History-making hoops team keeps winning feeling alive
Bisons men’s basketball team shares the magic of their 1976 championship run
This past weekend, members of the 1976 national championship-winning Bisons men’s basketball team and their families got together to shoot some hoops and rewatch some of that championship game on the court of Investors Group Athletic Centre (IGAC).
Forty-six years ago, that Bisons team made history as the first and only men’s team in Winnipeg to date to capture the top prize of Canadian university basketball. Since the historic win, the team gets together every five years to reminisce about their time on the court.
“We just had such a good time,” said forward Doug Freeth [BA/77]. “We wanted to make sure we kept getting together.”
Freeth said they are still sharing the same stories and bad jokes now they did 46 years ago, although the stories may be a little more embellished these days.
The 10-man team won with entirely local talent, an extremely rare occurrence at such a high level. Freeth said there was a type of homegrown energy behind the team as they played through the season.
“There was nothing better than that,” said Brian Rumsey [MBA/85, BA/77, BSc/75], a forward on the team. “You didn’t have to rely on anyone else.”
Rumsey said every player had their own quirks, strengths and weaknesses, and put together they made up the best team the province has seen on the court.
“Everybody had their place,” said Rumsey. “Everybody had their role.”
There was no doubt the team was skilled, with four players named to the conference all-star team (Rick Watts [BA/76], Martin Riley [CertEd/80, BPE/78], Greg Daniels [CertEd/78, BPE/77] and Daryl Rumsey), but Rumsey said their coaches, Don Hunter (two-time CIAU coach of the year) and his assistant Dave Guss deserve a lot of recognition for directing their talent.
“We weren’t chess pieces,” recalled Rumsey. “We were real people, and they treated us like real people.”
The team’s talent and chemistry came through when they played, but outside of the games, the players didn’t let the pressure off. Each of them knew what it’d take to win, so their practices often became harder than the games.
“We used to just beat the daylights out of each other,” said Rumsey.
But the pain was all for the championship, a title they had all agreed on winning at the end of the previous season.
That year, the team had made a push to the finals but lost with a heart-breaking 80-79 loss after a corner shot from Waterloo put them in front with only three seconds left.
The loss in ’75 was the catalyst for their impressive championship season. The team went to the finals tournament again, this time beating Waterloo in the semis. They went on to defeat Saint Mary’s in the championship game, ending the season with 31-5 record.
“There was only one ball,” said Rumsey. ” Unless we shared it and worked as a team. We weren’t going to win.”
During the weekend’s reunion, the team was also celebrating the induction of their teammate to the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame. Randy Kusano [BEd/78, CertEd/76, BPE/75], a guard during his time with the Bisons went on to become one of the most respected and prolific high school coaches in Manitoba. He was honoured during Saturday night’s induction ceremony in the Builders category.
“The stuff that started on the team, it just lasts forever,” said Freeth.
Freeth attributes their long-lasting connection to the odd mix of characters making up the 1976 roster, but also to a few key members who saw the value in maintaining the relationships forged on the court.
The team is now looking forward to their fiftieth reunion in a few years but in the meantime, they’re hoping another Bisons team will raise a banner to hang with their own on the walls of IGAC.