This year marks the 40th birthday of the Colonial Athletic Association’s spiritual predecessor, the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference South. Through four decades, a name change in 1985, and various departures and additions, one thing has remained consistent: CAA hoops have produced plenty of memorable moments.
The Dukes of March (1981-1983)
Before the conference rebranded as the CAA, James Madison represented it well in the NCAA Tournament under coach Lou Campanelli. The 1999 JMU Hall of Fame inductee led the Dukes to three of the first four ECAC South crowns, and subsequent NCAA Tournament wins every season from 1981 through 1983.
The Dukes’ reign began in 1981, kicking off with a win over John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas. One year later, Georgetown played for the national championship.
That became something of a theme during James Madison’s run in the NCAA Tournament. In 1982, the Dukes beat Ohio State before a hard-fought, second round loss to that year’s national champion, North Carolina. The next season, a first round win over West Virginia set up a matchup with 1983 champion NC State.
The Admiral Sets Sail on a Storied Career (1984-1987)
David Robinson’s freshman season at the Naval Academy didn’t exactly suggest the center was embarking on a legendary career. Robinson averaged 7.6 points and four rebounds per game for a good Midshipmen team, albeit one not quite up to par with Richmond in the ECAC South Championship.
The next season, however, Robinson matriculated to the rank of Admiral with the first of three straight campaigns averaging a double-double and more than 20 points per game. The Midshipmen also claimed the first of three consecutive conference championships, including the first two of the CAA era.
Robinson left Annapolis with three conference player of the year honors, including for the 1985-86 season. That campaign culminated in the Mids’ historic Elite Eight run. Navy did not duplicate the feat a year later, but Robinson set a CAA record that still (barely) stands today with 50 points in his final collegiate game.
The Admiral went on to place CAA basketball all over the NBA record books, including with a scoring title in 1994 — won on the strength of a 71-point, final regular-season game — and a Most Valuable Player in 1995.
Richmond’s Standout Seven-Year Stretch Ends in History (1984-1991)
Richmond’s aforementioned ECAC South Championship win over Navy in 1984 marked the first of two victories that March over teams with future NBA legends. The second came in the first round of the NCAA Tournament over an Auburn team featuring Charles Barkley.
Unlike the young Robinson, Barkley was very much an established star at this juncture in his career and just a few months shy of being selected No. 5 in the NBA draft. The last basket of his Auburn tenure came on a putback layup, the final points of the Tigers’ last-ditch, comeback effort in a 72-71 Richmond win.
The upset was the first in a series over the next few years that live on in CAA history. UR ousted Indiana in the first round of the 1988 tournament, one year removed from the Hoosiers winning a national championship. But the biggest shocker came in 1991.
The NCAA Tournament expanded from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, one year after Richmond needed to advance past Rider just to draw the historic matchup with Auburn. For the first six editions of the 64-team bracket, every No. 2 seed won its first round game.
CAA basketball claims ownership of the first 15-over-two-upset, courtesy of Richmond’s 73-69 stunner over Syracuse in 1991.
Queens of the Court (1992-2008)
Eat your heart out, Kansas Jayhawks. As impressive as the KU men’s streak of consecutive Big 12 championships is, Kansas’ 14-year reign that ended this year falls three short of the streak of CAA Tournament championships the Old Dominion women stockpiled from 1992 through 2008.
Old Dominion helped launch CAA women’s basketball, already boasting impressive credentials with a pair of Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national titles in legendary Nancy Lieberman’s playing days.
However, the Lady Monarchs did not win the CAA Tournament until its ninth year. From there, they had a hard time relinquishing the throne.
Coach Wendy Larry was at the helm for the duration, which included the Lady Monarchs run to the 1997 national championship game.
Adding to Lefty’s Legend (1994)
Lefty Driesell coached four teams to 786 wins over his 42-year career. He reached his penultimate NCAA Tournament in 1994 as head coach of James Madison, ending a series of CAA championship frustrations with a bucket in the final 1.1 seconds. Driesell told the Daily Press he “covered [his] eyes” as it went up.
