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Lost in central New York's Mohawk Valley is something off a postcard, called Hamilton College. Though it is 166 years old, Hamilton, which is in Clinton, even has an identity problem in its home state, because New Yorkers get it confused with Colgate University in nearby Hamilton or the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
Although hardly anybody has heard of Hamilton—and many of those who have cannot quite remember what or where it is—the place has a number of famed graduates, Elihu Root, Ezra Pound, Alexander Woollcott and B. F. Skinner among them. But not one of them or many other Hamilton alumni could dunk. That's why it is strange that in the last three years Hamilton's team has gone 66-12. As one old grad wrote, "What the hell's going on up there?"
Because Hamilton cherishes scholarship—it is one of the better colleges in the country—far more than athletics, the Continentals are forbidden to compete in the Division III tournament. They belong to the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and the rub is that the NESCAC prohibits its members from postseason play that occurs more than one weekend after the end of the regular season. The Division III finals are held one week too late.
Every few days or so, Tom Murphy, the basketball coach, curses the rule. "I know that in one of the last three years, we could have won the whole thing," he says. But then Tom Murphy, the tenured professor, calms down. "If the administration stressed athletics, it wouldn't be Hamilton."
Hamilton people point with pride to pages 212-214 of Sports in America, where James Michener writes that if he were to run an athletic program, he would run it as Hamilton has. No recruiting budget. No athletic scholarships. Studies first. Hamilton's idea of a perfect record, it seems, is 11-11. That way the players learn equally the lessons of winning and losing.
In Murphy's first season, 1970-71, the Continentals did a lot of work on the losing part. They were 1-15. During the next three years they won a total of 14 games. In the watershed season of 1974-75, Hamilton finished 12-10 and everybody was happy. Then Cedric Oliver arrived.
Oliver learned his basketball in the Bronx and then went to Proctor High in Utica, where he lived with his grandmother. While at Proctor, Oliver more than held his own against Dale Shackle-ford, now a star at Syracuse. When he had to decide on a college, Oliver's educationally minded grandmother pushed and Murphy dragged him to nearby Hamilton.
In Oliver's first year he led the Continentals to a 22-4 record and the championship of the ECAC region. In '76-77 Hamilton went 21-5 and lost in the Eastern final to Potsdam ( N.Y.) State. Last year's 23-3 team was easily the best in the school's history, but the Continentals still had no business beating Division II power Adelphi by nine points or Division I Colgate by 20, a victory that made Hamilton students sneer in a southwesterly direction.
Murphy has come a long way from the days when he was afraid to show prefreshmen—they're never called recruits at Hamilton—Alumni Gym, a 38-year-old edifice with all the charm of an old sweat sock. Today Hamilton has a new athletic complex designed by the people who dreamed up the Hartford Civic Center of SNOW CAVES IN ROOF fame. It is hoped that the architects learned their lesson, because the first snow fell in Clinton in September.
Hamilton should be just about as strong this season as it was last. The 6'4" Oliver is back, and he averaged 23.4 points a game, led the Continentals in rebounding and made the Division III All-America team. Three other starters, Center Kevin Grimmer, Forward Billy Southworth and Guard Johnny Magee, return, too.