Dick Bennett not only played for two of the most respected basketball coaches in area history, but he was a vital cog on both successful programs.
The 95-year-old Bennett, who competed for Mont Pleasant High School coaching legend Sig Makofski and Siena College mentor Dan Cunha, will be inducted into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday at the Troy Garden Hilton Inn. A reception will be held at 4 p.m., followed by the dinner at 5. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased from Rene LeRoux by calling 877-5170.
Bennett, already a member of the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame, played under Makofski from 1937 to 1940. Considered one of Makofski’s greatest players, Bennett’s teams finished with a 56-4 record in his three-year career. His teams won league championships as a junior and senior, and Mont Pleasant was unbeaten in the 1938-39 season. He was a member of the MP teams that won 37 consecutive games.
After graduating, he attended Michigan State for one season, but he left after one semester and transfered to Siena, where he played for Cunha for parts of two seasons before having his career ended by World War II. He enlisted and served in a military hospital.
Bennett said Makofski and Cunha were vastly different coaches, both in technique and demeanor.
“Sig Makofski was the best coach you could ever have,” Bennett said. “He never yelled. He never did anything negative. He just told you when you made a mistake, and then he corrected it. He was a very intelligent man and a great coach.”
Bennett said he preferred to play strong defense, but he was asked to do a little bit of everything on Makofski’s teams.
“With Sig’s teams, you had five guards, five forwards and five centers. You had to be able to play every position,” he said. “We brought the ball up as a guard, but then you had to do everything else once you got on the other side of the court. I really enjoyed playing defense the most, but I could score when called upon.”
For Cunha’s first-ever Siena team, Bennett started and averaged 15 points per game. He played a key role in the Saints’ 37-34 win over Villanova in the 1941-42 season, scoring more than half of his team’s points, including the go-ahead basket. He also made a key steal late in the game to seal the win.
“Dan Cunha was no Sig Makofski,” Bennett said. “He was different. He didn’t play fast-break basketball like Sig did. He played slow ball. Our games were also low-scoring because we didn’t have a clock back then.”
Bennett said that Cunha was also much more of a task master than Makofski, but he let it go at that.
Bennett’s original name was Bednarkiewicz, but he changed it to Bennett after he got married and had a family.
“I was proud of my original name, and I still am, but when I got married, I didn’t want my kids to suffer if other children made fun of the name in school. So I changed it,” he said.
Bennett later played pro basketball for the Schenectady Comets of the New York State League and the Schenectady Packers of the American Basketball League, starting for both teams.
The member of the Mont Pleasant Hall of Fame played an exhibition game against a Harlem Globetrotters team that included Goose Tatum and Marques Haynes. He also played an exhibition game against the powerful Rochester Royals of the original NBA with stars like Bob Davies and Al Cervi.
“When we played the Globetrotters, we tried to win, but they were a very good team, and they had been together for a long time. We weren’t there just to joke around,” he said.