The 1962-63 men’s basketball team included, front row, from left, head coach C. M. Newton, Jack Lucas ’63, Leo Burkey ’65, Leslie “Sonny” Voyles ’63, Virgil Jenkins ’64, Jay Barton ’64, Gary Mount ’65, assistant coach Lee Rose ’58; back row, Charles “Stumpy” Shipley ’65, Charlie Moore ’63, Denny Williamson ’63, David Jones ’65, Bob Ecroyd ’65, David Yewell ’64, Lynn Stewart ’64, and manager George Mandigo ’65.
50 years ago: a historic season for Transylvania basketball
Fifty years ago, the Transylvania men’s basketball team accomplished three things it had never done since basketball began at the university in 1903—the Pioneers played in a national postseason tournament, completed a 20-win season, and produced an All-American player.
The 1962-63 team went 20-9 after finishing as runners-up in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, winning the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics District 24 playoff, and advancing to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City. Senior guard Leslie “Sonny” Voyles ’63 was an honorable mention NAIA All-American.
The Pioneers defeated one of the NAIA tournament’s top seeds, Winston-Salem State Teacher’s College, 64-60 in a first-round game, then lost to Lewis & Clark College 88-80 in the second round.
It was an exciting season for the 13 players, two coaches, and team manager who went along for the ride.
“That was a very good basketball team that overachieved in some ways,” said C. M. Newton, head coach at the time. “It was a tremendous experience for us to fly out to Kansas City and stay in the Muehlebach Hotel. I thought that after we beat Winston-Salem, which was the No. 1 or 2 seed, that we might make a run in the thing.”
The team was only 6-5 at mid-season, but went on a 10-game win streak to improve to 16-5. Two regular season losses were to arch rival Georgetown College, but the Pioneers defeated the Tigers in the postseason when it counted most, by 90-75 in the semifinals of the KIAC tournament and 78-74 in the NAIA District 24 playoff.
“The road to Kansas City always ran through Georgetown in those days,” said assistant coach Lee Rose ’58. “We had some very good teams before that season, but just couldn’t get past Georgetown in the postseason. That year, it all came together for us.”
Rose remembers the team as being solid at all positions and a very good defensive team.
“Jack Lucas (’63) was an outstanding defensive guard, and Sonny Voyles was a great offensive guard, so they made a good combination. We had depth at the forward and center positions.”
Lucas recalls a defensive strategy that helped Transylvania defeat Winston-Salem.
“I set up and took the charge on this real good player, and we had three fouls on him by halftime,” he said. “That set the tone for us winning that game. We always played good defense.”
Voyles remembers how much experience the players had going into that season.
“We were a veteran team in many ways,” he said. “We started three seniors, and we had played a lot as sophomores and juniors.”
David Yewell ’64 played center and recalls the good chemistry of the team, including players and coaches.
“We had a really good team unity, and we had great respect for Coach Newton and Coach Rose, and (athletics director) Harry Stephenson (’46),” he said. “They were all like parents to us, and we didn’t want to let them down. We just decided we were not going to lose.”
The team was noteworthy for having two coaches who both went on to achieve national and international fame in basketball, Newton primarily through major college basketball and the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Rose with major college teams and the National Basketball Association.
“We were very fortunate to have both of those coaches early in their careers,” Yewell said. “They provided great leadership for us, and that helped make us very proud to be at Transylvania.”
Rose said that this team benefited from the aggressive recruiting that began a few years earlier and from Newton’s coaching acumen.
“When you go back and look at that era, you have to reflect on the importance of C. M. Newton in the overall picture,” he said. “For us at Transylvania at that time, to get a former University of Kentucky player who had played under Coach Adolph Rupp and had experienced national championships was a great coup.”
Beyond the scoreboard, Newton’s best memory of the accomplishments of the 1962-63 team has to do with the role of athletics in a small, selective liberal arts college.
“Everybody had said to me, ‘You can’t do this at Transylvania. You can’t get to the national level with all of the academic requirements at a top school like Transylvania.’ I listened to that ‘til I was blue in the face. I’ve never believed you couldn’t have good athletics and good academics too. That year was very important to me because it was our way of saying, ‘Hey, you can have both.’”
Since that record-setting season, the Pioneers have played in national postseason tournaments 30 times, recorded 20-win seasons on 26 occasions, and produced 18 All-American players. But the 1962-63 Pioneers will always have the satisfaction of knowing that they did all of that for the first time in school history.
—William A. Bowden