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On a bright, blustery, afternoon in January 1982, after his team had completed its shoot-around practice in Browns creaky old Marvel Gym, Penn basketball coach Bob Weinhauer trudged up to the second-floor offices and extended a hand and an ironic smile to his old buddy, Mike Cingiser 62, the forty-one-year-old rookie Brown coach.

The two men had first met back in 1965 on Long Island. Over the years, both had become successful high school coaches with big dreams. Theyd even lobbied for each other as they landed their jobs at Penn and Brown. Now, on January 8, Bob Weinhauer arrived at Marvel Gym with a tall, athletic team that had won eleven straight Ivy League games the year before and seemed destined for greatness this year, too. And Weinhauer felt terrible about having to put his buddy Mike through what was in store for him that night. But a win was a win, and Weinhauer would take it, even though it would come at Mikes expense.

For as Weinhauer well knew, Cingiser was something of a legend on Providences East Side. A multi-talented athlete in high school, Cingiser had been a star at West Hempstead High School on Long Island, where he led his team to the Nassau County Championship and was named South Shore player of the year. Recruited by schools all over the country, Cingiser chose to attend Brown. For three years he lit up Marvel Gym in a way no one ever had, scoring 1,331 points (then a school record) and earning First Team All-Ivy League honors in 1960, 1961, and 1962. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Boston Celtics, but refused the offer on the advice of Dean of the College Charles Watts 47, who informed him that Brown was not in the business of producing professional athletes. Instead Cingiser chose to stick around Providence, do some graduate work at Brown, and coach the freshman basketball team.

Those who saw him coach that 1963 team might have thought he should have chosen some other line of work. He was a great clinician whose practices were spiced with a little humor, an occasional strained reference to some work of literature, and a hell of a lot of running and shooting. And his record of 17 wins and only 3 losses was remarkable. But he was a maniac. As a player, he had always been a ferocious competitor. Once, after a one-point loss to Pennthe teams third straight by either one or two pointshe had gone to the locker room and put his fist through the glass door. Now, with his old uniform number, 53, locked up and awaiting retirement in Browns Athletic Hall of Fame, all his energy was pent up. When a referee made a bad call, or when Cingisers emotions were running high, he no longer could find an outlet by committing an offensive foul or hitting an oh-so-satisfying jumper in the face of the opponent. Now he was on the sidelines, in a frumpy jacket and tie. So when the fury built up, as it did often during that 1963 season, Mike Cingiser ranted and raved and cursed his way up and down the sideline. Statistics were never kept for that sort of thing, but he may well have set a single-season record for most referees damned to hell.

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1981-82 Mens Basketball Media Guide
Even though Ira James (42) scored thirty-five points, Brown could not defeat Rhode Island in the second game of the season. When James asked Cingiser what he wanted his players to call him, Cingiser replied, Its how you call me that matters. You can call me son of a bitch, and if you smile, that would be fine.

In the years that followed, Cingiser calmed down (a little) and returned to Long Island, where throughout the 1960s and 1970s he settled into a nice life as an English teacher and coach, winning 67 percent of his games at Lynbrook High School and twice taking his teams to the county championship game. Then in April 1981 the prodigal son returned home, and after only eighteen winning seasons in eighty years of Brown basketball history, the hope was that things were about to change for Brown.

After three straight winning seasons in 1973, 1974, and 1975, the team had gone 719 in 1976, 620 in 1977, 422 in 1978, and 818 the year after that. Not even the 1978 hiring of Joe Mullaney, a successful coach at Providence College and with the Los Angeles Lakers, could turn things around. Mullaney presided over three more losing seasons with his traditional xs and os style of play, and then suddenly left in 1981 when his old job at Providence College opened up again. His players learned of his defection on the evening news. His replacement was Mike Cingiser.

Because he had been hired so late the previous school year, Cingiser had no chance to recruit new players. He would basically need to enter the 198182 season with the team hed inherited. He would train his players hard, very hard, preparing them to play with poise and intensity against larger and more skilled opponents. He would emphasize fundamentals. And he would employ a run-and-gun offensive style, unusual in an era with no shot clock and no three-point line.

