Lennie Rosenbluth, led UNC to 1957 basketball title, dies at 89

Lennie Rosenbluth, led UNC to 1957 basketball title, dies at 89


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Lennie Rosenbluth, who led North Carolina to its first NCAA basketball title in 1957 with a victory over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in the championship game, died June 18. He was 89.

The university announced the death but did not provide further details. He had been living in recent years near Chapel Hill, where the school is located, and often attended basketball games.

North Carolina coach Frank McGuire recruited Mr. Rosenbluth, who was from the Bronx, without having seen him play. He was renowned for his play in the summer leagues of the Catskill Mountains and was among the first in a pipeline of New Yorkers who traveled south to play college basketball for North Carolina and other schools.

In the Tar Heels’ undefeated championship season in 1956-57, all five starting players — Mr. Rosenbluth, Tom Kearns, Bob Cunningham, Pete Brennan and Joe Quigg — were from New York. Mr. Rosenbluth, a 6-foot-5 forward, was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference player in each of his three seasons at UNC and a consensus all-American in his senior season. (Freshmen were inligible for varsity play in those days.)

He averaged 28.0 points per game as a senior and 26.9 points for his career. Both are still all-time records at North Carolina.

The 1957 squad went 32-0 and had back-to-back triple overtime wins over Michigan State and Kansas to win the national championship. Mr. Rosenbluth scored two key baskets in the Tar Heels’ 74-70 win over Michigan State and scored 20 points against Kansas before fouling out late in regulation.

Without Mr. Rosenbluth, North Carolina hung on to defeat Kansas, 54-53, despite the towering presence of the Jayhawks’ 7-foot-1 center, Wilt Chamberlain.

“It was really remarkable that we won, with Lennie Rosenbluth on the bench,” McGuire said after the game, “since he was our key man all season.”

The national championship, which was the first for a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, helped make North Carolina a college basketball powerhouse.

Mr. Rosenbluth won Helms Foundation’s Player of the Year award over Chamberlain and was arguably the best-known Jewish athlete in the country. His No. 10 was the first jersey retired for a Tar Heel basketball player.

Leonard Robert Rosenbluth was born Jan. 22, 1933, in the Bronx. His father worked for a company that made electronic equipment, his mother was a homemaker.

After graduating from North Carolina in 1957, Mr. Rosenbluth spent two years with the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA but saw little playing time. He then coached and taught in high schools in North Carolina and Florida for more than 35 years.

His first wife, Helen “Pat” Oliver, died in 2010. Survivors include his wife since 2011, Dianne Stabler; two children from his first marriage; and several grandchildren.

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