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Croft’s $100,000 contract cancels Canada’s chances

Without Bobby Croft, Canada sent an inexperienced young squad and got outclassed at the 1970 FIBA World Championships in Yugoslavia.

Canadian basketball player Billy Robinson dribbles past Cuba at 1970 FIBA World championships in Yugoslavia
Canadian basketball player Billy Robinson dribbles past Cuba at 1970 FIBA World championships in Yugoslavia - Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

The $100,000 question.

How would Canada’s men’s national basketball team do at the 1970 FIBA Men’s World Championship’s to be hosted in Yugoslavia?

The host country had 6-foot-11 centre Kresmir Cosic and the Soviet Union featured guard Sergei Belov.

If Cosic and Belov had played in the NBA…both would have been household names today.  

The future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame members would be up against the defending champion Brazil; a side that had Bira Maciel, playing in what would be his third-of-five FIBA Men’s World Championships.

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He, too, would make it to Springfield, Mass with enshrinement in 2010.

Team USA would be a threat with a young man on the roster by the name of Bill Walton.

Team Canada had on its pre-tournament roster, 6-foot-10 Bobby Croft from Hamilton, Ontario.

Croft had just graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he averaged an impressive 17 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.

At the 1969 National Invitational Tournament, Croft had 21 points and 8 rebounds in a 67-51 win over Rutgers.

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It was after this performance that Boston Celtics legendary coach Red Auerbach made this comment about Croft: “Croft is the top pro prospect in the country (USA).”

Instead of packing his suitcase for Yugoslavia, Croft, then 22 years-of-age and married with two children, decided to turn in his amateur status.

He turned pro with the American Basketball Association, signing with the Kentucky Colonels for $30,000 plus a $10,000 bonus.

He had been drafted by the Boston Celtics, 1970 National Basketball Association 123rd pick and Texas Chaparrals, 1970 American Basketball Association, 2nd round pick.

Canadian national coach Dr. Peter Mullins respected Croft’s decision to turn pro, thus making him ineligible for the 1970 FIBA tournament.

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“He did the right thing when he signed a professional contract ($100,000 for three years). The war between the ABA and NBA was going full blast and he had a chance to make some money. I would have done the same thing.”

With no big man now wearing the Maple Leaf, how would Canada fair?

“This is one of our biggest problems (lack of height). We’re just going to concentrate on mobility and speed to make up for it.”

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John Barton of Sudbury, Ontario is the tallest player at 6-foot-8.

“We have a young team, and we’re just hoping to do well enough in this tournament and at next summer’s Pan American Games to qualify for the (1972 Munich) Olympics.”

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These, the 6th FIBA World Championship for men’s teams, would be held in Sarajevo, Split, Karlovac, Skopje and Ljubljana, from May 10-24.

Article discussing canadian basketball roster for the 1970 fiba world championships in yugoslavia
Article discussing Canadian basketball roster for the 1970 FIFA world championships in Yugoslavia – Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

It will also be the first-ever FIBA World Championship hosted outside South America.

Following are Canada’s results.

Little information or coverage of the games may be found in newspapers archives.

Canada’s national team was made up of University of British Columbia Thunderbirds’ Alex Braiden, Terry MacKay, Bob Molinski, Derek Sankey and Ron Thorsen.

UBC was coming off of a perfect 28-0 campaign, having beat McMaster 96-75 in the Canadian University Men’s Basketball finals.

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From Simon Fraser University Clansmen were Dave Murphy and Bill Robinson.

The Clansmen had won the Canadian Senior Men’s Basketball Championships with an 80-76 decision over Sarnia Drawbridge Knights.

Rounding out the squad are John Barton, Lake Superior State College; John Cassidy, Dalhousie University; Rod Cox, University of New Brunswick; Bruce Dempster of the Toronto University Varsity Blues and Barry Howson from the Sarnia Drawbridge Knights.

May 11, 1970

Canada 88 – South Korea 97

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Canada led 50-49 at the half. Bob Molinski had 24 points for Canada. Shin Dong-pa a game-high 37 points for South Korea. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard would remain involved in basketball as a coach, announcer and owner for more than 30 years.

May 12, 1970

Canada 69 – Italy 84

Italy led 45-45 at the half and were tied 60-60 early in the second half, after which Italy outscored Canada 24-9. Once again, Molinski was the top gunner for Canada with 31 points on 12-for-24 shooting. Ottorino Flaborea had 29 for Italy. His nickname was “Captain Hook”, due to his great hook shot.

May 13, 1970

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Canada 59 – Brazil 112

Jose Edvard Simoes led Brazil with 17 points in a balanced attack.  John Barton and Bruce Dempster each with 8 for Canada.

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“Canada in Hoop Consolations After Shellacking By Brazil,” read the newspaper headline as Canada finishes (0-3) in Pool B and moves to the consolation round.

May 16, 1970 (consolation round)

Canada 65 – Cuba 98

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Cuba up 27 at the half, 49- 22.  Derek Sankey 14 points for Canada. Pedro Chappe 18 for Cuba.

Canada loses to cuba at 1970 fiba world championships
Canada loses to Cuba at 1970 FIFA world championships – Photo: Curtis J. Phillips

Sankey was inducted into Basketball BC Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.

May 19, 1970

Canada 77 – South Korea 79

Once again, Shin Dong-pa owned Canadian defenders with 30 points. He would average 32.6 PPG in the tournament. Sankey had another 14 point output.

May 20, 1970

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Canada 81 – Panama 79

Molinski 14 points, Ron Thorsen 13, Alex Braiden 12 and Sankey 12 led Canada’s attack with their first victory.

Thorsen would be drafted by the Buffalo Braves at 209th in the 1973 draft. Another Canuck drafted by the Braves that same year was Phil Tollestrup at 211th selection.

Pedro Rivas and Davis Peralta each had 17 in the loss.

May 22, 1970

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Canada 80 – Australia 76

Thorsen 26 points and Molinski 22 points.

 Ray Tomlison 16 for the Aussies.

May 23, 1970

Canada 106 – United Arab Republic 80

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Sankey 26, Molinski 18, and quicksilver guard Billy Robinson also with 18

El Sayed Mubarak 32 in the loss.

Canadian longtime national men’s coach Jack Donohue (1972 – 1988) said that Robinson was the second-greatest player he ever coached.

The first?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was known as Lew Alcindor in high school.

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Canada finishes 10th of 13 teams.

The FIBA all-tournament team featured MVP Sergei Below (USSR); Kresimir Cosic (Yugoslavia); Modestas Paulauskas (USSR); Ubiratan Pereira Maciel (Brazil) and Kenny Washington (USA)

Four days after the championship, Yugoslavia centre Trajko Rajkovic died at 32 of a heart defect.

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