On a perfectly executed baseline out-of-bounds play, Kent Culuko caught the pass in shooting position and fired a 3-pointer from the corner that was all net. His made triple completed a 19-point rally, and sent the Dukes to the Big Dance for the first time since the Campanelli-led teams of the early 1980s.
A Blizzard Snow USC Out of the NCAA Tournament (2002)
Brent Blizzard scored 2,144 points in his four years at UNC-Wilmington, eighth-most in CAA history. Eighteen of those came in one of the conference’s most impressive wins of the 21st century.
Blizzard paced a Seahawks attack in which five players scored in double-figures to down USC in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
The Seahawks nearly made two straight years of tournament shockers, taking defending national champion Maryland to the wire the following year. The Terps needed an off-balance, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to stave off upset.
CAA Alums Hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy (2003)
Aforementioned CAA basketball legend David Robinson capped his illustrious career in the best way possible, announcing his retirement mere moments after winning an NBA championship. In claiming the second title of his 14 years with the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson shared the spotlight with a current CAA coach: former Hofstra guard and present Pride assistance coach Craig "Speedy" Claxton.
Claxton came off the bench in the Spurs’ decisive Game 6 win over the New Jersey Nets to score 13 points and dish out four assists.
The CAA shares a third, albeit more tenuous connection to the 2003 Spurs championship: post presence Malik Rose became a staple of San Antonio’s turn-of-the-millennium teams after an outstanding college career at Drexel. Rose did his thing collegiately in the defunct North Atlantic Conference, where Hofstra and Claxton also played. Like Hofstra, Drexel is a current CAA member.
Final Four Times Two (2006 & 2011)
In the past 13 years, the CAA has sent as many programs to the Final Four as the Pac-12. A pair of former members — George Mason and VCU — reached the tournament’s final weekend on the strength of remarkable runs that some pundits argued should never have happened.
That’s because both George Mason and VCU failed to win the CAA in their 2006 and 2011 campaigns.
In testaments to the conference’s depth, both George Mason and VCU began their Final Four runs with at-large bids. VCU fell in the CAA Championship to Old Dominion in 2011, while George Mason failed to make a title game in 2006 that instead featured UNC Wilmington defeating Hofstra.
UNC Wilmington played in its third first-round thriller of the half-decade that season when it lost to George Washington, 88-85 in overtime. It marked a second straight season in which the CAA Tournament champion led before losing a first-round heartbreaker, with Old Dominion falling to Michigan State the year prior.
VCU made up for that in 2007, however. In something of a foreshadowing of the 2011 Final Four run, the Rams beat Duke in the first round of the 2007 dance.
Delle-Ware’s Finest (2013)
Elena Delle Donne became the fastest player in WNBA history to score 3,000 career points last June. Before she stormed onto the professional scene, she was doing the exact same thing in the CAA.
Delle Donne earned three consecutive CAA Player of the Year awards from 2011 through 2013 while leading Delaware to two NCAA Tournament appearances. In the second, the Fightin’ Blue Hens advanced to the program’s only Sweet 16, and Delle Donne scored a combined 66 points in her final two games.
She left Delaware with 3,039 career points — more than 300 more than the next-closest player in CAA women’s history, and more than 500 points past the highest-scoring player in CAA men’s history.
Justin Wright-Foreman’s Record Night (2019)
The 50 points David Robinson scored in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament remain the CAA’s single-game record, but Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman nearly matched it this past season.
In a comeback win over William & Mary in January, Wright-Foreman dropped 48. The lofty point total matched a Hofstra record that stood untouched for 64 years, and in the process, Wright-Foreman passed mentor “Speedy” Claxton on the program’s career list.
Wright-Foreman finished his Hofstra career this past March with 2,327 points, second all-time in CAA men’s history.