In 1969-1970, Artis Gilmore, Chip Dublin, and the Jacksonville University Dolphins basketball team introduced me to the world of what’s now commonly referred to as “March Madness”, the NCAA college basketball tournament. As an eleven year old, sixth grader and a safety patrol I escorted Artis Gilmore and Chip Dublin throughout Justina Road School as they visited following their unbelievable run in the 1970 NCAA tournament. I remember being amazed watching the 7’2″ Gilmore duck through each doorway, and I carried his autograph written in green ink in my wallet for years.
My family followed the Dolphins’ success throughout the season and attended several games. At the beginning of the season we watched the team play in the small gym on campus, but by the end of the season several games were moved to the Jacksonville Coliseum to accommodate the ever increasing crowds. The high scoring games were exciting and since they only lost one regular season game we always enjoyed cheering for the winning team. (Sarah would be pleased to know that her Seminoles spoiled their perfect season.)
The ’69-’70 Dolphins not only went on to the NCAA tournament, they beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, Kentucky, and Saint Bonaventure on their way to face the legendary UCLA Bruins in the championship game. We heard students celebrating on campus from our apartment a little over a mile away. Each victory was followed by the honking of horns and shouting in the streets by JU students and enthusiastic Jacksonville fans. Their final opponent, the Bruins, were not only the defending champions, but had won the tournament five of the previous six seasons.
While the season did not end with a national championship, losing 69-80 to UCLA, the Dolphins still hold the record as the smallest school to ever play in the NCAA Basketball final. In addition, they were the first college team to average over 100 points for an entire season despite the fact there was no shot clock, no dunking, and no three point shots. Artis Gilmore averaged 26.5 points per game and 22.2 rebounds per game, and he still holds the NCAA career rebounding average of 22.7 rebounds per game.
That 1969-70 basketball season hooked me on college basketball and March Madness.