The Tommies Become the Royals 1946-1955
In September 1946 Rev. John J. Coif, Director of Athletics announced that since the school had not been St. Thomas College for years, it was no longer appropriate for the teams to be nicknamed the Tommies. Consequently, the University chose The Royals to be the nickname of the sports teams. Pete Charles decided to concentrate on football and former Tommy star Les Dickman took over the head coaching duties for the 28 game schedule. The military squads had disappeared from the schedule. The Royals began the season with a convincing victory over Bloomsburg, but then lost their next eight games partly due to an injury to leading scorer Bill Griglock. In the midst of the losing streak Coach Les Dickman resigned "because of pressing duties which require more this time" (he had a full-time job with the highway department) and was replaced by former Tommy head coach James "Buck" Freeman who had coached the team in the late 1930s. The Royals began to turn the season around under Freeman's leadership, at least they began to win some of the games. Nonetheless, all the Royals could manage were 10 victories against 18 defeats.
Coach Freeman started the 1947-1948 season with a press blackout. "Pre-season press releases are one of the most detrimental factors against any prospective basketball club. Every rival coaching staff... religiously tries to obtain every detail, as to the ability, size, speed, stamina and all-around talents of opposing players." The Royals had a 27 game schedule "against some of the best clubs in the nation" and Freeman wanted to keep his team's potential secret. In fact, Freeman kept the opening lineup secret until the team took the court against the Connecticut State Teachers club. Scranton won their opening game but then dropped three consecutive road games and eight games overall before defeating Albright and Lebanon Valley at home. But the winning streak did not continue although the team began winning more regularly and finished the season with seven victories and 20 defeats. Mike DeNoia became the fourth Scranton player to score more than 300 points in a season with a total of 304. Although the Royals did poorly the team could look forward to having all but one of the starters return for the next season.
The Royals opened the 1948-1949 season with a victory over King's College followed by two more victories before losing the first game away at Lebanon Valley. The Royals moved into the middle of the season with a winning record, after a couple one point victories, but then lost four games in a row. Victories over Moravian and Mount St. Mary's broke the losing streak but the Royals began losing again and finished the season with nine victories and 13 defeats. The Royals, however, had won four conference games, losing two, which put them in a tie for the Western Division Middle Atlantic States Conference championship with Albright college. The conference was composed of Albright and, Lebanon Valley, and Moravian. Albright won the playoff and the conference. The final record was nine victories and 16 defeats including two playoff losses and a loss to King's in a benefit game. Jack Leighton finished the season with 312 points. Mike DeNoia, who had topped 300 points in the previous season, signed a professional football contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Buck Freeman left the University to become baseball coach at Ithaca college.
Douglas M. Holcomb was hired as basketball coach and sports publicity director in August 1949. Albert J. Widmar a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns was hired as assistant basketball coach. Widmar also coached the freshman team. Holcomb started practices in October and planned "to use a fast breaking offense based on set pattern plays. One basic play will allow different adaptations to work from it." The team had a 27 game schedule with 11 home games and 14 away contests covering approximately 3000 miles. The season started with a victory over the newly formed LeMoyne College team at Syracuse but then followed that victory with two defeats. But when the team finally opened at home they won three out of four games at the familiar Watres Armory. The team also defeated King's College before losing to St. Bonaventure and Manhattan College. The Royals continued to win a few and lose most, but they were winning enough to be in contention for the Middle Atlantic Conference race as the season wound down. Unfortunately, the Royals lost eight games in the latter part of the season, including the all-important conference contest against Albright which determined the Western Division Championship. The team finished with a victory over King's College and 10 victories and 17 defeats. Jack Leighton scored 363 points to lead the Scranton team. The Royals scored 1545 points during the season and their opponents scored 1687.
The 1950-1951 season featured a 31 game schedule and a new home court, the Catholic Youth Center or C. Y. C.. Although the Korean War had started, the draft did not affect the basketball team as it had during World War II. The Royals were, however, once again facing some military teams. The season started poorly with four consecutive losses before the team began to win consistently. The team had one significant disadvantage. The average height of the Royal players was 6'1" with their tallest player being 6' 3" while their opponents averaged 6'4" and had individuals as tall as 6' 9". They were also playing at least a few teams who went onto championship play every season. But the team scored some upsets and made it into the finals of the holiday tournament before losing to traditional nemesis, and spoiler, Albright. As was often the case, student attendance at basketball games was relatively low and only a small crowd was present when the Royals set five scoring records in a 110 to 95 victory over Moravian. The Aquinas reported that the combined 205 points were the highest in a Collegiate contest for the entire nation that season. Unfortunately, the one record-setting game could not offset a rather poor season. The Royals also suffered the insult of having some personal belongings stolen during the home game against Manhattan College. Seven watches and wallets, which had been put in a bag in a storage room, were stolen from members of the team during the game. Although the team finished with a disappointing 11-19 record, the season did have a few high spots in the form of individual performances. Len Pearson scored 422 points and three other players scored more than 300. The team as a whole set a Scranton scoring record of 1909 points.