Cingiser brought the team together at Sayles Gym for an organizational meeting on September 22. He looked over his players. Among them were Bill Chapman 83 and John Bake McBride 84, two defensive-minded forwards out of New York who probably should have been playing guard; Jeff Samsen 84, a long-range bomber who never saw a shot he didnt like; Ira James 83, the teams volatile undersized power forward and top scorer; Ted Mundy 82, the tallest starter on the team at six feet, seven inches; Alex Bynum 84, an energetic but unproven point guard who stood just five feet, seven inches; and Steve Bowman 82, a reserve shooting guard who had set scoring records while in high school in Western Massachusetts but who had started only one game the prior year, averaged 1.7 points, and shot only 33 percent from the field.

After the players had introduced themselves, Cingiser spoke briefly about his philosophy: up-tempo, fast-breaking, man-to-man defense. He talked fast and excitedly, and when he was done he asked if there were any questions. For a moment, everybody was silent.

What do you want us to call you? Ira James asked. Mr. Cingiser? Mike? Coach?

I dont care what you call me, Cingiser answered. Its how you call me that matters. You can call me son of a bitch, and if you smile, that would be fine.

The bulk of the teams practice that season was devoted to learning some sort of choreographed playan out-of-bounds play, for example, a bounced inbounds pass to the low post man, or a double screen to get someone open on the wing. The players practiced them over and over again. Dressed in corduroy pants and penny loafers, Cingiser would go out on the court and walk the players through it all, demonstrating in slow motion how to pivot your foot and swivel in the lane to face the basket, or how to throw the ball from box to box, from one side of the lane to the other. Some players caught on quickly; others didnt. It was part clinic, part classroom, part comedy, part tragedy.

Through it all, Cingiser was a master. Every now and then he would stick two fingers in his mouth and let out a deafening whistle, as his eagle eye spotted a hole in the defense or a not-fully-extended elbow. He taught, he demonstrated, he cajoled, he whispered words of encouragement. He had his ear on almost every conversation in the gym. He was a coach again, and this gymnasium was his home. He was loving it.

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1981-82 Mens Basketball Media Guide

The Mike Cingiser Era began in earnest on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with an afternoon game at Marvel against Stonehill College. The Chieftains, a Division II team, should have been easy prey. Brown had beaten them by eleven points a year earlier, and physically they were even smaller than the diminutive Bruins. But Stonehill scored the first basket and never looked back, running off to a 165 lead and racking up fifty-six points by halftime. They hit 68 percent of their shots, and in the end they won by eleven points. When the buzzer sounded, the Stonehill players mobbed each other, elated at having beaten a Division I team to open their season. The Brown players shook their heads in disbelief, and even Cingiser admitted to being a little bit shaken.

Four days later a tall and talented Rhode Island team came to Marvel and, despite thirty-five points from Ira James, escaped with its thirteenth straight win against Brown, 9589. Three days after that, the Bruins dropped to 03 after a tense four-point loss to Yale.

Cingiser, ever the optimist, was undaunted. He had not expected instant success. He knew that a lack of height and depth were going to be problems all season long. Still, he had seen hopeful signs in the teams play, particularly its ability to run up and down the floor. But then Brown played poorly in a loss at Hofstra, committing twenty-nine fouls and embarrassing Cingiser in front of his old Long Island coaching friends. The Bears dropped an emotional, high-scoring game at Boston College (after surviving a mid-highway blowout of the buss right front tire), and then were trounced by Joe Mullaneys Providence College, dropping the season record to 0-6. When some reporter noted that the school record for most consecutive losses was twelvean ignominious mark set by the 197778 squad that finished 422the remark made the rounds in the locker room. The teams mood was turning nasty.

Next came a trip through the South, starting with a shellacking at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks, 10577. Frustration was setting in. Cingisers squad would often play one competitive half of basketball, but at some critical point in the second half, a seam would rip openthe foul shooting or the ballhandling or the defenseand Brown would find a way to lose.

