Basketball began at Brown in 1901. In February 1900 the Brown Daily Herald had reported, “The game of hand polo has been a very popular indoor game at Brown. It fills the place which basket-ball assumes in other colleges and resembles it in general.” The next year on January 5, 1901, the Herald carried a notice which read, “Will all those who are at all interested in basket-ball meet at 11 Slater Hall at 1:30 today. Plans will be made for a Brown team.” At the meeting Edward M. Benjamin ’04 was elected captain and Charles A. R. Ray ’02 was chosen as manager. The first practice was held on January 11, and the Brown Daily Herald reported, “Basketball practice began last Friday evening, but owing to some delays about the baskets, nothing could be done except to pass the ball and practice dribbling.” However, baskets must have been acquired as basketball was recognized as a varsity sport by the Board of Directors of the Athletic Association at its meeting on January 23, and the first game was played with Holy Cross on February 14. Brown lost, 9-8, but a week later, at the first home game in Lyman Gymnasium, Brown beat Holy Cross, 29-10. In addition to captain Benjamin and manager Ray, Henry F. Ahrens ’04, Porter Fearey ’04 and Erwin K. Smith ’02 were members of the first team, which won three of seven games in the first season. The early games were generally low-scoring, with the occasional exception (Brown 60, Massachusetts 8 in 1905).
Brown’s first winning season came in 1905 with a 12-6 record and Brown’s first victory over Dartmouth, 18-17, in a game in which Oscar Rackle scored 16 points. The next season was a disaster. The team had already won two games when the Sphinx Club presented a petition “calling upon all members of the basketball team who know themselves to be ineligible to resign.” The 1905 team had been accused of receiving money for a game at Wickford. Captain Rackle and three others resigned, “not as an acknowledgment of the truth of the rumor but as a protest against what the members regarded as an unwarranted intrusion.” The reorganized team with Don Pryor ’08 as captain won only two of its next nine games, and, having lost money, cancelled the rest of the season. One highlight of that season was Pryor’s single-game record of 34 points, which was unbroken until 1938. The 1907-08 team, again captained by Pryor, played a variety of opponents, defeating Norwich, M.I.T., Harvard, Wesleyan, Colgate, Andover, Manhattan, Syracuse, Levy Tech and Trinity, and losing to Tufts, Penn, Fordham, Wesleyan and Williams. There was less success for the teams of the next few years, and in 1910 the varsity disbanded because of lack of interest and support. In March 1912 Brown dropped basketball. Harvard, M.I.T., and Amherst had already done so, leaving Williams and Wesleyan as Brown’s only comparable opponents.
It was 1919 before basketball at Brown was revived through the efforts of Louis A. R. Pieri ’20. In the 1920s there were three winning seasons under coaches Wally Snell ’13 and Harold “Chick” Evans, 13-10 in 1922, and 10-6 in 1925 and 1926. The team of 1938-39, coach George “Eck” Allen’s first team, was chosen to represent New England in the first championship tournament conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. That team, undefeated on the home court, won seventeen of its twenty games, beat every New England opponent excepting Dartmouth and including Providence College for the first time since 1922, but lost to Villanova, 42-30, in the tournament. Harry Platt ’40 broke all of Brown’s scoring records with a single game score of 48 points against Northeastern in 1938, a season scoring record of 404 in 1937-38, and a career record of 866. In 1945 the team, led by George “Woody” Grimshaw ’47, won the New England title. Grimshaw, whose career record was 1,021, later coached at Tufts. After 1945 Brown basketball experienced a long run of losing seasons, but had its star players. Francis “Moe” Mahoney scored 828 points in his two-and-one-half seasons. The high point of the 8-11 season of 1950-51 was Brown’s first victory on Rhode Island State’s home court in sixteen years, a one-point win on a basket by Fred Kozak ’50 in the last three seconds of the game. Stan Ward’s fifteen-year coaching record from 1954 to 1969 was 133-261. Joe Tebo ’58 set a career record of 1,319 points, which was broken four years later by the 1,331 record of three-time All-Ivy Mike Cingiser ’62. A low point in Brown’s basketball history was the 3-23 season in 1969-70. Under coach James G. “Gerry” Alaimo ’58 the team improved slowly, and in 1972-73 had its first winning season since 1959-60, as five sophomores, Phil Brown ’75, Jim Busam ’75, Vaughan Clarke ’75, Lloyd Desvigne ’75, and Eddie Morris ’75, finished 14-12 and third in the Ivy League, and went on to 17-9 and a tie for second in the league in 1973-74, and 14-12 and a tie for third in 1974-75. Alaimo left in 1978 with an 88-148 record, 57-59 in the Ivy League. Joe Mullaney, successful coach at Providence College, took over and coached until 1981, and was followed by Mike Cingiser ’62. The disappointing seasons continued until 1985-86, when Brown, in its first winning season (16-11) since 1975, won its first Ivy League championship, but lost to Syracuse, 101-52, in the opening round of the regional NCAA tournament. Cingiser’s ten-year record was 93-170.
In the beginning the coaches changed almost yearly, and were sometimes players. Wally Snell coached from 1921 to 1923 and Harold Evans from 1923 to 1926. Two football coaches did double duty as coaches of the basketball team, DeOrmond “Tuss” McLaughry from 1926 to 1929, and Charles A. “Rip” Engle from 1942 to 1946. Arthur D. Kahler coached from 1931 to 1938, George E. “Eck” Allen from 1938 to 1941, William H. H. Dye in 1941-42, Wilbur C. “Weeb” Ewbank (who much later made a name for himself in pro football by coaching both the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets to league championships) in 1946-47, Robert B. Morris from 1947 to 1954, Stan Ward from 1954 to 1969, Gerry Alaimo from 1969 to 1978, Joe Mullaney from 1978 to 1981, Mike Cingiser from 1981 to 1991, and the present coach, Frank “Happy” Dobbs.
Basketball was a favorite sport of the early women students. Each class had a team which played for the championship of the College. In 1903 the seniors won, defeating the freshmen 16-2, in a game which was pronounced a financial success with a profit of $16.50. That year the Women’s College team played the Lincoln School, “Miss Congdon’s team” and Radcliffe College. For years women’s basketball, more a student activity than a sport, consisted of occasional games with other women’s colleges and received little publicity (for many of the years the team pictures were not included in the yearbook, Brun Mael). In the first year of intercollegiate competition since the 1960s the women’s team, led by Sara Diedrick ’76, compiled a 13-1 record in 1973-74, and on February 16, 1974, with Providence College, was one of the first woman’s athletic teams to compete in the Providence Civic Center. The Brown women were 16-4 in 1974-75 and 13-7 in 1975-76. The women’s teams have been coached by Mary Avery in 1958, Sarah Phillips in 1960, Jan Lutz in 1972-73, Gail Davis from 1973 to 1975; Carole Kleinfelder from 1975-76, Gail Klock from 1976 to 1980; Maureen Enos from 1980 to 1988; and Jean Marie Burr since 1988. In Ivy League competition the women’s team finished in second place in 1974-75. 1975-1976, 1977-78, 1989-90, and 1990-91, and won the championship in 1983-84, 1984-85 (shared with Princeton), and 1991-92. Coach Jean Marie Burr’s record for four years since 1988 is 73-31 overall and 41-15 in the Ivy League. The 1990-91 team set new records of 1,850 points, nineteen victories, and 71 three-pointers. The 1991-92 team broke the school record for most wins in a season, 22-4 (13-1 in the League).