The Pride of Brooklyn College
The 1981–1982 Brooklyn College Final Four men’s basketball team.
The year was 1982. “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band topped the Billboard charts, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was the #1 blockbuster movie, and John Jakes’ North and South was on top of The New York Times Best Seller list. There was also the 1982 Brooklyn College men’s basketball team writing their own history with a magical run to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
That successful campaign is now being celebrated anew with the team’s selection as the next group of inductees to the Brooklyn College Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Being able to induct an entire team for a sport is extremely special and speaks to what the team was able to accomplish,” says Bruce Filosa, the director of athletics, who was coaching at Brooklyn College at the time.
The glimpse of greatness was evident in the Kingsmen’s final regular season game as they defeated the No. 1 nationally ranked and undefeated College of Staten of Island (CSI) team in front of a sellout crowd in Roosevelt Hall. During the game, Brooklyn would lose their leading scorer and No. 1 ranked shot blocker in the country to injuries. The Kingsmen ended the regular season with an 18–8 overall record.
Playing without the two starters, the Kingsmen came up short in the semifinals of the CUNYAC championships. Despite being publicly unranked nationally, Brooklyn College received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
With a masterful plan for the tournament set in place by Head Coach Mark Reiner, the Kingsmen would go on to defeat Ithaca College and then CSI in the first two rounds of play.
Brooklyn then hosted the Eastern Regional Championship in a packed Roosevelt Hall gymnasium and held off Roanoke College for a three-point victory to advance to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
With the Kingsmen being the only local team still playing in the postseason, they would become the pride of not only Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, but the entire city, as they traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the national semifinals.
“We got news media from all over New York City because we were the only game left in town,” recalls Richard Micallef ’85, a former team member and now the head coach of girls basketball at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey. “I remember the bus going from Brooklyn College to Michigan, filled with our diehard fans, an 18-hour trip.”
The Kingsmen were unfortunately denied a shot to play for the National Championship, falling to defending national champ, SUNY Potsdam, by a single point in a hard-fought semifinal game. However, Brooklyn would not disappoint the dozens of Kingsmen fans who made the trip.
“School spirit was rare in a commuter school,” says Dan Byrnes ’84, another member of the team and director of finance at UPS in New York City. “And the fact that it wasn’t just the players and the people who came to watch the team, you know, the coaches, but the entire school. The baseball and football teams showed up in mass numbers, and they were wearing their jerseys, proud of Brooklyn College. Then other students and faculty members came. Brooklyn College President Robert Hess was bringing his son to the games.”
The Kingsmen defeated California’s Stanislaus State University in overtime the next day to claim the number three slot nationally. Brooklyn’s Rick “The Rejector” Davis would be named to the All-Tournament Team for his efforts.
“What a great group of guys,” says Micallef who came back to Brooklyn College to coach the men’s basketball team from 2014 to 2018. “It was all about the chemistry that we had and, and Coach Reiner and Coach Gustus and Coach Eisenberg. We were really a unit. The relationships you make with the other guys on the team, during the long bus rides or a plane trips, you got to know each other. Those things last a lifetime. It’s hard to stay in touch with everybody, but we try; Danny Byrnes is really good about that. You know, he’s kind of our ambassador.”
“When you talk about chemistry, when you talk about the sacrifices people make, there was a chemistry on that team,” says Byrnes. “That was incredible. It’s a lot easier to make the sacrifices when you feel like you’re doing it for a friend. And the other thing is we had a fabulous coach [Mark Reiner], and that’s what he espoused. He was all about teamwork and loving the members on your team and working hard, and honesty, integrity, loyalty, all the things that make great teams. And this team was a perfect example, and it showed in its success.”
The team would go down in history as the first and only CUNY team in any sport to advance to the NCAA Division III Final Four. But they did not stop at that one success and did not forget the lessons learned and mentoring received.
“Many of our team members went on to be entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 executives, teachers, and coaches and volunteering their time,” says Byrnes. “One former team member, James Sullivan—who passed away—ended up coaching and running the Public School Athletic League as a commissioner. Members of that 1982 team have done a lot of non-profit work through places like the United Way, Habitat for Humanity. I think we’ve paid it forward.”