The year 1972 is an indelible mark in Georgetown basketball history, a seismic shift still felt today. As the years have passed, it is an unfortunate byproduct when some suggest that Georgetown basketball before 1972 didn't really matter--a disservice not only to John Thompson, but also to those players and coaches who preceded him.
The great players could hold their own in any era, and one of its best was a lanky 6-7 forward from North Caldwell, NJ named Mike Laughna. Sometimes forgotten amidst more recent times, Laughna's contributions were more than evident during a sometimes rocky run of Hoya basketball from 1969 to 1972.
Most of the great players of the Classic Era were products of Catholic high schools in northern New Jersey, as was Laughna. A graduate of St. Benedict's Prep, Laughna chose Georgetown over offers from Holy Cross and St. Bonaventure, and soon matched his high school average with a 22 point, 13 rebound mark in 13 games with the Georgetown freshman team. Joining the varsity, Laughna opened with 14 rebounds versus American University and would proceed to score in double figures in 21 of 25 games in 1969-70, the Hoyas' NIT season, and each of the last 18. His combined 50 points and 31 rebounds in games against Penn State and Stanford afforded him MVP honors in the 1969 Kodak Classic in Rochester. His 19 rebounds against Holy Cross helped the Hoyas to a 76-75 win, and his 21 points and 13 rebounds in a rematch against Penn State led the Hoyas to the win that clinched the NIT berth.
Laughna wasn't always the fan favorite--some alumni expressed concern, for example, that Laughna's hair was too long for a place like Georgetown--an assumption that, especially for 1969, seems absurd in hindsight. For the season, Laughna became only the third sophomore ever to lead the team in rebounds with 261, a 10.4 average, and finished third in scoring behind Charlie Adrion and Art White.
For 1970-71, Laughna continued to improve on both sides of the ball. He nearly matched his sophomore shooting accuracy with a 48.2% mark, leading the team in scoring in 14 games and 10 of its final 11. His 35 point, 11 rebound effort versus NYU was the only 30+ point game in the decade of the 1970's, and capped off a three game stretch where he scored 76 points and collected 50 rebounds, all at 6-7 and just over 200 pounds.
Despite leading the team in 11 different statistical categories, Laughna could not do it alone.
The 1970-71 season proved trying due to the performance of the team and its deteriorating relationship with head coach Jack Magee. Many had predicted a return to the NIT following the Hoyas' promising 1970 season, but the team never put the pieces together. Opening the season 3-5, the Hoyas then won six of its next eight, only to drop seven of its last ten to finish under .500. And despite some criticism of other players, Magee praised Laughna for his work. "Without his scoring, rebounding, and all-around leadership, we wouldn't have won half of our 12 victories [in 1971]," Magee said.
Even Laughna wouldn't be enough in 1971-72, which turned into a perfect storm for the program. Outside of Laughna, Coach Magee returned only one of his top nine scorers from 1971, found himself scheduled with only 10 home games by his athletic director and faced nine straight road games from Dec. 13 through Jan. 22. Between the issues of recruiting, the schedule, no renewal to date on the last year of the coach's contract, and a public feud between Magee and athletic director Robert Sigholtz, Laughna and the Hoyas were in the midst of what became the program's worst season ever.
Laughna continued to carry the team onward. He turned in strong performances throughout the season: 25 points and 11 rebounds versus Texas, 22 and 12 versus San Francisco, 24 and 15 versus George Washington. But even the senior was drawn into the spiraling war of words of Hoya basketball following comments he made to the Washington Post's Ken Turan, which resulted in an top-of-page, six column headline in the Washington Post's sports section with the uneasy title "We're Being Used, Georgetown Star Feels".
The article was not a broadside at anyone in particular but Laughna contended that for whatever revenue basketball brought to GU, very little actually went back into supporting it. The resultant public response led Sigholtz to hold a press conference and issue what he called a "Basketball Fact Sheet" which didn't address Laughna's concerns but deflected issues of scheduling and budget issues back to Magee. (In one item, the report accused Magee of not using all the recruiting funds available to him, despite a budget of only $5,140.) The verbal sparring proved a distraction to the team and its fans.
"As a reply to Laughna's remarks, the [fact sheet] fails," wrote the HOYA. "As an insight into the inner problems of the Athletic Department, it readily succeeds."
Two weeks later, Jack Magee resigned, Sigholtz nine days later. The Classic Era was at an end following the 1972 season, but not before Laughna passed Jim Barry's career scoring record on March 4 to end an impressive college career. Ironically, a clerical error repeated in future Georgetown media guides gave Laughna only 1,134 points instead of the 1,234 points that broke Barry's 1,226 mark, and his 833 rebounds were understated as well.
To this day, Mike Laughna is one of only two Georgetown players whose scoring and rebounding averages are among the top ten, and he is the only player ever to average double figures in rebounds in each of his varsity years.