I got a chance to meet with the new head coach of Men's Basketball at Potsdam State, Jim Bechtel, this summer when I returned to Potsdam for Alumni Weekend and my annual bash with my fraternity brothers. It was the 50th anniversary of my induction into my fraternity and we had over 20 guys show up to enjoy the weekend.
Coach Bechtel seems like a good hire for the Bears and knows that he has his work cut out for him. Recruiting will be the primary focus to get the talent level back up so Potsdam will be competitive with the rest of the conference. He did well at Canton, especially last year, but the YAC is a step up from the teams that the Kangaroos played for a large part of their schedule. It will be hard to go from 1-24 to a winning record in a single year and I don't think the Bears can pull that off. (Unless Coach Bechtel really as a couple of horses coming in that I don't know about.) I'll be happy to see some decent improvement, hopefully a handful of wins, and some talent that the Bears can build a future on. Hoping my Alma Mater can return to the glory years of Coach Welsh is obviously too much to ask, respectability however, and an occasional run at the SUNYAC championship is what most Potsdam supporters would like to see.
Also on campus that weekend was Potsdam legend Jerry Welsh who was honored along with former Wrestling coach Neil Johnson. What a wonderful night it was to see these two great coaches honored for their outstanding careers at Potsdam State. Both men are in their 80's now but both look years younger than their actual age. I nearly spilled a glass of coke all over Coach Welsh as he was sitting next to me as we listened to Coach Johnson speaking. You never saw an 80 year old man move so fast as Coach Welsh did as that spilled drink headed for his lap. He didn't get a single drop on him as he lept up and away from the table in a flash.
Coach Welsh lives in Durham North Carolina and still teaches at Duke University, so it was probably the last time I will get a chance to see him as he doesn't get back to Potsdam that often any more. In his speech to the gathered faithful he said he was most proud, not of the accomplishments of his players on the court, but of the outstanding men those players have turned out to be.
Coach Welsh's appearance on campus brought back many of the players that were responsible for the great teams that were National Champions in 1981 and 1986 and also were national runners up on 3 other occasions. The Bears put together an undefeated season in 1985-86 and then continued unbeaten well into the 86-87 season winning 60 straight games which is the 2nd longest men's basketball winning streak in college basketball history.
I managed to run into 2 time All American(1980 and 1981), Derrick Rowland, the 2nd leading scorer (1847 pts) and 2nd leading rebounder (834) in the Bears program. Derrick has a business called "The Perfect Sports Group" and features "The Perfect Shooting" system which is designed to make a shooter out of you. Here is a link to his website: http://theperfectsportsgroup.com/
With him was All American Maurice Woods(1982), #9 all time pts per game-career (13..4 ppg) and #10 all time rebounds per game-career (6.6) I remember watching Derrick and Maurice play back in the early 80's and would travel back to Potsdam every year at tournament time because almost every year the Bears were hosting NCAA games the 1st and 2nd weekends of the tournament.
2 time All American Steve Babiarz (1988 and 1989) was present and was in such great shape he played in the alumni basketball game on Saturday and could probably still start at most of the YAC schools and he's pushing 50 years old now. Steve is the All-Time leading scorer in program history with 2089 points during his 4 year career at Potsdam. He is 2nd on the career ppg list with 17.1, trailing only another Potsdam legend Mike Deane who averaged 18.1 ppg for his 3 year career. Deane had 1447 points in his 3 years as the Bears point guard but also averaged over 10 assists per game during that 3 year career as well. That's a number that blows away every other SUNYAC career assist leader. I think the "official SUNYAC career assist leader" has about half as many assists as Deane had in 3 years.
The recipient of many of those assists by Deane was 2 time All Conference, Ted Bence, 6'7" center on those Deane led teams and he was also on hand for the weekend. Ted is the all time leading rebounder for the Bears with 887 boards and is also tops on the list in rebounds per game with 8.8. Ted is the 10th leading scorer in Bears' history with 1307 points.
Bill Merna another great player for Potsdam was back as well. Bill was a starter on a number of teams in the late 60's and went on to become one of the premier high school coaches in New York State at Ogdensburg High School before retiring a few years ago.
Joe Topa was an All Conference performer, also in the 60's, and as a freshman hit the game tying shot against Plattsburgh in 1966 to send the game into overtime and then made the game winning free throws in the extra session to win it and send the Bears to the NCAA tournament. He came back all the way from Texas for the weekend. I hadn't seen Joe since 1969 so it was good to renew that old friendship.
Coach Welsh's longtime assistant during the glory years, Steve Kmack, was on hand as well. Steve went on to be the very successful coach of Potsdam High School for many years before retiring a few years ago.
The Alumni game was the next day on Saturday afternoon followed by a cookout for the fans and players to socialize. It was all put together by Assistant Athletic Director Bill Mitchell and the testimonial for the coaches on Friday night followed by the Alumni Game on Saturday made for an enjoyable weekend. The fraternity golf outing on Friday and the rock band that's been together for 50 years.. "Double Axel" playing downtown on Friday and Saturday night from 10 till 2 didn't hurt either.