just a 77-69
count. The Generals were bounced from the tournament by Glassboro
State, the eventual runner-up.
Canfield guided the Generals back to the NCAA tourney just two years
later when the 1976-77 squad set a school-record with 23 wins. W&L,
led by first-year starter Pat Dennis' 21.7 points a game, finished
the year ranked 4th in Division III. Once again the Generals were
eliminated in the first round.
The following year Dennis set a school record with his 700 points,
averaging 25.0 points a game. W&L finished 22-6 and defeated Jersey
City 66-65 in the opening round of the tourney before losing to Kean
80-64 in the championship game of the South Atlantic Regional.
W&L's most recent trip to the tourney came in 1979-80 with an
unlikely group. After finishing the regular season with just an 11-13
record W&L won its third Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship
in four years
to qualify for the NCAAs. In the ODAC tourney W&L beat Emory &
Henry 56-50, top-seeded Eastern Mennonite 95-84 and Hampden-Sydney
58-56 on Rob Smitherman's 18-foot jump shot at the buzzer. W&L
was eliminated in the opening round of the NCAA tourney.
W&L's last championship was the ODAC regular season title in 1988-89
when a group of sophomores led by Chris Jacobs, Mike Holton and Ed
Hart were the key forces. All three of those players finished their
with over 1,000 points.