It’s hard to believe, but 45 years have passed since the 1974-1975 boys basketball season at Belleville High.
Forty five years ago? Guess so. Gerald Ford was president, Vietnam was still a conflict in Southeast Asia, although the United States had pulled its troops, the Philadelphia Flyers were Stanley Cup champions, the Miami Dolphins were defending Super Bowl champions, the Oakland A’s were a dynasty in baseball and on the big screen, the ‘Exorcist’ was the scariest movie around.
There were rumors of a movie coming out the following summer, about a shark which terrorizes a town called Amity.
On television, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, MASH and the Mary Tyler Moore Show were among the highest ranked shows while Happy Days, a show about the 1950’s, was just coming out.
At Belleville High, in mid November, a new varsity basketball season was about to begin, and head coach Dan Grasso was looking forward to a good year.
At Belleville High, a winning season in basketball hadn’t happened in 15 years. The Big 10 Conference wasn’t kind to a town whose average player was 5’10” tall, especially when some of the athletic schools in the conference included a state power in East Orange, along with solid schools in Bloomfield, Irvington, Montclair and Orange.
While height wasn’t a big factor for most of Belleville’s basketball teams, there was some optimism about the ’74-75 season. Abdel Anderson, a 6’7″ power forward, was beginning his senior year, and major colleges were very interested.
Joe Dunn, a 6’2″ forward and Doug Jackson, also over six feet tall, would provide a strong front court while others like Alan Amiano, Michael Meagher, Mark Montagna, George Mobilio, Pat Hogan, Clyde Robinson and Ron Krych would provide depth, to go along with guards Bob Tosi, John Megna and Wayne Riche.
There was size and speed in the lineup, and a feeling that this could be the year that Belleville not only would have a winning record, but qualify for the Essex County Tournament, which was, back then, by invitation, only, for the top 16 teams in the county.
There were would be scrimmages at Memorial of West New York, which was coached by Grasso’s older brother, as well as a scrimmage against Hudson Catholic, which had two future NBA players on its roster in Mike O’Koren and Jim Spanarkel, who would play at North Carolina and Duke, respectively, before the NBA.
There was a final scrimmage that fall, against Lyndhurst, which had a young new coach named Jim Corino, a Belleville High alum, who was just starting out on a great coaching career.
Grasso knew that a tough pre-season slate of games would better prepare his players for the grind of the Big 10 Conference.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll look back at that season, which did produce some excellent results at Belleville High. I was attending Belleville High School back then and have always said that the season did have so many ebbs and flows, with a lot of crazy personalities that helped make that season, 45 years ago, so memorable.
The regular season schedule that year would begin with a home game, on Friday night, Dec. 13, 1974, against Garfield, before Big 10 games against Irvington, East Orange, Kearny and Bloomfield and then an out-of-conference game against Passaic to close out the year 1974.
The new year would start with a series of league games, against Nutley, Orange, Montclair, Bloomfield, Columbia, East Orange, Irvington, Nutley (again) and Kearny, all in January. In February, there would be a league game with Montclair, an independent contest against St. Joseph of West New York, followed by Big 10 games with Columbia and Orange, before playing St. Benedict’s to close out the regular season.
Looking forward to remembering that season and sharing those memories with you over the next few weeks.