Thursday evening was a night to remember for four members of the Seton Hall athletic community and one of the most decorated men’s basketball teams in school history.
Doug Cinnella (’86) of the baseball team, Debbie Hartnett (’89) of the women’s basketball team, former chairman of the Seton Hall Board of Regents John Kelly, Bryan Spoonire (’95) of the men’s track and field team and the entire 1952-53 NIT Championship men’s basketball team were inducted into the Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Maplewood Country Club.
Cinnella was a four-year starting pitcher at Seton Hall after graduating from Paramus High School. As a freshman, he tied the school record with 17 strikeouts in a game and followed up a strong first season in South Orange with an even better sophomore campaign, where he was named the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association Pitcher of the year in addition to helping Seton Hall reach the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a great team of baseball players,” Cinnella said of the 1984 team that he helped lead to the NCAA Tournament. “The team we had was incredible. We had such a great team and had so many interchangeable guys that could come and go and do their jobs and do it great. It was a great, great team to be a part of.”
Cinnella went on to be drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft and spent seven years pitching in the minor leagues. He is still involved with the Seton Hall baseball program to this day and noted the importance of giving back to the school.
“I’m an active alumnus, which I enjoy,” Cinnella said. “I think anyone who’s a Seton Hall student should one day look to give back to the University.”
Hartnett was a four-year letter winner for the Pirates and she graduated as the school’s third all-time leading women’s basketball scorer with 1,632 points, a total that still ranks fifth in program history to this day. She was a three-time All-Big East performer, receiving second-team honors in 1988 and 1989. Hartnett’s performance in 1988 was one of the best in program history, as she averaged 18.3 points per game, which was a school record at the time.
In reflecting on her career at Seton Hall, Hartnett credits former long-time Seton Hall women’s head coach Phillis Mangina with getting her where she needed to be to succeed as a player.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I got to Seton Hall,” Harnett said. “Phillis [Mangina] moved me along as a player and she helped me developed a post-game so I could play inside and outside, which was a big reason why I was successful.”
Kelly served as the University Board of Regents chairman from 1986-91, right in the middle of the renaissance of the Seton Hall men’s Basketball program. In 1986, Kelly received a Many Are One Honoree-Service award and he was the recipient of the University’s alumnus of the year award in 1991.
“Seton Hall has been part of my life since I was six years old when my father took me on a tour,” Kelly said. “Everybody in my family is a Pirate fan.”
As the Seton Hall basketball program has regained national relevance recently, Kelly recognizes some similarities between the renaissance that he was present for and this renaissance being led by athletic director Pat Lyons.
“What you saw with the athletics and academics, it’s no coincidence that they go hand-in-hand,” Kelly said. “We’ve had good academics, good SAT’s, good enrollment and good athletics. I think we’re back on that path now.”
Spoonire ran on the now defunct track and field team and wound up going down as one of the best runners in school history, helping Seton Hall win the 1993 Big East Indoor Track and Field championship while winning eight Big East titles of his own. In 1994, Spoonire was named an All-American and was named the Big East Outdoor Championship Male Performer after winning the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races.
Spoonire holds five school records to this day and as a kid hailing from the small shore town of Asbury Park, he never envisioned himself going down as one of the greats in school history.
“I never even thought about it, it was the furthest thing from my mind,” Spoonire. “All I knew was that when I graduated from Seton Hall I wanted to go down to Georgetown to train in the Olympics development group.”
Spoonire fell just short in the Olympic trials and he returned to the Seton Hall area shortly after. He now sells real estate in Hoboken.
The 1952-53 men’s basketball team went through it all. From dealing with racial taunts directed at All-American center Walter Dukes to a brawl at Louisville that left Mickey Hannon lying unconscious on the floor, it still managed to persevere and wiaan NIT Championship, defeating St. John’s in the finals.
The team was coached by John “Honey” Russell and featured many great players such as Walter Dukes, Richie Regan, Mickey Hannon, Arnie Ring and Harry Brooks among many others. Henry Cooper started in the frontcourt alongside Dukes and is the last remaining member of the starting five. He recalled Dukes’ toughness and how he dealt with all of the racially charged insults.
“I don’t think anybody could have done a better job with the racial comments,” Cooper said of Dukes. “His response was to play harder and better. He went through the entire year extremely well. It was a situation that existed when we played certain teams, even in the garden.”
In speaking of Dukes’ skills on the court, Cooper was sure to point out that Dukes could have scored more if he wanted to, but he had no problem passing the ball out of the post. For his prolific rebounding and ability to pass the ball, current Seton Hall forward Angel Delgado has drawn some comparison to the late Dukes.
Like Dukes, Delgado led the country in rebounding a year ago with 13 rebounds per game. Both are rebounding machines, but Cooper doesn’t think Delgado is quite at the same level as his old friend just yet.
“Walter averaged 21 rebounds over 33 games, Angel averaged 13,” Cooper said with a laugh. “Angel, keep practicing.”
Their careers have come and gone but after Thursday night, Cinnella, Hartnett, Kelly, Spoonire and every member of the 1952-1953 men’s basketball team will forever be remembered as legends within the Seton Hall athletic community.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.