It was 37 years ago, but John Pecarich and Cal Carlson remember the 1966-67 Region 13 basketball tournament like it was yesterday.
Pecarich was the starting center for the then Brainerd Junior College Red Raiders, the last college men's team from Brainerd to play in the region.
Carlson was the man responsible for drawing up the plays, motivating players and coaching the Raiders to a 16-5 record.
Both figure to be in the stands Friday at Central Lakes College when the Raiders' men's basketball team plays in the region tournament.
Pecarich, a Crosby-Ironton native, coached five seasons with current Raiders head coach Jim Russell and draws similarities between the 1966-67 team and this year's team.
"The game is still played inside-out," Pecarich said. "Even though Jim has some shooters, he knows that to be successful they need to go inside. We had good outside shooters like Steve Tomljanovich, Tom Pikula and Jim Gaviglio that we knew would knock down the shot or pass inside.
"The biggest difference is that we had five or six guys that could play and this Raiders team has 12 guys so they can just wear people out."
Pecarich remembers a road trip to Michigan to play Gogebic as the point in the season when he knew the team was special.
"Our first road trip we beat Gogebic pretty badly and they were a powerhouse back then," said Pecarich. "I knew then we were good. Nearly every game came down to the last shot that year. They were very close games."
Region 13 tournament
At Central Lakes College, Brainerd
Fergus Falls vs. Milwaukee Area Tech, 6 p.m.
Central Lakes College vs. Mesabi Range, 8 p.m.
At Central Lakes College
Raiders' Region history
Brainerd 82, Bismarck 57
Brainerd 88, Concordia 67
Brainerd 79, Wahpeton 61
Ely 75, Brainerd 72
Brainerd 109, Wessington 80
Ely defeated Brainerd
Wahpeton 83, Brainerd 73
What Carlson remembers most about that team is how it was to coach the team. He wasn't much for rah-rah speeches, but with that team, he didn't need them. In a way, that team took care of itself.
"Their attitudes were great," Carlson said. "We had no giants so they knew they had to work hard and hustle. I was never good at firing them up but I also never had to worry about them being ready to play."
A big reason the 1966-67 team was so successful was that each player knew what his role was, Pecarich said.
"I played center and Terry Fiero played power forward and he was our defensive stopper," said Pecarich. "Our small forward was Steve Tomljanovich and he was a very good shooter, he had great touch on the ball. Jim Gaviglio was just an outside shooter and ran the point. Tom Pikula was the off-guard and was a very steady player.
"Dave Landree came off the bench. We called him 'Blades' because he was so skinny that if he hit you with an elbow you'd start to bleed. Steve 'Curly' Heald was our sixth man and he was a ferocious rebounder."
That team averaged close to 88 points a game while being a defensive stalwart. Pecarich led in scoring at 24.9 points a game while Tomljanovich was second at 17.7 and Gaviglio third at 15.1.
Entering the region tournament, Pecarich said the team was confident, but made the mistake of watching its first-round opponent and defending champion, Wahpeton, practice the day before the game.
"We thought they were slow so we thought we'd just run them off the court," said Pecarich. "They were the host team and we just got beat up. They were bigger and stronger than us."
Brainerd lost that game 83-73 as the Raiders, with little depth on their bench, got into foul trouble early.
Asked what they would do if they were playing this weekend, Pecarich and Carlson had simple answers.
"Just go back to the basic principle that defense wins games," said Pecarich.
"Just play the game that got you there," Carlson added.
Sound advice from two men who have been to a region tournament, even if it was 37 years ago.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.