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By Paul Lonardo
There are many people around the state who fondly remember the magical ride that the Providence College Friars basketball team took them on during the spring of 1973.
PC head basketball coach, Dave Gavitt, harnessed the talent of a sensational team that was led by senior point guard Ernie DiGregorio, who was a wizard passing and shooting the basketball, and 6’9 junior Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, a ferocious rebounder and shot blocker who could score, and took the Friars all the way to the NCAA Final four, nearly making it to the Finals against Bill Walton’s mighty UCLA Bruins, who had won the previous six NCAA championships. Providence would surely have made it to the Finals had Marvin Barnes not suffered a knee injury against Memphis State, who PC had been beating handily in the national semi-finals until Marvin went down.
It’s hard to believe that was forty five years ago. The Friars were such an exciting team to watch, they played all their home games at the newly opened Providence Civic Center (now, The Dunk) and sold out the 13,000-seat arena every game. In those days, long before ESPN and TBS and other major regional and national college basketball networks were around to showcase all the top teams in the country, these Friars gained national attention for their style of play that was based on the fast-break and an offense that attacked opposing defenses.
Incredibly, Ernie and Marvin were local kids who came to PC and became superstars before going on to careers in professional basketball. Both of them earned Rookie of the Year honors, Ernie in 1974 with the Buffalo Braves in the NBA, and the following year Marvin won the award playing in the ABA for the St. Louis Spirits. The two of them formed an instant bond on the court, but the lasting friendship between the 6’0 Italian kid from North Providence and the 6’9 black kid from South Providence that continued off the court came as a surprise to many people. In that era, the early 1970’s, race relations was an even bigger problem than it is today.
“For us, the color of our skin didn’t matter,” Ernie says. “Marvin was a brother to me. Coach Gavitt once told me that the greatest assist I ever had was not on the court, it was keeping my friend, Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, alive. It was the highest praise I’ve ever received.”
Even more remarkable, Coach Gavitt was also a native Rhode Islander, born in Westerly.
“Coach Gavitt was a genius, and a man I greatly respected,” Ernie says. “He did not have an ego. He understood that all players are different, and he handled them all differently, getting the most out of them. He helped create our team chemistry by allowing us to play to our strengths. He never put Marvin and me in a box. He let us play our game. Coach Gavitt in his lifetime touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way, and he made everyone who was associated with him a better person. He taught me many important life lessons, always in a kind and caring way.”
After doing so much for the game of basketball when he left Providence, including founding the Big East, Dave Gavitt passed away in 2011, and we lost Marvin in 2014, which was what ultimately compelled Ernie D to sit down and write his book, Point to Greatness.
“At this point in my life, with both Marvin and Coach Gavitt no longer with us, I think it is very important that I share some of the personal stories and special experiences I had with them through the years, including the phenomenal 1972-73 season. Much of what I reveal in this book has never been heard before. It’s a very special book, not just to me, but to all the fans of Coach Gavitt and Marvin Barnes.”
Ernie has understood for a long time that what the three of them did together while at Providence College helped propel each of them to do even greater things after they left PC. They loved and respected one another, but they also needed each other to realize their future dreams, and this is a dynamic that Ernie explores in his book.
“In my lifetime, I’ve had the opportunity to play alongside the greatest basketball players ever,” Ernie says, “including Bill Walton, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Rick Barry, and many others, as well as being around the greatest coaching minds in basketball history, whether it be Dave Gavitt, Red Auerbach, Rick Pitino, Jack Ramsey, Bobby Knight, and John Wooden. However, nothing can ever match the fun and thrills I had while playing for the PC Friars. Playing alongside my big man and dear friend, Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, and under the leadership of Coach Dave Gavitt, was the best time of my life. It was a time of true innocence, when we weren’t playing the game for money, but for the love of it. To play in front of my family and friends at the Providence Civic Center in 1973 was special.”
As an author who has collaborated on other autobiographical books, and having grown up in North Providence hearing all about Ernie D and admiring him as a kid, I am proud to be giving Ernie D an assist in sharing some of the most unforgettable memories he had playing the game of basketball and sharing stories about the many people and friendships he made along the way.
Point to Greatness will become available any time now, so keep a look out for it on-line at Amazon, B&N and