After a disappointing end to the 1970-71 season, there was a lot of uncertainty for the Quakers moving forward, to say the least.
The No. 3 Quakers ended their undefeated season with a blowout 90-47 loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. During the weeks and months that followed, coach Dick Harter left for the University of Oregon, while senior guards Dave Wohl and Steve Bilsky, arguably the best backcourt tandem in Ivy League history, graduated. Wohl was drafted in the third round of the NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“We were orphans without a coach. Rudderless,” senior guard Alan Cotler said. “Bilsky and Wohl were graduating. Corky [Calhoun], [Bob] Morse and I were heading into our senior year, but there was an uncertainty as if your parents had left.”
And then came coach Chuck Daly.
In late spring of 1971, Daly was hired as the new head coach for the Red and Blue after spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Duke and serving as the head coach at Boston College, where the Eagles compiled a 26-24 record during the previous two seasons. Although he may have been considered to be an unconventional choice to lead the reigning Ivy League champions, Daly soon earned the respect and love of all of those that were a part of Penn basketball.
“[Daly] hugged us in practice, taught us different zone defenses we never used before, showed us the flexibility you needed to succeed on the court and off. He never shamed or humiliated a player,” Cotler said. “We grew to love him, all that hair and his penchant for sharp suits. He also had that smile that said he cared about you.”
As the new season started, the Quakers picked up right where they left off from their undefeated regular season a year before. After a quick 3-0 start, however, something unusual happened — Penn lost a Big 5 game to an unranked Temple, 57-52. For the senior class, it was one of the few losses of their careers, but under the leadership of Daly, the team quickly put the loss behind them.
“Whenever things would go crazy around us, Chuck would calm them down. He took care of his basketball family,” Cotler said.
The Quakers won five straight games before losing again — this time to Ivy rival and No. 17 Princeton. Not even a month after their first loss to the Temple Owls, it would be the last time the team would lose again in the regular season. No. 3 Penn entered the postseason on a 14-game winning streak with a 22-2 overall record.
Of the five starters that suited up for the Red and Blue in the 1971-1972 season, three would eventually be drafted to the NBA.
Senior forward Corky Calhoun, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds during the season, was drafted fourth overall in the 1972 NBA Draft to the Phoenix Suns. Senior forward Bob Morse, who averaged 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, was drafted in the third round in 1972 to the Buffalo Braves. And junior forward Phil Hankison, who averaged 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, was drafted in the second round in 1973 to the Boston Celtics.
In the first round of the 1972 NCAA Tournament, the Quakers continued their hot streak, easily beating Providence 76-60, but next on the schedule was No. 15 Villanova, the same Wildcats that sent the Red and Blue home from the tournament a season ago. It was a different result this time around, however, as Penn held onto a 10-point lead throughout the game.
For the second straight season, the Quakers had made it to the Elite Eight, and were set to face No. 2 North Carolina.
“I am not sure we knew we could beat them — but we could have. We fell behind by 10 early and then played them even. McAdoo, George Karl, Bobby Jones, Dennis Wuycik, and Bill Chamberlain were too much,” Cotler said. “It's like being hit by a Mack truck when you mentally prepare to play and play and play and then you are done. Now what? Sure, you're at an Ivy League school and you've studied but basketball has been your life.”
Although it may have been yet another disappointing ending to the season, the Red and Blue still proved to be one of the best teams in the country that year, and also found a new coach and leader in Chuck Daly.
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