1978-79 F&M Men's Basketball Final Four Team - 40th Year Anniversary

1978-79 F&M Men's Basketball Final Four Team - 40th Year Anniversary

North Park Audio Broadcast | Centre Audio Broadcast 

Though it's been four decades since one of Franklin & Marshall College's greatest men's basketball teams left the floor, memories are ongoing for many who watched that squad.

The 1978-79 team went 27-5 and advanced to the NCAA Final Four. It lost the first game there to North Park University, of Chicago, 83-73, and won the consolation game over Centre College, of Danville, Ky., 66-65, on a buzzer-beater by stalwart Donnie Marsh '79.

To listen to the audio broadcast from the Centre game, click here.

In getting to the Final Four, the Diplomats defeated Washington College and Widener University in the MAC Playoffs and then downed Albright, Elizabethtown, and Jersey City State in the NCAA tournament to advance to the Final Four. 

The final two games were played at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill. 

To listen to the audio broadcast from the Diplomats game against North Park, click here.

Coach Glenn Robinson, who possesses a remarkable memory as well as superior mentoring skills, recently reflected on that season from 40 years ago.

"I remember well the game against Jersey City State which sent us to the Final Four," said Robinson, who has been the head coach of the Diplomats since 1971. "They had extremely athletic guards that were difficult to guard man to man. We switched to a zone at the half and played the entire second half in a zone defense. 

"The defense forced them to shoot from the outside, and many of their shots were taken by their freshman center, who was not a good shooter. I still get goosebumps when I think of the chanting crowd shouting each player's name as we took them out of the game. They then switched to chanting 'Rock Island, Rock Island' which was the location for the Final Four that season. During the game, it was deafening when we did something exciting like scoring or getting a steal.

"Our players executed precisely even when pressured by Jersey City; they were determined to continue their record-breaking season."

Robinson, of course, did not know then that Franklin & Marshall would go on to be the country's best Division III men's basketball program of his era.

Roster members that year included Don Anderson, Tom Blefko, Rob Crawford, Tom Feraco, Gene Kakalec, Bill Kane, Brian Lewis, Bob Manaskie, Marsh, Dave McKenna, Cary Monroe, Art Taylor, Dennis Westley, Tom Whittaker and Mark Worley. 

Decades later, members of that historic team still resonate with Robinson.

"Donnie Marsh was one of the finest players in the history of Franklin & Marshall men's basketball," said Robinson. "His scoring record stood for over 30 years, and some of his highlight plays would be fitting for SportsCenter."

The Atlanta Hawks took Marsh in the third round (52nd overall) of the NBA draft following graduation. He went on to enjoy a long and successful coaching career with stops at UAB (2006-12), Indiana (2004-06), and Virginia Tech (1997-2000). Marsh was at the helm at Florida International for four seasons (2000-04) and is currently the associate head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University. 

 "Tom Whittaker became a student coach but contributed like an adult coach," recalled Robinson. "His unselfishness was contagious and helped set the tone for the team play. 

 "Mark Worley was incredibly athletic for a 6-6 player and was a forerunner for today's guards. Bird was tall but able to handle the ball and move well on the perimeter." 

Bob Manaskie was an excellent passer who had 926 career assists and ran the offense.

The Diplomats, of course, went on to win many great victories under Glenn Robinson.

Still, the 1978-79 squad was one of Robinson's first extraordinary teams. And he had excellent players to take him to the school's first Final Four.  

Marsh was named to the "All-Final Four" team. He finished his career as one of F&M's most proficient scorers with 1,695 points. That record is now held by Brandon Federici '18. Marsh led the team in scoring with an 18.8 average (601) points and was named to several All-America teams. 

"I can't believe it's been 40 years," Marsh recently exclaimed. "That was a great team we had, and we worked together well. I give Coach Robinson a lot of credit. He prepared us and made sure a lot of pieces came together. 

"Coach gave me leeway to play my game. We had a good relationship, and I enjoyed playing for him. I grew as a person." 

The versatile guard said he is pleased he chose F&M rather than to have sought a career in Division I or II.

"A lot of things came together, so we had a great team, and I had some good seasons," said Marsh. "In a larger program, I could have got lost in the shuffle. At F&M, I found a place, and we had some outstanding seasons."

Manaskie was the Diplomats' playmaker and averaged 9.3 points per game. Westley averaged 13.6 and Worley contributed 11 points per game.  

Art Taylor '80, who was a junior on that squad, recently said, "I remember the mood on campus toward the end of the season. There was excitement, and before the Final Four, students referred to the team as the Rock Island Express. 

"At one point, there was a huge roll of butcher paper at the Student Center. Students would come by and sign it, wishing us good luck. There was an enormous amount of student spirit, and I will always be thankful for their support." 

Taylor's career has been as a CEO with nonprofit organizations. 

"A lot of credit goes to Coach Robinson for our success that season," said Taylor, who is a member of the College's Board of Trustees. "He was always prepared and was exceptional at identifying weaknesses in the other team so we could take advantage. That was a great season that I remember clearly." 

Robinson, who is Division III's all-time winningest coach and is nearing the 1,000-victory mark, was too early in his career to grasp the rare achievement of that 1978-79 team. 

"In terms of F&M men's basketball, I didn't know this would be such a high point," said Robinson. I hadn't coached for that long at that time." 

Robinson's legacy has been highlighted by his Diplomat teams reaching the Final Four five times (1979, 1991, 1996, 2000, 2009) with the 1991 squad going all the way to the championship game. 

Forty years later, the hope for those four additional, historical teams that followed the 1978-79 squad is to be remembered as clearly and as fondly as the first Final Four team that laid the foundation for the rest.