One of the greatest Jewish players in college basketball history, Gotkin helped lead St. John's to the NIT (National Invitational Tournament) championship in 1943 and 1944. His coach, Joe Lapchick, said of Gotkin, "He was only 5'8", but was a dynamic leader and great playmaker who generated our NIT championship teams..." Gotkin is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and St. John's Athletic Hall of Fame.
After a four-year professional career, Gotkin worked in his family's infant-clothing business and served as a recruit for St. John's. He also taught in Brooklyn high schools for 25 years before retiring to Florida. On April 11, 2004, Gotkin died of heart and kidney failure. He was 81 years old.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. August 16, 1922 - d. April 11, 2004
The cousin of Java Gotkin (who played at St. John’s in the mid-1930s), Hy Gotkin was an important member of the St. John's team in the mid 1940s. In 1943, the diminutive 5’8” guard and the 6’9” center Harry Boykoff, joined the varsity squad as sophomores and led the St. John’s basketball program to new heights. That season, they had a record of 18-3, were ranked No. 4 in the country, and were invited to play in the NIT (National Invitational Tournament). While Boykoff was an All-America center in 1943, Gotkin played primarily off the bench, but was usually one of his team's top scorers. In the first round of the NIT, Gotkin showed his value to St. John’s by scoring the game-winning basket with one second remaining to give the Redmen a 51-49 victory over Rice. Following the game, Gotkin’s play was praised, “too much credit…cannot be accorded Gotkin, the smallest man on the court. He was all over the floor, and though he tallied only 10 points, his value to his squad was immeasurable.” (New York Times, March 21, 1943)
In the semifinals, St. John’s played New York City rival Fordham (located in the Bronx), and dominated the Rams for almost the entire game, winning 69-43. Gotkin scored eight points in the game (third most on the team), and “performed brilliantly” (New York Times, March 28, 1943). In the final, St. John’s overwhelmed Toledo and captured the school’s first postseason championship by a score of 48-27. Goktin registered five points in the game (he averaged 7.7 in the NIT) as the New York Times wrote, “Little Hy Gotkin and big Harry Boykoff won the fancy of the crowd.” (March 30, 1943) Following their NIT victory, the Redmen faced the Wyoming Cowboys, the NCAA tournament champs, in a charity game to benefit the Red Cross, and lost in overtime, 52-47.
In 1944, his junior year, Gotkin captained St. John’s and blossomed into a star as Boykoff joined the army (Ivy Summer took over as starting center). Named Converse third team All-America, Gotkin led the team in scoring with 175 points (sixth in the Metropolitan area) as St. John's returned to the NIT with a 14-8 regular season record. In the semifinal game of the NIT (played in front of 18,353 spectators at Madison Square Garden), Gotkin and his teammates fell behind Kentucky 37-29 in the second half, but tied the game at 45 with two minutes remaining. With 1:47 left, they went up by one point (46-45), and then got the ball back when a referee got in the way of a Kentucky player as the ball went out of bounds. For thirty seconds, behind Gotkin's "steadying influence," St. John's held the ball. They scored again with only 20 seconds left in the game to eke out a 48-45 victory. In the NIT final, they defeated favored DePaul University (led by All-America center George Mikan), 49-39, and captured the tournament championship for the second year in a row (the only time in NIT history a team won back-to-back titles).
In 1945, Gotkin repeated as St. John’s captain and was named third team All-America and first team All-Metropolitan for the second consecutive year (he also finished second in the voting for the Haggerty Award, which is still given to the best player in the New York City Metropolitan area). St. John's finished the regular season 19-2 and again played in the NIT. In the first round, Gotkin tied for the team-high in points with eight as St. John’s froze the ball at the end of the game and defeated Muhlenberg, 34-33.
In the NIT semifinals, Gotkin and his St. John’s squad played Bowling Green in a rematch of the 1944 NIT first round. St. John’s fell behind by nine points in the first half, but clawed back to tie the game at the half (28-28). Foul trouble in the second half caused them to slow down late in the game and Bowling Green scored 14 of the final 16 points in the game to win, 57-44; Gotkin scored a team-high 16 points. In the consolation game, St. John’s defeated Rhode Island 64-57 to finish in third place; Gotkin averaged 12.0 points per game.
A member of St. John's Athletic Hall of Fame, Gotkin played in the top professional league in the East, the American Basketball League, after graduating. The ABL was more of a semi-pro league, and its important diminished in 1946 with the formation of the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the NBA. In 1945-46, Gotkin appeared in three games for the New York Gothams and scored one point. Prior to the 1946-47 season, Gotkin attended training camp with the New York Knicks of the new BAA, but did not play with the team due to injury. He returned to the ABL (which still attracted top talent that did not want to play basketball full-time) and appeared in 18 games, averaging 5.3 points per game for the Elizabeth Braves. The Braves finished 15-18 and in fourth place in the Southern Division; they lost in the first round of the playoffs to Trenton. The ABL expanded to 10 teams in 1946-47 in an attempt to fight off the BAA, but the new league soon ‘called up’ some ABL teams and then merged with the National Basketball League (a major league based in the Midwest) to become the NBA. The ABL eventually folded in 1953.
Brooklyn, New York
Gotkin played guard at St. John's University in Queens, NY from 1942-1945. He then played in the ABL with New York in 1946 and Elizabeth in 1946-47.