(Editor’s note: This is the second in a seven-part weekly series in which the Times Herald will unveil its “Mount Rushmore” of St. Bonaventure men’s basketball — that is, the most notable four players — with the caveat of going decade by decade. Today: The 1960s.)
ST. BONAVENTURE — The decades before and after this one were more difficult to navigate.
Deciding on a Mount Rushmore of St. Bonaventure basketball for the 1950s was challenging due to the lack of statistical information, firsthand accounts and just how far removed we are from that era.
Settling on a Top 4 for the 1970s was even trickier because it had more candidates than any other decade, already boasts a fella named Lanier and was the era for the program’s two greatest achievements — the 1970 Final Four and the 1977 NIT championship.
Picking a Mount Rushmore for the 1960s, however?
That was relatively easy.
The 60s was the only decade in which all four of our selections have had their numbers retired, were selected to the Athletics Hall of Fame and made the 100th anniversary All-Time Team, announced last November. There’s also plenty of star power, as at least one (if not two) of these players could stake their claim on not only the Mount Rushmore of their decade, but the one for the entire history of Bona basketball.
If Bob Lanier took the program to uncharted territory, these were the guys that first Bona put Bona on the map.
With that, here’s Part 2 of our Bona Mount Rushmore Series:
BILL BUTLER (1965-68)
The case: Butler was the captain of the only Bona team (1967-68, the year of “The Ironman 5”) to go undefeated in the regular season AND reach the NCAA Tournament.
Known for his aggressive play and polish, the 6-foot-3 forward finished with 1,462 points and 650 rebounds over three seasons, numbers that still rank Nos. 17 and 19 in program history. He also holds a share of the Bona record for most points in an NCAA Tournament game with 34 in a first-round win over Boston College in 1968.
Butler, referred to by teammates as “Butts,” averaged better than 20 points per game for his career, including marks of 22.8 points and 9.2 rebounds as a senior in ‘67-’68. He was named to Look Magazine’s All-District Team in that season.
FRED CRAWFORD (1960-64)
The case: Crawford helped Bona to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1960-61, setting the program standard for points as a sophomore that year (614), a figure that has been topped only by Lanier (with 656).
The 6-foot-4 forward still ranks in the top 10 in Bona annals in both scoring (8th, 1,738 points) and rebounding (6th, 789, 10.2 per game) — achieving those numbers in only three varsity seasons. His career 22.5 points per game scoring average still sits third in program history, behind only Lanier (27.6) and Tom Stith (27.0).
In the 1961 NCAAs, Crawford racked up 34 points and 16 rebounds in a first-round win over Rhode Island and 19 points and 10 boards in a second-round loss to Wake Forest. He scored in double figures in every postseason he played. The New York City native averaged an incredible 26.3 points as a senior in 1963-’64, earning All-East recognition that year.
SAM STITH (1957-60)
The case: The elder of the famed Stith brothers, Sam was a key player on a trio of NIT teams and served as captain of the 1959-60 team that finished fourth at the National Invitation Tournament.
Stith was the catalyst of Bona’s celebrated “nervous defense,” helping to usher in a newfound change in style that became the zone press. Described as a “complete” player, as well as a playmaker and consummate team player, Stith’s offensive ability was equally impressive.
The New York City native finished his career with 1,112 points (34th all-time) and 620 rebounds (23rd). The 159-60 season was perhaps the most magical for the Stiths, as the brothers combined to average 52 points per game — Sam at 20.5 and Tom at 31.5. Combined, they led the Bonnies three NITs and one NCAA Tournament appearance over four years.
TOM STITH (1958-61)
The case: One of the program’s true legends, the younger Stith was the best player of his era and remains one of the most decorated players in Bona annals.
A prolific scorer with an unstoppable hook shot, Stith was co-captain of the Bonnies’ first NCAA Tournament team (1960-61) and was their first consensus All-American (receiving the honor in both 1959 and ‘60).
At the time of his graduation, Tom was Bona’s all-time leading scorer with 2,052 points, a figure that remains fifth in program history (and second among three-year players, behind only Lanier). He still holds the Bona record for points in a season (830 in 1960-61) and single-season scoring average (31.5 in 1959-60) and is 13th in rebounds (691).
Among Stith’s career honors: Associated Press and United Press International All-American (1960, ‘61); Sporting News All-American (1960, 61); Converse All-American (1960, 61), Catholic Digest All-American (1961) and ECAC All-East (1961).