SOR: A sentiment that has been expressed to more than once by people
in a position to know, is that with the constant demands of AAU ball, kids playing
basketball all year 'round, is that there's quite a bit of playing but not a
whole lot of teaching. Not much emphasis on fundamentals. Kids in a sense just
seem to be auditioning for something down the road. Would you agree?
Abdel: Sure, sure. When I was coming up, there was maybe one AAU team in the area. I was from Essex County so we had a guy from Essex County, Howard Garfinkel. He was my coach. There was another coach that was coaching in the NBA, he was an assistant coach, he coached at Upsala, I can't think of his name
SOR: Adubato? Richie Adubato?
Abdel: Might have been. Might have been I think it was. Howard Garfinkel, I never forget, we were playing a game, maybe in Boston or wherever, he'd be on the bench smoking Camel cigarettes, smoking, while we were running up and down the court. Can you imagine?
SOR: Yeah, that is
Abdel: That's crazy.
SOR: Kind of hard to conceive of that now, you'd get arrested for smoking
in the arena, there's probably a law against it.
Abdel: Right. He'd be on the bench smoking a cigarette, coaching us And I think a lot about him, because he was the one that exposed me to a lot of talented ballplayers back then: Edgar Jones, one guy from Seton Hall named Mark Coleman, and a bunch of other guys.
SOR: Did you play against Kelly Tripucka?
Abdel: Yeah, he was in my conference in high school. When I was a senior, he was a sophomore.
SOR: Edgar Jones was from Barringer, right?
Abdel: Yep. And we went all over, in different spots, and Howie was our coach, and Adubato was our assistant. We played hard and everything like that, but there was just one team - there wasn't a whole bunch of different AAU teams, and we just played during the end of basketball season. We didn't even do it during the summer. There was that short period of time after basketball season where we played AAU.
SOR: Let's get back to the Final Four just for a moment. Where was it
held at again?
Abdel: At the old Palestra in Philadelphia.
SOR: I've heard a lot of speculation that since the team played at the
Barn, that when you guys got there, it was a little overwhelming. Was that so?
Abdel: No, not really. We always played in big crowds before. That didn't really bother us When you're playing ball, it doesn't matter up to a point. We played at the Garden, so whether it was 2,800 or 2,400 at the Barn, or 28,000 somewhere else, after a certain point it's no real big difference. You know what you're supposed to do, you know what you've been practicing, so you just go ahead and do it. It's just in that particular game, the one with Michigan, it happened to be one of our worst games. And people talked about how they thought we were out of our league, and choked and this, that, and the other. At the time we won 31 games without a loss. We had some games where I thought we were going to lose before then, like when we played Princeton, I thought that was going to be a loss.
SOR: 54-53, the kid missed those free throws.
Abdel: Yeah, he was the best free throw shooter they had.
SOR: I was at that game, it was in Rhode Island, I believe.
Abdel: Yeah, and we won, but it was just one of those days where we had a bad game, and it's not in my opinion because of how good they were, they (Michigan) were a good team, but we just happened to have one of our worst games.
SOR: I agree. I think if you look back at the guys on that team that
played in the NBA, James, Eddie, Hollis played for a couple of years, Phil played
for one year, so there was obviously a tremendous amount of talent on that team.
It was just one of those nights where we had a bad game. Looking back at that
Michigan team, they had Phil Hubbard, Ricky Green, Wayman Britt, Steve Grote
I can't think of the other guy.
Abdel: I can't think of him, either. Yeah, one of the guys, I think Ed still has him as an assistant, Hubbard
SOR: Really? On the Wizards?
Abdel: Yeah, I don't know if he's still down there with him. I think he still is. I know he was with him for a number of years.
SOR: He was a pretty good ball player.
Abdel: Yeah, he was. He was a freshman I think on that team as well.
SOR: A while ago I wrote an article about the formation of the Big East,
and Mr Gruninger's decision not to go that route. Do you have any thoughts about
Abdel: Yes. One of the biggest mistakes ever made. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in Rutgers basketball history.
SOR: Catastrophic, in my opinion. Perhaps the single worst decision
Abdel: Yes, absolutely. With that one move - I think it still affects us today.
SOR: I agree. That's what I wrote about. I don't think Rutgers has still
ever recovered from that decision.
Abdel: Yeah, because at the time I always equate us with Seton Hall. We've had a much better facility, much better campus life. We have a lot more - and I may be kind of biased with this - we have a lot more to offer a kid than they did. And for us not to be in that type of situation it was a major, major mistake.
SOR: Yes, absolutely.
Abdel: Yeah, so to answer your question we should have been in there.
SOR: Yeah, to see them pass us by in many ways as a result of that,
it's been kind of difficult to watch. No disrespect meant to them
Abdel: Right, right, sure.
SOR: I mean, they have their history, as far as winning the NIT back
in the '50's, but with what we have and the way that it was going, it's really
a difficult thing. Then of course Mr. Littlepaige got hired after Tom Young,
and that was kind of like salt on the wound.
SOR: I don't know what it was about his coaching, maybe the team didn't
gel, but there was certainly some talent there, certainly better than their
SOR: In your opinion, what do you think Rutgers needs to do now to become
an upper-tier Big East team?
Abdel: Well, hopefully with Fred, they'll start to get the kids in. They've got to get the kids in; they need some big bodies in there. I mean, they've got the big kid in there now - who I think is going to be a decent player.
Abdel: Yeah. He needs some work, but he can be good. They need some beef in there. But I look at Seton Hall, and some other teams in the Big East, and even some other teams, and they're wide. We need some big bodies to compete.
SOR: How was it at the time as far as academic support?
Abdel: One of the key people when I was there was Joe Boylan. He was the person that would have discussions with our counselors, and with the professors, people like that. But I think the majority of us ultimately knew what we were there for. I think the majority of guys on the team - and I don't know the ratio of graduates to non-graduates during my era - but most of us, we had a pride about ourselves. We had a pride about ourselves and the university.
When we went to games, we all wore shirts and ties. The coach never told us to do that. But we had our own pride about how we dressed, and if someone didn't dress appropriately in our eyes, not the coaches eyes, we would get on them about what they were wearing and how they were representing us. Now kids nowadays, from what I see, they don't care what they wear. Pants are hanging off their butts. They don't care how they appear, to themselves or the university.
We had a pride about ourselves. We didn't want to lose - in my freshman year, or any year we didn't want to lose. In my freshman year we didn't want to lose. We wanted to represent the state and the university and our families and our immediate family, which was each other. We weren't going to let anybody disgrace us or embarrass us. So we had a lot of pride about that. So we had pride about why we were there - which was to graduate. We were there to get an education and to graduate from the school. And we took pride in that. Now I don't know about the ratio of graduates since I left. But I know when I was there, academics was chief and paramount.
You've got to be able to get the kids to I mean, the buck's got to stop somewhere, and if the kid can't cut the mustard. I think Notre Dame might've went through the same thing, because they were stressing the academics. Well, somebody's got to stress it. That's what we're there for. A coach might take it like his main job is just to get the kids in there to play, but how long can they play? A couple of years? Maybe if they don't cut the mustard academically, then they're out? Or they just pass through? That's not good either.
SOR: I think the university does have to do something to help some of
them get through, because quite frankly many of them would not be there were
it not for their athletic abilities.
Abdel: Well, I'm not opposed to having a tutor. When I was there, tutors were available. I had a hard time with economics, and I had a tutor and with his help, I got through. But I don't think anybody should be given anything. Tutors and extra effort and work - in my opinion, that's what's needed.