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Where Dr. J took off

Julius Erving of Massachusetts defends his basket against North Carolina’s Bill Chamberlain in National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
Julius Erving of Massachusetts defends his basket against North Carolina’s Bill Chamberlain in National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden.Credit: Associated Press/JSJ

Before it spawned Hall of Famers, national No. 1 rankings, and a memorable run to the Final Four (since vacated by the NCAA), UMass men’s basketball got its official start on Jan. 10, 1899, when the school, then known as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, beat the Northampton YMCA, 14-9.

More than 1,000 victories have followed, many of them involving famous names that either are displayed prominently inside the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in nearby Springfield, or might someday. You’ll learn about Julius Erving there, even though he’s not among the school’s career scoring leaders. The high-flying forward better known as Dr. J played just two seasons in Amherst (1969-71), yet averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds per game, both still tops in UMass history.

Assists, not points, were Rick Pitino’s specialty when he played for the Minutemen in the early 1970s, but he would make a bigger impact as a college and NBA coach. Pitino was the first to take three different schools to the Final Four, winning two national championships; he also guided the Celtics, but that’s a chapter we’d just as soon forget.

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John Calipari (below) led the Minutemen during their greatest stretch of success, taking five of his eight teams to the NCAA Tournament; UMass has eight total NCAA appearances. Led by Marcus Camby, UMass advanced to the 1996 Final Four and finished 35-2, although the NCAA later stripped the school of the accomplishment, due to violations involving Camby. Calipari, who has one national title, is the only coach besides Pitino to direct three schools to the Final Four.

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