|Posted by Brian Dickmann on December 2, 2013 at 9:50 PM|
Prior to becoming a Division I program in 1982, the Green Bay Phoenix had an incredibly successful Division II program, reaching multiple Final Fours and finishing National Runner-up in 1978 and 1979. When Division 1 college basketball began for GB in that 1982 season, like with most programs making the transition, it was a bit of a struggle. After going 14-13 in head coach Dave Buss' final season as head coach, the Phoenix followed that up with a pair of 9-19 seasons in 1983 and 1984 before a program worst 4-24 season in the 1984-1985 season. That was the nail in the coffin for coach Dick Lien.
For long time Phoenix basketball fans, the memories of conference championships, NCAA or NIT apperances, and 20 win seasons remind folks of the Bennett era. Green Bay hired Dick Bennett prior to the 1985-1986 season after the newly Division 1 program was off to a 36-75 record. Bennett was wildly successful at UW-Stevens Point, leading the Pointers to a 173-80 record in 9 seasons at the helm, including 4 straight WIAC championships. He was ready to take his tough, hard-nosed style to Division 1 basketball, and boy did he ever.
A season after leading the Pointers to four straight conference titles, Dick Bennett was called upon to take on the rebuilding project of turning Green Bay Phoenix basketball into a legitimate mid-major basketball program. A 5-23 start in his inagural season was a blip on the radar as he would get the team above .500 just one season later. By 1988, he had his son, Tony Bennett, help him take the program to heights that didn't seem possible just a few years earlier.
Dick would finish his Green Bay career with a 187-109 record, leading the Phoenix to three NCAA tournaments and two NIT appearances in ten seasons as head coach. The program's lone NCAA tournament win in came in 1994 against Jason Kidd and the California Golden Bears. He left to coach the Wisconsin Badgers following the 1995 season. Tony played for Green Bay from 1988-1992 and was named Mid-Continent Conference player of the year twice and ended his career with an impressive 87–34 record at GB. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1992 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets.
The increased expectations for this year's team coincide perfectly with Tony Bennett's return to Green Bay as head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers. The Phoenix are picked to win the Horizon League for the first time since the Dick Bennett era and look for a signature win Saturday night at the Resch Center against the greatest player to ever wear a Green Bay Phoenix jersey. Tony's immeasurable impact on the Phoenix program is the reason he has the lone jersey hanging at the Resch. His #25 was retired and won't be worn again by a Phoenix player. He still leads the program in a host of statistics, including career points (2,285) and assists (601) and remains the NCAA's all-time leader in 3-point shooting percentage.
Saturday night's nationally televised game will be a fantastic opportunity for Phoenix fans to reminisce about the Bennett-led glory days of the late 80s and early 90s as well as enjoy the fantastic and exciting team on the floor this year. Oh, the game should be pretty good too.
Categories: Green Bay Basketball