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 SAN ANTONIO (AP) -At some point in a long Final Four weekend the question almost always arises: ``How many?''
Ask Joe Vancisin, stand back and be amazed: 61.
``I have been to every one since 1948 when I was an assistant to Ozzie Cowles at Michigan, and only eight teams were invited. We lost in the first round at Madison Square Garden to Holy Cross, and I stayed around for the semifinals,'' Vancisin said between well-wishers as he sat in the lobby of the coaches' hotel. ``I know there aren't many people who have been at that many let alone in a row like I've been lucky enough to do.''
Then the former Yale head coach and longtime executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches added to his Final Four lore.
``I played in the 1944 Final Four with Dartmouth,'' Vancisin said. ``We lost to Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime in the championship game. Who knew I'd still be at these games all these years later.''
This is the 71st Final Four. Vancisin has attended 61 of them.
He was at a Final Four long before it was called that. (The first reference to it by that name was in 1975.) He was at a Final Four when it wasn't even the biggest show in college basketball with the National Invitation Tournament being the marquee event for several decades.
Vancisin took Yale to the NCAA tournament in 1957 and 1962, losing to an eventual Final Four team both times in the first round.
``In 1957, we played North Carolina and had a lead late in the game. But we had three players foul out; they went on to win the game by double figures and won the title and were undefeated under Frank McGuire,'' he said.
One of the players from the 1962 Yale team, Dr. Robert Kaminsky, drove over from Houston to spend time with his former coach.
``This is a special man for a lot of us,'' Kaminsky said. ``There isn't one of us who doesn't look forward to being with him. There are nothing but great memories.''
Vancisin succeeded Howard Hobson, the coach of the first NCAA champions at Oregon, at Yale for the 1956-57 season. When he left Yale after 19 seasons, he was chosen to run the NABC and started to really see changes in the Final Four.
``The talent level on the court is terrific now and far from the early years,'' he said. ``But things have gotten different off the court as well. When you came to the coaches' convention everybody was here and they were here for the same reason - to talk basketball.
``You could walk in the hospitality suite, which was always the center of things as you would expect, and see Henry Iba, Forddy Anderson and Pete Newell talking about defensive stances and whether your feet are parallel or not. You would see Adolph Rupp, Ray Meyer and John Wooden talking basketball. One year we gave out calendars, and you could watch guys booking games against each other.''
Vancisin retired as the NABC's executive director in 1992, but he's still at the convention every year helping any way possible.
``It's changed,'' he said. ``Coaches don't get together as much because everybody has a sponsor's commitment and since cell phones and portable computers came along, it's just so impersonal now.''
Vancisin was asked if his streak ever came to close to ending.
``Our oldest son was pretty sick one year right around the time I was about to leave, and I said I would stay home,'' he said.
Elizabeth Vancisin, who in three weeks will celebrate her 57th wedding anniversary with her husband, shook her head from side to side.
``It was 1953,'' she said. ``I told him to go.''
Vancisin made a confession, too.
``The first few years, I never paid the NABC dues,'' he said. ``It was $10 then, and I was making $2,000. My first year at Yale we were making $7,800 and thought if we ever hit $10,000 we'll be in heaven. Like I said, things have changed.''
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