Jim Wolf W’71 was all set to go to the Pittsburgh Steelers game this past weekend when he got a call to say that Penn was honoring his former coach, Dick Harter Ed’53, at halftime of Saturday’s game against Villanova at the Palestra.
He immediately dropped everything and told his wife, Susan, that they had to go to Philadelphia. That’s how much he respected and admired Harter, a legendary former Penn basketball player and coach who died in March of cancer at the age of 81.
“He was harder than nails on you when you played for him but he was fair, he was honest, he was humble, and you wanted to play for him,” Wolf said. “I wanted to be here for him today.”
Harter is best known for coaching the 1970-71 team to a perfect regular season (the subject of a 40-year anniversary feature I wrote for the Gazette) in what would be his final year at Penn.
Calhoun, who played in the NBA from 1972-1980 after graduating from Penn (see his and Wohl’s old playing cards to the left), was another one of Harter’s former players in attendance for Saturday’s halftime ceremony, which included a very nice video tribute.
“It’s great to think back to those days and the success we had at the University of Pennsylvania,” Calhoun said. “Dick Harter was in the very middle of it. He built the program. I’m just glad to have been a part of it.”
When asked about Harter, the first word Calhoun used was “intensity.” That’s just how Harter, a former Marine, liked to coach.
“What I remember from practices is we had a drill called ‘Hands up’ where you shuffle back and forth across the floor,” Calhoun said. “I’ll never forget those days when it felt like it was meaningless to do that, but I think it did pay off and gave us a few extra victories.”
Wolf relayed a similar story about Harter’s grueling, no-nonsense approach to practice.
“Nowadays if coaches don’t keep you hydrated in practice, it’s terrible,” Wolf said. “In those days, you had to earn a drink of water. I can’t tell you how many times we might have earned a drink of water but we didn’t get it because he kicked the water bucket over because he was upset about something that was going on at practice.”
Those practices certainly worked as Penn went a combined 53-3 during the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons. And it was fitting that the tribute was held during a Penn-Villanova game because Harter’ Penn teams engaged in many fierce battles with ’Nova during that time. It was the Quakers’ 32-30 upset victory over Villanova during the 1968-69 season that truly began the team’s dominance throughout the 1970s. Penn went on to beat the Wildcats the next two years in the regular season before famously losing to them by a staggeringly lopsided 90-47 score in the 1971 NCAA tournament, the game that ended the Quakers’ undefeated season.
That game haunted Harter forever, with the Penn coach telling me a year before he died, “I’m sure there’s never a day where I don’t think about it.” The players still think about it, too. Wolf said he and the rest of his former teammates on hand at the Palestra on Saturday made sure to jokingly boo when the Villanova team was introduced.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Wolf said. “I think it was better when [former Villanova coach] Jack Kraft and Dick Harter were there because they hated each other. Hated each other.”
Saturday’s tribute, however, was all about love. Wolf said he kept closely in touch with Harter, during the coach’s stops at the University of Oregon and then at all of the different NBA cities he worked in. He called it “a shock” when he found out Harter died.
“He always looked like he was 50 years old,” Wolf said. “He never aged. He always looked the same. To find out that something happened that suddenly, I couldn’t believe it. He looked like he was going to go on forever.”