The day after the South Carolina game, Cingiser called everybody together in his hotel room for a team meeting. South Carolina, he said, was dead and buried. Hofstra was gone. Stonehill was ancient history. Matter of fact, he said, there are only seven games on the schedule this year that we cant win. Those are the seven we have already played. He paced back and forth. Look, guys, its going to end sooner or later. I know were there.

Cingiser pointed out that for the most part the offense had been solid. James was averaging more than twenty points a game, Samsen 13.5, and Bynum more than eleven. Even the defense was starting to come around, the coach continued, and if they could find a way to play with both poise and intensity at the same time, they were going to set themselves up nicely for the Ivy season.

Before their trip was over, though, Brown lost to Florida Southern, the defending Division II national champs; they were outplayed by Georgia Southern; and they lost a 10696 shootout at Memphis State. Their record now stood at 010.

It is often said that adversity brings people closer together, but in this case there was so much togetherness that adversity only made things worse. The players had been together for more than two months now, practicing together, hanging out in the locker room together, studying together, showering together, eating together, traveling together, rooming together. School was hard enough. Here they were devoting all their free time to basketball and they had nothing to show for it. What were they supposed to tell their families? How were they supposed to face their friends?

Cingiser wasnt ready to give up, however. Next up was the University of New Hampshire, a team he had scouted twice and, as a result, believed was beatable. But on January 6, New Hampshire came into Marvel Gym and ran Brown off the court, 8671, a huge disappointment that left the players disconsolate. The Bruins were now 011, one game shy of the all-time school record for most consecutive losses. Nothing was working. And the next two opponents were perennial Ivy League powers Penn and Princeton, who between them had won the last thirteen consecutive League titles. It appeared that a new school record for consecutive losses was inevitable.

After the New Hampshire game, Cingiser kicked around the court for a couple of minutes and then retreated to his office on the second floor. There he found his daughters, Karen and Lisa, crying hysterically. They, too, had been expecting a win. They, too, had gotten their hopes up, only to have them trounced. And now they knew that this whole movethe interviews last April and the Brown job and the house in Barringtonit had all been a big mistake. The team was going to finish 026, and he was going to get fired, and life was going to be miserable.

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1981-82 Mens Basketball Media Guide

Whoa, give me a time-out here, Cingiser said as his daughters looked up and began crying louder at the sight of him. I dont want that from you. Im not crying, so you cant be crying. Its not that bad. If we get fired, we get fired. If we never win a game, we never win a game. But its just not worth so much that it can be allowed to haunt you.

That night, though, when he lay down in bed, Cingiser began to wonder whether he really was capable of coaching on this level. Maybe there was a bigger difference between high school coaching and college coaching than he had thought? Maybe he couldnt just come in and run the race his way when he didnt have the horses. If the team did go 026, how in the hell would he be able to recruit anyone? Who would want to play for that sort of coach?

 

In the early 1980s, Brown was still on the old academic calendar, in which students returned from a short December break to a reading period and final exams in January. And so it was that when the ball was tipped to begin the game against Bob Weinhauers Penn team on January 8, the small crowd at Marvel Gym included an unusually large number of students seeking some Friday night release from their intensive academics.

The game began as so many had before. Brown jumped off to a quick lead and was up 20, then 40, then 60. But the Quakers, taller, stronger, and better, worked the ball to their big men, who scored eight straight points. Penn began to pull away and soon led, 1710.

At 12:37, Cingiser called a time-out to try to shift the momentum. His team trailed, 1710, but Penn soon opened the lead to twelve. The familiar script began to play itself out. Still, the Bruins showed some signs of life, mostly from senior guard Steve Bowman, who had been inserted into the starting lineup and responded by sinking five long jump shots in eight tries, nearly matching his all-time game high of thirteen points. Brown ended the half with a little 104 spurt to close to within six points, 3832.

Penn scored first in the second half, opening their lead to 4032. Cingiser banged his fist on the scorers table. But then Ira James scored three when he was fouled on a shot that bounced around the rim and went in. Then Chapman stole the ball. Bowman hit another long jumper. Another steal by Chapman, followed by a full-court drive for a layup. Brown had scored seven points in a row to cut the Penn lead to one point. The crowd was becoming raucous.

