‘Wonder Five’ leads St. John’s to big time

By Merle Exit

Most people with any interest in basketball know about St. John’s University and the famous Redmen whose winning history goes back to the early 1900s. There’s even a little history lesson about the school and its basketball program on the university’s website.

“St. John’s started its intercollegiate program in 1907 with its men’s basketball program. In the early days, the ‘Wonder Five’ led that program to prominence.

In 1923 James ‘Buck’ Freeman graduated from St. John’s in 1927, and was named men’s basketball coach, guiding that team for nine years and compiling a 177-31 record. During his time, he guided the famed St. John’s ‘Wonder Five’ to an 88-8 record in his first four seasons and brought the university to national prominence.”

I do not follow the sport, just a personal interest in the history about the famous “Wonder Five.” Some years back my mother talked about her brother, whom I addressed as Uncle Jake. His name was actually Jack Gerson and he was also referred to as Rip. The nickname, I was told, had something to do with basketball back in the 1920s.

It wasn’t until years later that my cousin told me about his famous father and who he played basketball for.

From 1929-1931, Gerson was a member of St. John’s “Wonder Five,” which included teammates Max Posnack, Mac Kinsbrunner, Allie Schuckman and Matty Begovich, a team that won 68 out of 72 games during that three-year period.

“The ‘Wonder Five” dominated their competition and became one of the most influential teams in college basketball history,” the website Jews in Sports noted.

These five young men ushered in a new era of basketball at St. John’s, with double-headers at Madison Square Garden and regular berths in national tournaments becoming the norm.

“Their style was deliberate, and at times very slow, but they worked as a team, each player knowing and understanding their role to perfection,” Jews in Sports said. “By the time they left school to turn professional (still as a team), they made the “City Game” the best in the country and Madison Square Garden the mecca of college basketball for the next 20 years.”

Although Gerson grew up in Brooklyn and attended high school in Manhattan, he eventually made his way to St. John’s to continue to play basketball.

Gerson was named All-Metropolitan honorable mention while playing in 18 games. He was the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 79 points (4.4 points per game).

“St. John’s won their final 11 games of the season in 1929-30 and then captured their first 13 games of the 1930-31 season; their 24-game winning streak is the longest in school history. One of the games during the streak was against CCNY at Madison Square Garden during a triple-header of city schools to benefit the Unemployment Relief Fund, sponsored by the mayor of New York,” Jew in Sports said. “In 1997, the Wonder Five was inducted into the New York City Basketball

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