1975-76 University of Manitoba Bisons Basketball Team Roster:
Front Row (left to right): Russ Horbal, Ross Zilkey, Doug Slobodian.
Middle Row (left to right): Brian Rumsey, Doug Freeth, Daryl Rumsey, Grant Watson, Ray McKall.
At the start of the 1975-76 Canadian Interuniversity Athetic Union's basketball season, a team of local kids at Winnipeg's University of Manitoba were committed to winning. It wasn't just something they talked about. It was something they worked to achieve. It was, as All-Canadian forward Rick Watts called it, "a resolve."
"We had just lost the national championship final by one point in the spring of 1975," Watts said. "When we returned to start the 1975-76 season, we were resolved to winning the national championship. Anything less would have been failure. All our energy was put toward winning that championship. We were all back. We all felt the pain from 1975. Nothing was going to stop us."
According to Watts, the loss in 1975 set the stage for one of the greatest seasons in Canadian university basketball history and the reason why we are tonight to honor the 1975-76 University of Manitoba Bisons basketball team and welcome them into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
After losing a pre-season game to the University of North Fighting Sioux 98-89 ("They were a team that no Canadian team came close to beating at the time and we gave them a scare to start the season," Watts recalled), the Bisons went on a tear. At the Golden Boy Tournament (now known as the Wesmen Classic), they beat four of Canada's finest teams including the national senior champion St. Andrews Super Saints to win the title.
They breezed through Great Plains Athletic Conference, won the championship and finished the season with a record of 31-5.
Then, after placing four players on the conference all-star team - Watts, Martin Riley, Greg Daniels and Daryl Rumsey - the Bisons went off to Halifax and the national championship tournament and immediately took command. After winning two games easily, they whipped the St. Mary's University Huskies in front of their own fans in the final to claim the University of Manitoba's first and only national university basketball championship.
"It was a special team," Watts said. "We had four first team All-Canadians and Marty (Riley) was CIAU Player of the year. And it was a team that stayed together. In fact, we played in seven straight national finals. Two at the U of M in 1975 and 1976 and then five in a row at the Senior A level with Nicolett Inn.
"It's also important to remember that every one of our players was from here. St. Mary's and Waterloo and Acadia had all their recruits and their American stars, but we were just a bunch of kids from Manitoba."
The team, made up of Watts, Daniels, Riley, Rumsey, Doug Freeth, Kevin Kelleher, Ray McKall, Randy Kusano, Grant Watson and Brian Rumsey and coach Don Hunter (two-time CIAU coach of the year) and his assistant Dave Guss, was the finest university basketball team ever assembled in this province.
"What made the difference on this team was the chemistry," said guard Greg Daniels. "Everyone just got along. We had so much confidence that when we walked on the floor together, we just felt we were going to win. And what made it was our bench. We had five guys who weren't going to play that much but every day at practice they gave us better games than we often got in our conference. It was a special team."