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How Houghton’s Phil Stockin got Cazzie Russell to speak at the Castle Restaurant in Olean

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

You never know who, or what, will trigger a reader’s memory in a column.

But two words did the trick for Phil Stockin, the retired 79-year-old Headmaster of Houghton Academy who recently retired as the chairman of the Allegany County Legislature.

Those words, actually a name, appeared in a piece that I wrote after Bill Walton’s death that also touched on the Buffalo Braves and Eddie Donovan, the former St. Bonaventure and Knicks coach and general manager in both Buffalo and New York.

The name?

Cazzie Russell.

And Stockin getting the 6-foot-5, 220-pound All-America small forward from the University of Michigan to speak at Houghton College’s All-Sports testimonial at the Castle Restaurant 58 years ago May, was a coup that made him a quasi-celebrity for a week or two.

Stockin, then a 21-year-old senior business administration major at Houghton, was fixated on the Wolverines’ star who was known to have strong religious convictions and seemed a perfect choice to speak at a Christian college’s sports fete.

Stockin admitted, despite his seeming badgering, that knowing Russell’s religious background, he would willingly make an appearance. 

By the time the event took place, Donovan, the Knicks GM at the time, had selected Russell No. 1 overall in the 1966 NBA Draft. But there was a catch, the Harlem Globetrotters also wanted him.

Late Olean Times Herald sports editor Mike Abdo wrote two columns about Stockin and Russell, one before and one after the banquet.

In the second one Abdo wrote, “Good thing St. Bona basketball coach Eddie Donovan didn’t check in at his old Castle Restaurant haunt Wednesday night – he’d have been well-fed, sure, but he would have flipped over the current thinking oI his prize basketball prospect … It’s assumed that Russell is safely stowed away in Donovan’s bag of signees. Not so, though. and that’s where the Castle, Cazzie and Wednesday night popped into this picture.

The Globetrotters? The same Globetrotters who travel the world over and play exhibition basketball? The Knicks’ vs. Globies’ struggle goes like this: Russell has been offered something like $30,000 pIus a $5000 bonus by the Knicks. The Globetrotters have sent out feelers with $38,000 bait on them. The Knicks, before the draft, had to flip a coin with the Detroit Pistons for the No One draft rights. It was sort of a letdown for Detroit, Russell and others interested in Cazzie’s pro career. Russell’s appearance at the Houghton testimonial was something of an unusual event but then, considering the persistence of Houghton undergrad Phil Stockin, it’s not so unusual. Russell is a Sunday School teacher and interested in religious work.

Stockin made contact with Russell through telephone calls — 20 in 20 days — and Cazzie agreed to speak.

How come Cazzie Russeil, obviously brought up as a tough competitor in the rough ‘n tumble world of college basketball has doubts about signing with the Knicks, where the play is strictly competition and the tougher the better?”

At the banquet Russell admitted “I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll play for the Knicks or Globetrotters. I’d say, 51-49 (%) in favor of the Globetrotters … I’ll make up my mind next week.

Of course, Donovan’s instinct was apt and he signed Russell several days later.

In 1970, Cazzie, now 80, was a key member of the Knicks team that won the franchise’s first-ever NBA Championship teaming with the likes of Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Wilis Reed and Dick Barnett under coach Red Holzman.

Russell played 12 seasons in the NBA, five with the Knicks, three each with the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Lakers and one with the Bulls.

Those contract numbers between the Knicks and Globetrotter’s are beyond laughable by today’s standards but so is cajoling a first-team All-America basketball player to make his way to Olean to speak at the athletic banquet of an 1,100-student Christian college … but Phil Stockin pulled it off.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

Read more from Chuck Pollock:

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