When Ernie Prudente took over as varsity basketball coach at Haverford College in 1957, Swarthmore already was the school's big rival, but Drexel was the powerhouse opponent.
"I coached the varsity and the JVs at the same time - 25 guys," Prudente said yesterday. "I was happy to have a job."
Prudente coached Haverford for 12 seasons, then switched to the other side of the rivalry. He coached Swarthmore's basketball team for 11 seasons. He also was a football assistant at both schools and coached Swarthmore's baseball team for 25 years.
Yesterday, Prudente, 80, was inducted into the Philadelphia Area Small College Basketball Hall of Fame. At a luncheon at the University of the Sciences, the Wallingford resident reminisced about when he first began going to basketball luncheons in the early '50s. At that time, Josh Cody coached Temple, Bill Ferguson was at St. Joseph's, and Alex Severance was in charge at Villanova.
"You can't believe all the coaches who came and went and came back, and went on to the pros," said Prudente, who played basketball and football at Penn. "At these luncheons, they'd rib each other. Not like football coaches. They had some levity to them. But once the ball went up, they were a bunch of tigers."
Prudente held his own, compiling a 103-90 record at Haverford. His best season was 1965-66, when the Fords went 13-3 and lost in the Middle Atlantic Conference Southern Division final to Drexel. He swept Swarthmore six times and split the series the other six years. Then he went to Swarthmore and was 7-0 against Haverford in his first four seasons. Ultimately, he had an 81-141 record coaching hoops at Swarthmore.
"I always felt my guys weren't as good as the other guys," Prudente said. "We'd set picks . . . double picks . . . triple picks - guys cutting through."
Retired Hall of Famers C. Alan Rowe from Widener and Bobby Morgan from Philadelphia Pharmacy attended yesterday's luncheon and sat with Prudente.
"He and I used to play independent ball together. You could do that during college then," Rowe said. "One tournament, we played against [Temple great] Guy Rodgers. I remember one time, he and another guy went out of the gym through some double doors chasing a loose ball. That guy stayed away from Ernie the rest of the game."
Prudente and Rowe talked about facing Drexel, coached by Sam Cozen, who also coached Overbrook High at the same time.
"He had more talent, but he drilled those guys to death," Prudente said of Cozen.
"Oh, yeah," Rowe said.
Even after Prudente stopped coaching basketball at Swarthmore, he was around the place so much his young grandchildren thought he owned the gym, he said.
"I still have my key," Prudente said.