ULowell's champion Chiefs: A Team to Remember

08/02/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By DAVID PEVEAR

Nothing can pull them apart; not oceans and continents, careers and kids, time and space. Huddled up via the Internet and bonded for all time by an improbable national championship, they remain a team.

The members of the 1988 University of Lowell men's basketball team have always derived great satisfaction from their own proud realizations that they were one heck of a team. They are one of only two New England teams to win the NCAA Division 2 men's national title.

But it is gratifying to know also that 14 years' time has not inflated their fond memories beyond their actual accomplishments. They are not alone in believing theirs was a special team. On Friday, the 1988 Chiefs will be part of the inaugural class inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame at the University of Rhode Island.

'When I heard about it, I went on their Web page and thought maybe (UMass Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner) was on the selection committee,' said Pat King, a starting forward and co-captain on the '88 team, who is flying in from Copenhagen, Denmark, to attend the ceremonies. 'But nobody's name on the committee popped out as being affiliated with Lowell, so I guess our accomplishments are what got the team in there. It's definitely a source of pride.'

The New England Basketball Hall of Fame was conceived by the Institute for International Sport at URI to celebrate New England basketball at its finest at every level. Among the crowded inaugural class are Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Patrick Ewing, Calvin Murphy, Julius Erving and coach John Fagula's 1987 Nashua High girls' basketball team.

'Obviously in the city of Lowell we were a big deal, especially being from a school that didn't have a basketball tradition. But to now get recognition on this level is quite an accomplishment for the team,' said Leo Parent, the hometown kid and star of the team, anxious to rub elbows with Heinsohn and Cousy.

'When I looked at some of the names of who we're being inducted with, I said, 'Wow!'' said Bobby Licare, the smooth point guard who turns 37 on Friday. 'To be as out of shape as I am now, it seems funny to be honored for my athletic achievements.'

The head coach and 1988 team architect Don Doucette, his assistants Paul Faison and John Paganetti, and all but two of the players from the team will attend the induction ceremonies, coming in from as far away as California (Billy Herenda) and Denmark (King). Paul Considine is on a business trip and can't make it, and teammates have been unable to contact Tony Jackson.

'It is the most precious moment in my career,' said the well-traveled Doucette, back in Massachusetts and coaching at Newbury College in Brookline after stops at North Carolina-Asheville, Chaminade University in Hawaii and Central Missouri State. 'Everywhere I've been - and I've done my share of traveling I've been asked about that team. In many hours on the road, analyzing after a loss, I've always tried to make comparisons to that team. It was a very special group.'

Doucette left ULowell (now UMass Lowell) for Division 1 NC-Asheville immediately after the national championship. He remains ambitious to recreate what went so right with that '88 ULowell team, which played defense as ferociously as the '85 Bears and won the national title in the program's first-ever trip to the NCAAs.

Theories abound. Doucette even suggests that it helped having so many well-disciplined kids from Catholic schools whom he could push until they perhaps cursed him, but never disobeyed him.

'We were fundamentally sound,' said Licare, who had played with Parent at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence. (Parent transferred to ULowell in 1986 after his freshman season at Manhattan, a homecoming greeted by a headline in The Sun proclaiming: 'Lowell gets its Ewing.')

Forward Gavin Cummings and guard Billy Herenda had been teammates at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City. King came from Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury. (Brian Parath, the starting shooting guard and only a sophomore in 1987-88, hailed from Millbury High.)

'I thought I had the next Bobby Licare twice at two different coaching stops. But (as it turned out), not even close,' said Doucette, hired in June as the athletic director and coach to take Newbury College into NCAA Division 3 next season. 'The character and toughness that team had just isn't there in kids any more. You might find a kid like that now and then but in a collection of kids, it just doesn't happen. That's still the team to which I've always measured everything against.'

King remembers the seeds of belief being planted on a quiet bus ride back from a loss at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. 'Bobby, Gavin and I were just talking, saying all we had to do was go on a 10-game run (for the national championship),' recalled King. 'Other guys who had been sleeping or reading started coming back to join the conversation. It was not a big rah-rah scene. It was just 13 guys looking at each other and nodding their heads.'

Ten straight victories later, they were cutting down the nets at the Springfield Civic Center after beating Alaska-Anchorage75-72 for the title and finishing with a 27-7 record.

Doucette holds up the example of Parent each year to each new team he coaches as the ideal team player. The 6-foot-6 junior center led that championship team in scoring (18.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.1 rpg). He was the perfect star for the perfect team selfless, fundamentally flawless and, best of all, a hometown Lowell kid who thrived in the clutch.

The following season, after Doucette left for Asheville, Parent unleashed an outside game that enabled him to nearly stick with the Golden State Warriors as a shooting forward after he had played his college career almost entirely in the low post.

'Here I am now at Newbury telling a group of guys who have never won more than nine games in the program's short history, 'Gee, you've got to make sacrifices; play different positions for the betterment of the team.' That's what Leo did,' said Doucette, 'and he never said 'boo' about it.'

'I think we had some talent,' said Parent. 'But I think we thrived on the intangibles. We had tremendous confidence in each other that we would always pick each other up. Everything came together. We got on a run and we ran with it.'

The five seniors on that '88 ULowell team all graduated on time, two months after winning a national title. 'Somebody should do a survey. That's probably never happened in the history of college basketball,' said Doucette.

King is now a purchasing specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense, working out of the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen.

Bob Yalden, who was a backup center on the team, works for the U.S. Secret Service. (King has a picture of Yalden guarding the Pope.)

Cummings works for the department of corrections in New Jersey. Parent teaches eighth-grade history and coaches varsity basketball at Pentucket Regional in West Newbury. Licare is a loan originator for First Essex Bank in Lowell.

Three members of the team became basketball coaches, providing some hope for the sport's future. King coached the Danish national team for a year and a half. Parent is head coach at Pentucket. Licare is an assistant under his brother Dick at Central Catholic.

Doucette on occasion dusts off his tape of ESPN's broadcast of the championship game and pops it in the VCR. He watches as Parent steals the ball in the final minute and Licare hits the free throws to preserve the victory. He sees himself sweaty and elated while being interviewed afterward by Quinn Buckner.

'I showed the end of that game to one of the teams I had at Asheville,' he said. 'I thought maybe it would help as a motivational tactic. Whether it worked, I'm not sure. Kids nowadays, from the time they get from the video room to the floor, they forget it.'

More on the 1988 Champs at http://www.goriverhawks.com/bballmen/champions.htm