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Originally published Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Akron coach Keith Dambrot's uncle part of 1949-50 scandal

For years, the NCAA wouldn't put a regional event in Portland, a policy against the state's Sports Action lottery game involving the National Football League.

Seattle Times staff reporter

For years, the NCAA wouldn't put a regional event in Portland, a policy against the state's Sports Action lottery game involving the National Football League.

When the Oregon Lottery removed Sports Action, it opened the way for the NCAA to place this week's first- and second-round games at the Rose Garden in Portland.

That might provide a haunting connection this week for Keith Dambrot, the coach of the Akron team that plays Gonzaga in the first round Thursday.

Dambrot's uncle, Irwin Dambrot, was a star player for the City College of New York team that is the only program (in 1950) to win both the NCAA and National Invitation Tournament titles — back when teams could play in both.

Irwin Dambrot, though, also earned a bit of infamy. He became part of a point-shaving scandal that swept through New York colleges in that era and also touched some schools in the South and Midwest.

According to the book "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols," Dambrot was involved in the point-shaving of three games in the 1949-50 season, including one against UCLA. In a scandal that also encircled several teammates, Dambrot was convicted of a misdemeanor and given a suspended sentence.

"He never really recovered from that totally," Keith Dambrot said Monday. "It's a sad thing. You're talking about a lot of poor people and organized crime."

Irwin Dambrot was a New York-bred athlete good enough to become the No. 1 pick (seventh overall) of the local Knicks in the 1950 NBA draft. But he chose to follow a career path as a dentist.

Now 80, Irwin Dambrot is living in New Jersey, afflicted with Parkinson's disease, his nephew said.

Meanwhile, a lot of basketball is tied up elsewhere around the Akron coach. His father Sid played on Duquesne teams that made the NCAA and NIT alongside future pros Si Green and Dick Ricketts.

Keith Dambrot is a 1982 Akron alum, who, after a two-year head coaching stint at Central Michigan in 1992-93, made his way back to Akron. He ran clinics for a $1 fee at the local Jewish Community Center in the late 1990s, and one of the attendees was LeBron James.

"I saw LeBron at the end of his seventh-grade year," said Dambrot. "He was 5-11, skilled. At the end of his freshman year, he was 6-4, 170. I knew he was a pro.

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"At the end of his sophomore year, he was 6-6, 200. I knew he'd never go to college."

Dambrot's team (23-12) blossomed unexpectedly this year. He uses two freshmen and two sophomores among the top seven in his rotation, and the Zips will give up size not only inside but on the perimeter, which he sees as the biggest challenge.

But Dambrot, who coached James when he was a freshman and sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High, used a parallel to that team, when it played powerful Oak Hill Academy with players like future pro DeSagana Diop and soon-to-be collegians like Billy Edelin (Syracuse) and Justin Gray (Wake Forest).

"They [his team] were sophomores and young kids," Dambrot said. "We didn't go into that game thinking we couldn't win, and we're not going to go into this one thinking that way. We could have won that game.

"But by the same token, they're [Gonzaga] capable of winning the national championship. We hope they have an average night."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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