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The 1978-79 Penn men's basketball team was honored this Saturday at the Palestra for the 40th anniversary of its Cinderella Final Four run.

Credit: File Photo

A weekend to forget for Penn men’s basketball was also one to remember for a different Quakers team.

The 1978-79 men’s basketball squad was honored on Saturday at the Palestra during the game between Penn and Princeton. The managers, coaches, and players of the team were awarded commemorative rings by Penn President Amy Gutmann and Athletics Director M. Grace Calhoun during halftime, while they were given a standing ovation by the crowd.

That team was the most successful one in the history of Penn basketball, and 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the group’s Cinderella run to the Final Four of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. The Red and Blue, entering the tournament as a nine-seed, knocked off Iona, top-seeded North Carolina, Syracuse, and St. John’s before falling to eventual champions Michigan State — a team led by Magic Johnson.

And although they were considered underdogs in all of those games, the Quakers certainly didn’t play like it.

“This is one of the greatest teams that I’ve ever been associated with because we were always prepared to win every game,” said Dennis Jackson, an assistant coach of the 1979 Penn team. “Every game that we went into, we knew that we had a chance to win, from the coaches’ preparation, from the players’ preparation, and for guys really sacrificing for one another.”

Bob Weinhauer, the team’s head coach, was also in attendance on Saturday. Weinhauer had a short but fruitful tenure with the Red and Blue, winning four Ivy League titles in five years. Weinhauer and Tony Price, the standout senior guard of the team, are perhaps the most recognizable names of the group, with Price being the only player on that team to play in the NBA. 

The high turnout of the 1979 team on Saturday illustrates the closeness of the members to this day, as well as the importance of Penn in their lives today.

“This has been a really big part of his life,” said Brianna Ross, the daughter of the team’s freshman forward Vincent Ross. “We used to come to the Palestra all the time and look at the pictures on the wall and come to the games. So Penn has always been a really big part of our lives, and it’s kind of like something that’s ingrained in his DNA now.”

Many of the former teammates have remained friends over the past 40 years, in part because some of them grew up together. In particular, Ross and Tim Smith, a senior forward in 1979, both went to West Philadelphia High School.

“A lot of them grew up in West Philly together, so they’ve remained in contact,” Brianna Ross said of her father’s team. “They’re very close to each other; they talk all the time. So the team has really stayed connected, and it’s nice to get everybody back in one venue for them to reconnect with each other.”

Watching the current Quakers also gives the players of the 1979 squad an opportunity to reminisce and look back on their experiences in the Palestra.

“The Palestra is one of the great historic college facilities in the country because when we would play here, particularly in the Big 5 games, you could cut the tension in the air with a knife,” Jackson said. “That’s how packed it was from an emotional standpoint, because you had so many people that were Big 5 fans, and then you had the fans of the individual schools that were playing.”

Even in a place with as much history as the Palestra, the 1978-79 Penn team stands above all the others. 40 years later, no other Ivy League team has accomplished as much as those Quakers did, and it’s quite possible that none ever will.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified assistant coach Dennis Jackson as guard David Jackson. It also incorrectly indicated forward Vincent Ross attended West Catholic High School. The DP regrets the error.