A Penn basket. A Brown basket. A Penn basket. A Brown basket. Two Penn baskets. Two Brown baskets. Penn kept threatening to pull away, but just at that moment one of its players would miss a shot, or Bill Chapman would grab a key offensive rebound, or Steve Bowman would let fly with another twenty-five-footer. The game stayed uncomfortably close. The temperature in the gym began to rise perceptibly. Slowly, the fans started thinking the unthinkable.

With nine and a half minutes left to play, Penn led by two, 5957. There was a wild sequence of missed shots and loose balls that ended with an offensive rebound and basket by Chapman, who was fouled on the play. Everyone on the bench leaped up and yelled. The fans were stamping their feet. Mundy, James, Bynum, and Bowman engulfed Chapman, who then calmly stepped to the line and sank a free throw. Brown 60, Penn 59.

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1981-82 Mens Basketball Media Guide
Jeff Samsen (32) never saw a shot he didnt like. As games against tough Ivy teams loomed, he and his teammates were only one win away from tying the school record for consecutive losses. At one point Coach Cingiser wondered whether the team would win any games. He feared hed be fired and never coach again.

The fans started chanting, DE-fense, DE-fense. It was the amazing sound of confidence and excitement. This was old Marvel Gym, this was oh-and-eleven Brown Freaking University! The lead seesawed back and forth. The Penn band beat on its bass drum, two quick hits followed by a pause, repeated again and again, like a clock ticking down.

With nineteen seconds left, Brown was ahead by one point, 7473. The fans were on their feet, yelling into the rafters of the ancient gymnasium. Penn then turned the ball over and fouled James. As he stepped to the free throw line, the gym became so quiet you could hear a losing streak snap. Swish (roar!). Swish (roar!). Brown 76, Penn 73. The Quakers scored a meaningless basket, and then it was over.

The players grimaced with emotion and surrounded Bowman, the unexpected hero. Coach Weinhauer, meanwhile, approached Cingiser with an extended hand. I hate you, he said to his old friend, laughing as the crowd kept cheering. How did you do this?

Brown was now 111.

The celebration went on for a blissfully long time that night. It was probably the sweetest moment Marvel Gym had ever known, or could ever hope to know.

The next night the miracle continued against Princeton. Bowman, the erstwhile reserve, continued to have a hot hand. He sank six of seven shots in the second half, scored a career-high twenty points, enough to be named Sports Illustrateds Player of the Week. Final score: Brown 58, Princeton 53. The Bruins had knocked off the Leagues two perennial powers on consecutive nights. Providence-Journal reporter Jim Donaldson wrote, It was a turnaround as shocking as if Ted Kennedy had announced he was joining the Moral Majority.

It hardly mattered that the team would finish the season a miserable 521. Nor that Penn would go on to win the Ivy League. Nor that no Brown player in uniform that night would ever enjoy so much as a winning season, let alone be there to enjoy the supreme achievement four years later, when Cingiser would lead Brown to its first, and still only, Ivy League title. Over the course of one weekend, suffering had given way to euphoria. Memories had been minted. Faith had been restored.

Joe Dobrow served as statistician, public-address announcer, and chronicler through seventy-one losses and too few wins from 1981 through 1985. He claims to be one of four basketball fans to storm the court at Dartmouth when Brown clinched its 1986 title. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it





Comments (9)
03/22/07
 
Joe, 
 
Thanks again. Someone borrowed the copy you gave me at the 100th Anniversary Dinner and has not returned it. Are there copies available?  
 
