Editor’s note: The recounting of the 1992-1993 Norwich boys’ basketball team, and its accomplishments, was produced by Mark Abbott, a 1977 Norwich High School graduate and longtime varsity coach of the team; and Patrick Newell, Evening Sun Sports Editor and a 1985 NHS graduate. This is the eighth in a series of articles on the inaugural Norwich Sports Hall of Fame Class. Next Thursday, we look conclude our series with the 1993-1994 boys’ basketball team.
Coming off its first winning season in Mark Abbott’s six years as head coach, expectations were high for a Norwich team returning three seniors and four juniors from a 16-5 club. Couple that with the fact that the junior varsity had gone a combined 38-2 the last two years, and you can see the reason for the obvious optimism.
“We thought we had a chance to be pretty good, we had some really talented players who worked really hard, but STAC basketball in the early ‘90s was absolutely loaded,” reflected Abbott, who recently finished his 25th year as the Purple Tornado head coach. “Binghamton, Ithaca, Vestal, Seton, CV, they were all really good teams, REALLY good.”
“And we had had some great success at the JV level the past two seasons but varsity is an entirely different level. The speed, the intensity, the physicalness, they are something you need to experience to truly understand,” continued the Tornado coach. “But what I think made this extra special was this is the group that Coach (Bob) Branham and I started the Little Tornados with when they were in elementary school on Saturday mornings and now here they were playing varsity basketball. The entire program was really in full development and we have been able to maintain that consistency pretty much ever since.”
The ‘92-’93 season started off with the Purple Tornado capturing their annual tipoff tournament by beating Chenango Forks 75-41 and Cortland, in the championship game, 90-33. Of particular note in that Forks game were the 14 rebounds pulled down by senior co-captain Josh Jankowsky, 10 of them offensive. Not a bad night’s work for a shooting guard!!
Back-to-back 100-point games had Norwich feeling pretty good; 106-54 over Sherburne-Earlville and 102-63 over Susquehanna Valley, heading into a tough two game stretch. Six-foot-eight junior Bob Lazor totaled 45 points in the two century toppers.
Game number five was a visit to the always unfriendly confines of Seton Catholic Central where the Purple was able to pull out a hard fought 73-61 win behind Lazor’s 18 points and 17 more from junior Pete Burton. Game number 6 would be a visit from Chenango Valley and their senior big man Charles Gelatt.
The Warriors beat Norwich in last year’s STAC semifinals and, with Gelatt, were a very formidable opponent that was also off to a solid start. But the real magnitude of the game wasn’t really known until Abbott arrived at school that night.
“I have always arrived at school for a home game between 4:30 and 5 p.m., and I usually park right in front of the gym entrance, but not that night,” reminisced Abbott. “I got to school my usual time and boy was I ever shocked! The parking lot was full and there was a line of people all the way through the lot waiting to get in. I think I had to park out behind the middle school that night.”
(Note: This is before the high school gym was remodeled and could seat 400-500 more people.)
And from that night on the purple and white played their home games in front of sold-out houses.
That first sellout crowd was treated to a real classic. Norwich raced out to a 22-13 lead after the opening minutes and the din was deafening. But CV would not go away. Behind Lazor’s 23 points Norwich held on for a 69-68 win.
Four more victories – over Greene, Johnson City, Binghamton and Owego – raised the record to 10-0 as Norwich was now becoming the circled game on each of its opponent’s schedules.