Dayton’s 1967 men’s basketball team is legendary 50 years later.
By Leo Deluca
On March 25, 1967, the University of Dayton men’s basketball team, under the leadership of legendary coach Don Donoher, squared off against UCLA at Freedom Hall in Lexington, Ky. Dayton, the Cinderella team of the tournament, had won three consecutive nail-biters—topping Western Kentucky 69-67 in overtime, Tennessee 53-52, and Virginia Tech 71-66 in overtime—before defeating North Carolina in the national semifinals, earning their first and only berth in the NCAA championship.
Jaws dropped across Dayton as the city watched its native sons make national headlines—each victory more thrilling than the last. And by the time UD took out Virginia Tech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., the energy was so electric that team mascot Freddie the Flyer—played by junior Jack Hoeft—risked life and limb to celebrate the win.
“My favorite memory, by far, is the scene after the Virginia Tech game which sent us to the Final Four,” says 6’4” forward Don May, a former NBA player and Belmont High School standout, considered by many to be the greatest UD player of all time. “Super fan and literal Flyer, Jack Hoeft, attempting to cut down the net, was lifted up 30-feet when he hung on to the rim as the custodian raised the basket trying to prevent him from doing that. After hanging on for over a minute Jack and the basket were lowered amidst cheers from Flyer fans. Meanwhile, we players were being carried around the court and Jack happened to land in my hand on his final descent.”
Blood pressures rose across Dayton. The first three tourney games were far too close for comfort and Flyer fans welcomed the relatively painless 76-62 upset of No. 4 ranked North Carolina in the semifinals.
But in order to take the crown Dayton had to take down one final undefeated team—UCLA—led by one of the greatest basketball players of all-time: Lew Alcindor, the man later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“Defending champ UCLA is after its third NCAA title in four years. Seven- foot, 1- inch Alcindor is the key reason they entered the tournament undefeated,” continued Herlihy. “Alcindor dominates the backboards, totaling 20 points. He’s voted the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player.”
“The ‘67 Flyers had been to the Sweet Sixteen the previous season and realized winning the tourney was possible. Just not against LewCLA,” says May.
Led by Alcindor, UCLA went 88-2 from 1967–1969. Unfortunately, Dayton was unable to claim one of those upsets. The Bruins defeated the Flyers 79-64.
But that final game was far from a total loss for the University of Dayton. It ushered in a new era of possibility and fanfare for UD basketball. The 1967 Flyers built an astonishing tower—a tower to be completed at a future date, by some future Flyer team. Here’s to hoping Don May, and the remaining members of that yet-unmatched NCAA title game team, live to see that day.
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