(Photos by Gary Quintal)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, March 18- On March 16, the inaugural class of the Atlantic-10 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Legends were feted at the 40/40 Club within Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The celebratory awards brunch recognized each of the honorees. One male and one female represented the outstanding basketball history of each of the 16 colleges/universities that comprise the 2013 Atlantic-10.
Fordham’s two honorees are among the elites of college basketball. Anne Gregory O’Connell was the finest female hoopster in the long history of Fordham University. The Bronx native did not travel far to enroll in college. She entered Fordham after graduating from Monsignor Scanlan High School. Once at Fordham, she rewrote the college’s history book in women’s basketball.
During her years at Fordham, she not only established school career marks for points, 2,548, and rebounds, 1,999, that still stand, but was a leader who brought her team great success in each of her four years. As a freshman, her skill led Fordham to the Eastern AIAW Small College state tourney. The team had even more success in her sophomore year as they reached the AIAW Small College National Tournament. Her last two seasons were years of even higher achievement for the team as they won the New York State crown and in her senior year captured the AIAW Eastern Regional title.
During O’Connell’s years at Fordham, 1976-1980, the women’s team achieved its higher number of victories (91) for a four year period. Her accomplishments were not forgotten at Fordham as six years after her graduation, she was deservedly the first female inducted into the Fordham Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2009, she became the first female athlete at Fordham to have her number (55) retired.
The current high school guidance counselor maintains a strong loyalty to Fordham. She regularly attends women’s games at the Rose Hill campus .Both of her sons graduated from Fordham and one, Andrew, is currently Assistant Sports Information Director (SID) at the university.
Johnny Bach, the male Fordham legend earned his award at the place of his birth, Brooklyn. Eighteen years after his birth, July10, 1924, Bach began his studies and a place on the basketball squad at Fordham. His degree in economics awarded by Fordham came in 1948. In the years between1943-1947, Bach attended Brown University, the University of Rochester and served in the U.S. Navy. His impressive play on the Rams during the 1947-8 season earned him team MVP honors and a draft notice from the Boston Celtics. After two years of pro basketball, Bach took the helm of the Rams.
At the age of 27, Bach began a lengthy and distinguished coaching career. His first 18 years of coaching was at his Alma Mater, Fordham. His teams in the Bronx compiled an outstanding 263-193 mark. In seven of those seasons, Bach led the Rams to post-season tournaments.
After his very successful stint at Fordham, Bach coached at Penn State. During the decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Bach coached in the NBA as a head and assistant. His highest pro accomplishment came in the years 1991-3, when he served as an influential assistant to head Coach Phil Jackson during three consecutive NBA championship seasons for the Chicago Bulls.
Bach retired from basketball in 2006. He has since become an accomplished painter. Although the 88 year-old was unable to attend the ceremony, his accomplishments were not forgotten.
Four of the other A-10 male legends have been previously enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Arnold “Red” Auerbach, John Chaney, Tom Gola and “Tony” Hinkle.
Atlantic-10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade saluted the men and women with the following tributes. Of the women she said, “Individually each legend has become a role model for others as they competed and benefitted from Title IX to elevate women’s basketball within the A-10 and nationally.”
Her tribute to the men included the following words, “Each of these honorees is part of the fabric of A-10 history and we’re thrilled to be able to honor them.”