Bluffton's Berkman honored for basketball feats at Brandeis

Bob Berkman was a reserve guard on Brandeis University's 1957-58 basketball team, an outside shooting threat who also knew how to orchestrate a fast break.

"I wasn't anything close to the star of the team," the Bluffton resident recalled, "but I made contributions as I could."

Perhaps Berkman's biggest contribution to the program, though, will be realized this weekend when the Judges' first NCAA Tournament team in any sport finally takes its place in the New England school's athletics hall of fame.

Berkman spearheaded the team's nominating application to Brandeis officials, and will serve as unofficial host of a reunion as the surviving team members gather Saturday for induction ceremonies during the school's Homecoming weekend.

"We had already lost both coaches and three players from that team," Berkman said Monday. "I thought that we needed to move something forward while the rest of us were still around to enjoy it."

The Judges, coached by Harry Stein, went 18-4 that year and won the ECAC Cup as the top small-college team in New England. One of their early wins was an 84-68 romp over Providence College, which featured All-American and future Basketball Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens.

One year earlier, the Judges had gone into Madison Square Garden and upended nationally ranked NYU.

"It was a very exciting time for all of us," Berkman recalled.

Brandeis easily qualified for the NCAA small-college tournament, but its run ended quickly in the regionals when the Judges got blitzed by Adelphi in the opening round. They wound up being ranked No. 13 in the season's final United Press small-college poll.

It would be another 18 years before the Judges returned to the NCAAs, this time reclassified in Division III.

Berkman, now retired from the business consulting firm he founded, said he began his push for the team's induction two years ago. He wound up preparing a 10-page bid, outlining the team's accomplishments both on the court and in later years.

"Some (committee members) were too young to remember,," Berkman said, "but others remembered what we had accomplished. They saw it was an obvious no-brainer that this team had to go into the Hall of Fame."

After graduating from Brandeis, Berkman continued to play as a graduate student at McGill University in Canada. He stayed there a few years to coach before starting his career as a consultant. He now serves on the board for the HHT Foundation, which seeks a cure to a genetic disorder that affects blood vessels.