Low attendance at both football and basketball games prompted the University to eliminate admission fees for students; they still had to pay for their dates though. Douglas Holcomb resigned as coach and was replaced by Pete Carlesimo, who also served as football coach. His assistant was Pete Medvecky who was a former Scranton athlete. The team warmed up for the 26 game 1951-1952 season by playing, and losing to, the Scranton Professional Miners in a benefit game 64-47. But the game also was the debut of 6' 4" freshman Bob Bessoir, would go on to become the Royals coach from 1972 through 2000. The team started with three away games but manage to win their opening game against LeMoyne college before dropping the next two. But the Royals rebounded by winning their first three home games. The Royals' luck did not continue as they dropped the next four before soundly defeating Moravian. But then they suffered another lengthy losing streak in middle of the season. But then the Royals began to turn the season around and had a six-game winning streak before losing the conference deciding game to Lebanon Valley. Nonetheless, the Royals finished the season 13-13 and were invited to the National Catholic Intercollegiate Basketball Invitational Tournament. In the NCIT, the Royals won two games and made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Sienna. Gene Carbona lead the team with 393 points, with Joe Fitt scoring 371 points and Sam Cavalier scoring 348.
Although 10 veterans returned for the 25 game 1952-1953 season, assistant coach Pete Medvecky commented "We still lack the big men." That lack of size was certainly a factor helping the Royals lose its opening three games before defeating Maryland State and Bloomsburg State during the Christmas Holidays. But the winning streak did not continue and the Royals put together another season of short winning and losing streaks. Although the season was rocky, Bob Bessoir's play was spectacular. "Bessoir who has been a big factor in every Royal victory was superb as he took control of the boards and at the same time managed to throw in 20 points." But he wasn't the outstanding player on the team, Joe Fitt of Old Forge ended the season as the team's leading scorer with 511 points for the season (Bessoir scored 334). Fitt also scored a Royal record of 46 points and set a record of 16 free throws. While Fitt set the records, Bessoir was the most improved player "A year ago Bob Bessoir was a rookie who came here rated highly. He simply could not get adjusted to college basketball and both you and I probably had the same thought in mind--here is another fizzle. Bob was crude then and saw varsity action primarily because of the 6'6" frame that went along." The Royals finished the season with 10 victories and 15 defeats.
The 1953-1954 season started on a down note with the Royals losing three out of their first four, even with a seasoned team. Bessoir and Fitt continued to lead the team in scoring. Fitt passed the 1000 point career mark early in the season. It had taken him 63 games and he still had a year of eligibility left. The previous Scranton scoring record was 990 points held by Mike DeNoia. But the fortunes of the team were not so grand and attendance was poor. The Aquinas noted that a decade ago the team could draw 2000 or 3000 fans but now student attendance of 300 at a game is considered to be a good night, even though the team was playing some of the best college competition in the East. But this was also part of the problem. The Royals could not compete with some of the schools that they were scheduling. The " luckless dribblers" managed to get a brief winning streak going during the middle of the season but it wasn't enough to salvage the season and they finished the season with seven wins and 14 losses. Besides playing against superior competition, the Royals also had to contend with limited practice time at the CYC gym. Although most teams began a workout with an hour of shooting practice, the Royals generally only had one hour per day for their entire practice. Bessoir finished the season with 389 points and was awarded the first Les Dickman Most Valuable Player award.
Pete Carlesimo announced the 1954-1955 season as "absolutely the toughest schedule we've ever attempted" and he suggested that the team would do well if it won as many games as it had in the previous year. The team would be facing some of the highest ranked squads in the country. Bob Bessoir was elected Captain of a team that featured nine returning lettermen. Consequently, the team surprised everybody by winning three of their first four games, losing to Cornell. Unfortunately, the good luck did not continue and the Royals dropped six consecutive games. But the team began to win consistently during the middle of the season but not enough to get close to a.500 season, finishing with 9 victories and 15 defeats. Although the Royals did not seem capable of a winning season the Aquinas stated that the team had gained the honor of being "capable of upsetting any team in the country." Bessoir ended his career with more than 1000 points and Fitt finished with 1560. Bessoir finished his last day with the Royals with 43 rebounds, a Scranton record and just three short of the all-time small college record. Joe Fitt received the Les Dickman award.
Ray Welsh became head coach for the 1955-1956 season (in the offseason he worked as a baseball scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates). He emphasized that he wanted all candidates for the team to report in condition for the first day of practice. He also initiated with the Aquinas called a "race horse type of basketball, employing an extremely fast break and snappy ball handling." Once again, the team was lacking in height and faced with tough opposition for its 21 games season. The team opened the season with two losses before beating local rival King's. But once again the team's lack of height proved a fatal problem as the Royals lost far more games then they won. And one of the games that the team won was a forfeit by St. Peter's. Apparently a fight broke out on the court near the end of the game and then spectators began harassing the St. Peter's bench. At which point St. Peter's head coach Don Kennedy refused to allow his team to finish the game stating that he was trying to save his players from "further harm." The team managed to put together a small winning streak near the end of the season and finished with a nine victory and 13 loss record. Jerry Curtis lead the team with 370 points and received the Les Dickman award.