For many incoming students, college can be a bit of a daunting experience in its own right. Add to that the pursuit of a national basketball championship, and it certainly makes for an eventful rookie/freshman year. Such was the case for Chestnut Hill College Director of Athletics and Recreation, Jesse Balcer ’11 SGS, who walked onto a team with big personalities and even bigger expectations.
“It was my first year of college so I knew nothing different,” said Balcer, when reflecting on the experience. “Everyone on campus knew who we were. From the beginning, we were ranked in the top 15 so all I knew was we were going to be pretty good.”
Pretty good was an understatement. The 1992-93 Philadelphia College of Textiles & Sciences (now Jefferson University) Men’s Basketball Team was one of the best, not just in the school’s history, but in the entire country. At one point ranked second in the nation, the Rams finished with a 30-2 mark to set a new school record. They led the country in scoring margin (winning by over 19 points per game), scoring defense (holding opponents to under 60 points per game) and a coach’s favorite stat, free throw percentage (78%).
The team won the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference and the NCAA East Region before ending their season in the Elite Eight against Wayne State. It marked the Rams’ only loss to a Division II team that year. Their only other blemish was a six-point loss to Division I La Salle in the team’s third game of the season. A tied-for-school-best 28-game winning streak followed. It was a season for the record books and one that led to the 1992-93 team being inducted into the Jefferson University Athletics Hall of Fame earlier this year as part of the Class of 2020.
“It is still kind of surreal to be in the Jefferson Hall of Fame,” said Balcer, who now shares that honor with his coach and Philadelphia basketball legend, Herb Magee (Class of 1984). “Whether you get in as an individual or as a team, you are going down in history as one of the best ever. That is a really cool thought. When I went to college, I never imagined that one day I would be recognized that way.”
Balcer, who went on to play for the Rams all four years of his collegiate career, joined his 11 teammates and their coaches to share in the induction ceremony. It was a moment that Balcer notes, was incredibly special.
“We have not been together for about 25 years but on that night, it felt like we were about to take the court together again,” he said.
While at Textile, Balcer was a two-sport athlete, achieving success both on the court and on the diamond. Following his playing career in 1996, Balcer returned to his alma mater four years later, where he coached under Magee until 2003. He left to take on a new challenge, accepting the job as the first-ever head coach of the new Chestnut Hill College men’s basketball program. Tasked with building a team from the ground up, Balcer relied on his experience from the 1992-93 team to define his coaching style.
“This experience literally put me in the position I am in today,” said Balcer. “The feeling I got from being part of a team like this one is the main reason I got into coaching after college. I have always wanted to provide other kids with the feeling I had that season – one of complete membership. My teammates were great mentors and really looked out for me and each other all the time.”
For the new HOF inductee, it is that message of membership that he most fondly carried into his own career both as a coach and now athletic director, noting, “being part of a team means that everyone matters from the top to the bottom…Team success is about everyone chipping in every day. Playing time does not dictate the level of intensity with which one should practice. In order for the guys on the bottom to bring their positive energy every day, the guys on the top need to make everyone know that they are valuable.”
Congratulations to Jesse Balcer and his teammates from the 1992-93 Men’s Basketball Team on induction into the Jefferson University Athletics Hall of Fame!
Marilee Gallagher '14