Pete Brennan 2007
To appreciate the accomplishments of North Carolina’s Pete Brennan in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, one needs only to look at the record books. The figures speak volumes about the handsome young man who followed his dream from the streets of New York to Chapel Hill and became an integral part of the Tar Heels’ storied NCAA championship team of 1957.
The undefeated (32-0) Tar Heels of ‘57 always will be remembered as “Lennie Rosenbluth’s team,” but Rosenbluth himself would be the first to tell you that there would have been no national championship without the 14.7-point scoring average and 10.4 rebound average of Pete Brennan. “He was an unselfish teammate, a great player,” Rosenbluth said recently.
Perhaps most impressive of Brennan’s record was the 21.3 scoring average and 11.7 rebound average that elevated him to ACC Player of the Year honors in 1958. His scoring average would have made him the ACC’s top scorer in 10 of the most recent 15 ACC seasons, and his rebound average would have led the conference in each of the past 10 years. He is one of the few ACC players who averaged a career “double double” – 16.4 points, 10.5 rebounds.
He also will be long remembered as one of the major heroes of the successive triple-overtime victories over first Michigan State and then Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in the ’57 NCAA Final Four. Joe Quigg, who made the two game-winning free throws in the third OT of the title game, played with and against Brennan beginning in junior high school days in New York and characterizes Brennan as “fierce and intense.” This was best exemplified, he says, by Brennan as time wound down in the second overtime of their semifinals game against Michigan State.
Brennan rebounded a missed Michigan State free throw with less than 10 seconds left, “dribbled coast-to-coast and made the basket that sent us into overtime again,” Quigg recalls. “Because of Pete’s hustle, we moved on…and completed that remarkable season.”
An All-American whose jersey hangs among the greats in the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, Brennan averaged a city-leading 29 points as a schoolboy in New York City and was named to its City Catholic Hall of Fame in 1990. He led the UNC freshman team to a 25-1 record with a 25-point average, and he averaged13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds as a sophomore starter in 1956.
Brennan also was an MVP in the prestigious Dixie Classic, All-ACC and was honored by the ACC media for scholarship and sportsmanship. Among UNC’s greats, he still ranks tied for 13th with Doug Moe in scoring average, and third only behind the legendary Billy Cunningham and Moe in career rebound average. He was a first round draft pick of the New York Knicks but left the pros two years later when he satisfied himself that he was not going to be a major success in the NBA.
The son of immigrant parents and the first in his family to graduate from college, he returned to North Carolina and joined Burlington Industries for two years, then launched a highly successful career in the apparel business. He presently is enjoying a second career in real estate in the Southern Shores community near Kitty Hawk.
By Irwin Smallwood
Written March 28, 2007