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History Professor David Bennett’s Ties to Men’s Basketball Program Span Generations

March 4, 2024

SU News

When Adrian Autry ’94 led the Syracuse University men’s basketball team into action against the University of New Hampshire to open the 2023-24 season, there were many familiar faces in the stands inside the JMA Wireless Dome cheering on the Orange. 

David Bennett in the Dome
David Bennett ’56 has been in attendance for the home coaching debuts of the last five Syracuse head coaches.

But as far as program historians go, one particular fan, David Bennett ’56, stood out for his longevity and loyalty to the men’s basketball team. After all, he’d been in attendance for the home coaching debuts of the last five Syracuse head coaches.

You’d have to go back a century—to the 1924-25 squad that defeated St. Lawrence University by a score of 32-26 on Dec. 12, 1924, in Lewis Andreas’ first season on campus—for the last home coaching debut Bennett didn’t see in person, and Bennett had a valid excuse for missing that home opener: He wasn’t born until 1935.

As Autry’s team handled New Hampshire by a score of 83-72 on Nov. 6, Bennett was there in Section 123, a seat he has occupied since the Dome opened in 1980. His interest in Syracuse athletics goes back to 1940, when his father, Bernard, a local attorney and fellow Syracuse University alumnus, took his son to his first game when he was just 5 years old.

“Oh, I’ve gone to a lot of Syracuse basketball games, going back to when I was a boy. My father was a very big basketball fan, and it was a great bonding experience to go to basketball and football games with him,” says Bennett, professor emeritus of history in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Long-Lasting Orange Fandom

Over the last 75 years, there have been five head men’s basketball coaches: Marc Guley (1950-62), Fred Lewis (1962-68), Roy Danforth (1968-76), Jim Boeheim ’66, G’73 (1976-2023) and Autry. 

David and Gerda Bennett
David Bennett with his wife, Gerda, during a recent men’s basketball game in the JMA Wireless Dome.
Bennett was 15 years old when Guley made his home head coaching debut, guiding Syracuse to a 101-39 victory over the University of Toronto on Dec. 12, 1950, in Archbold Gym. He’s seen the Orange men play in Archbold, the downtown Jefferson Street Armory (after a fire ravaged Archbold in January of 1947), the New York State Fairgrounds Coliseum, the War Memorial, Manley Field House and the Dome.


He was fortunate enough to see future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Cousy when Holy Cross played Syracuse, and when Bennett enrolled at the University to pursue an American studies degree, he saw future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown ’57 star for the Orange football and basketball teams.

Bennett cheered on the Orange during the first basketball games at Manley Field House (1962) and the Dome (1980) and has fond memories of watching Hall of Famers Dave Bing ’66, H’06 and Boeheim earn a berth in the NCAA tournament during the 1965-66 season, the program’s second NCAA appearance at the Division I level.

“Syracuse had some great basketball teams. Under coach Fred Lewis, we had this walk-on named Jim Boeheim, and he was playing with a guy who became his closest friend, a man who is one of the great players in the history of the sport in Dave Bing. That team was a great story. Jim went from walk-on to team captain, and Bing was a dominant player. Those teams were fun to watch,” Bennett recalls.

Bennett joined the faculty of the Maxwell School in 1961, after returning from the University of Chicago, where he received a Ph.D. in history. He was on the faculty for 60 years before retiring and was a past Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence. Bennett served as chair of the history department, chair of the University Senate Committee on Athletic Policy and chair of the University Athletic Policy Board, a role he held for 20 years. He was faculty representative for athletics to the NCAA for those 20 years.

Bennett played a central role in creating the Faculty Oversight Committee for Athletics, which was responsible for ensuring the athletic and academic enterprises were aligned and recruited student-athletes who were just as committed to their studies as they were to their sport.

Bennett was on search committees that helped name Jake Crouthamel as athletic director (1978), and Dick MacPherson the head football coach (1981). And in 1976, Bennett was on the committee that recommended to then-Chancellor Melvin Eggers the hiring of Boeheim as the next head men’s basketball coach leading up to the 1976-77 season.

Favorite Men’s Basketball Memories

Every time Syracuse has advanced into the Final Four—including that unexpected run in the 1974-75 season, the devastating losses in the national championship during the 1986-87 and 1995-96 seasons and, finally, a national title during the 2002-03 season—Bennett has been at the games cheering on his alma mater. 

David Bennett
David Bennett, professor emeritus of history in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“That 1987 team, with Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Sherm Douglas and others, that was my favorite team, and they were so close to winning a national championship,” Bennett says, the bitter taste of the loss to Indiana University still evident in his voice. “But I’m forever thankful to Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara and the 2003 team that finally won it all. That was probably the greatest moment, at least for me, in the history of Syracuse University athletics.”

For a beloved professor who taught primarily modern American history and modern military history at Syracuse from 1961 through 2021, the fact that Bennett, who can vividly recall moments from past basketball seasons, has been present for so many of the landmark moments in program history is not lost on him.

“I recognize the similarities between my time as a professor and my interest as a Syracuse basketball fan. I never wrote about American athletics, but I was always interested in it. And of course, because I’m a historian, I can remember a lot of the games I’ve seen. I’ve always been a fan because my father and I had a bonding experience around Syracuse sports,” Bennett says.

As Autry makes his way through his first season as a head coach, Bennett wishes him well and doesn’t want to witness another head coach make his Syracuse debut anytime soon.

By  John Boccacino

Communications and Media Relations Office
200 Eggers Hall