Tom
 
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03/22/07
 
I was stationed briefly at Fort Dix during the season and managed, still in uniform to slide up in time for the tip off at nearby Princeton. Stan Ward, a remarkable,wonderful guy, was the coach.Cingeiser was playing and I grabbed an available seat behind the Brown bench. From the tip off the juiced up crowd of PU students behind me were all over Mike. The game did not go well. Mike was getting hot.Then it all happened. Brown had a black player, the only black player and the group behind me tired of working on Mike. Plainly these fellows from PU included a serious core of Southerners and this was 1960. Things grew nasty and during a time out Stan challenged the group to "shut your moths you gutless bastards" and that lit the fuse. Next, in response to what the group remarably considered provocation they began moving toward the bench accompanied by epithets racial and otherwise. Mike waded into them and Stan behind him trying to at least keep Mike in the game. I was the first UN peacemaker with just about that much success and figured before this was over a Court Martial would be in the offing. Somehow Stan and I pulled Mike away(he could fight believe me) but as a former football player and wrestler I lent some modest separation skill. As I was in uniform there was a hesitation and that gave Stan and I what we needed. Mike,screaming and itching to get at about fifty of them was back on the floor. The refs and some PU officials intervened which helped. While the abuse certainly never let up, the PU people cleared a non violent zone near the bench permitting me to be the lone occupier. 
For years (I was class of 56) I kept up a friendship with Mike. He is in Soth Carolina where we have a second home. Periodically people will tell me they had met Mike. I tell them they should understand they have commerced with aunique and marvellous guy. 
Hats off to you for a sterling piece bringing back warm nostalgia.
 
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03/25/07
 
Thanks for your notes. Mike was and is a great man who obviously touched many of us over the years. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it  
 
As Tom referenced, the article run in BAM was an edited version of a larger article, which in turn was part of an entire manuscript about Cingiser that I began writing 21 years ago and distributed at the Brown Basketball 100th anniversary celebration in January, 2006. Check back here very soon -- I will give you a link to a website where I will post more about Cingiser and that "sweetest moment," hopefully including some video.
 
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03/27/07
 
I played on that '82 team and can honestly say that that losing streak was hands down the worst time I had experienced thus far in my life! Conversely, the wins against Penn and Princeton were the most fun I had ever had in my life to date! It was better than sex - OK, almost!!
 
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03/28/07
 
As one of the two Cingiser children who did cry after that eleventh loss, I can say I also cried after reading this article and the comments that followed. I, too, believe that the Mike Cingiser you have written about, is a fine person, and I am so lucky to share a birthday with the man.
 
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04/03/07
 
I was fortunate to be taught English and coached for 3 
years at Lynbrook High School. He has remained a friend and "coach" to me for 43 years. Mike is sincere,passionate about the game, and above all REAL!!!!!! Brown University is lucky to have had him as both a player and coach. 
Billy Donovan has nothing over Mike Cingiser as coach expect a greater talent pool.
 
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02/11/11
 
I was taught english at lynbrook high by Mr. Cingiser, did not play hoop's played baseball but can't forget watching and enjoying Mr cing coach. He was the best coach the island has ever seen. I had plenty of freinds that played for him and all say the same thing it was great and fun to play for him. The same can be said for english class with him and Mr. katz. Hope he is well and on my trips to Myrtyle Beach with fellow Lynbrook grads would love to see him and play a round of golf with him.  
P.S. He probably could coach us into being good golfers.
 
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01/16/12
 
I played basketball in high school for Mike Cingiser. He was fun to play for and I did learn a lot about basketball and life. I needed a mentor and Mike was certainly that for me. It's funny how one remembers the lessons of life. I did not have a great childhood because my Dad was sick and died when I was still in high school. I helped my Mom raise several children but will always remember the lessons from Michael Cingiser and the 1969 South Shore Championship Basketball team. I became an adult tennis champion and still play regularly. I also teach tennis and strive to be as great a coach of tennis and life as Michael Cingiser was to me......Michael Guill
 
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01/16/12
 
I was the starting point guard on that team. Coach elected to start Steve Bowman over me for the Penn game. I don't think there was anyone more happy and in awe of Steve's performance than I. Joe's article is a great article; but unfortunately it's impossible to fully provide the essence of Steve's performance in writing. You really had to be there. Perhaps this will give you an idea of just how hot that dude was. At one point Steve was so hot and streaming with adrenaline that he mistakenly jumped in the air, for no reason, to catch a pass around the top of the key. What does he do? He shoots the ball, all in one motion. Nothing but net! That's when I knew this would be a special night, even for a guy like me who lost his starting spot. Go Steve! It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
 
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