By Bobby Tuzzio, Sports Editor
Seventy years ago, the Holy Cross men’s basketball team became the first college from the East to win the NCAA National Championship, solidifying their place as one of the great collegiate basketball programs of all time. Coached by the legendary Alvin “Doggie” Julian, the Crusaders boasted a star-studded roster that included the likes of Bob Cousy, Joe Mullaney, and George Kaftan. Cousy, who was only a freshman at the time, would go on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics. The team went into the tournament as the No. 8 seed, which also happened to be the last seed in the 8-team tournament.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, Joe Mullaney led the way with 18 points in a first round victory over the United States Naval Academy. Mullaney was born and raised in Long Island, New York, where he became a star player for Chaminade High School. After his time at Holy Cross, he went on to coach college programs such as Providence College, Brown University, and a string of ABA teams. He coached the Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1971, during which time they enjoyed great success with talented players such as Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
In the second round, the Crusaders found themselves matched up against a strong City College of New York team. Early in the game, City College raced out to a 23-14 lead, but George Kaftan led Holy Cross on a 13-2 run going into halftime. Kaftan had 19 points at the half and finished with a total of 30, which at the time was the second best total in NCAA Tournament history. Kaftan was recruited by Holy Cross out of Xavier High School in Manhattan. Standing at just 6 feet, 3 inches tall, Kaftan was the starting center for the Crusaders. He would average 21 points per game throughout the three-game tournament and, as a result, earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. After Holy Cross, he played professional basketball for the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, and the Baltimore Bullets.
In the championship game, the Crusaders played against a tough University of Oklahoma Sooners team in front of a soldout crowd of 18,500 people at Madison Square Garden. Again, the Crusaders trailed early, with the Sooners maintaining a 31-28 lead going into the half. However, Holy Cross came out strong, and with a spark from the duo of Frank Oftring and Bob McMullan, the Crusaders went on a 9-2 run to begin the second half. Kaftan led the way with 18 points while Dermott O’Connell gave his best effort with 16 points and Oftring added 14 to seal a Crusader victory over Oklahoma, with the final score being 58-47.
As we come upon the 70th anniversary of the Crusaders’ National Championship win, we remember the greatness that our alumni achieved. They overcame all odds to win something that was special for not only our school, but also for New England and the Jesuit identity as a whole. Though only a few of the members of the 1947 team are still alive, those players, along with those who have passed on, will never be forgotten by the Holy Cross community.
The 1947 National Champion Holy Cross Men’s Basketball Team Roster: George Kaftan, Andy Laska, Dermott O’Connell, Bob Curran, Frank Oftring, Jim Riley, Charlie Bollinger, Joe Mullaney, Bob McMullen, Ken Haggerty, Bob Cousy, Charlie Graver.