UConn alumnus Tom Penders is set for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, the organization announced on Sunday, honoring a coaching career that spanned five decades. Penders is the uncle of current UConn baseball head coach Jim Penders.
Tom Penders will be the first UConn graduate inducted into the Hall of Fame, which includes the legendary Jim Calhoun, who was inducted in 2006 as part of the Hall’s inaugural class.
Penders attended UConn in the 1960s and had the rare honor of playing in both the College World Series in baseball and the NCAA Tournament in basketball. He played under head coach Fred Shabel from 1964 to 1967, alongside names like Wes Bialosuknia and Toby Kimble. His teams posted an overall record of 56-18 as the Huskies won three Yankee Conference championships and made two NCAA Tournament appearances, and made the College World Series with the baseball team in 1965 under head coach Larry Panciera.
His coaching career began after college, bouncing around the Northeast: three successful seasons at Tufts got him the job at Columbia in the Ivy League. Then he went to Fordham for eight years, where he oversaw the Rams’ entrance into the Metro Atlantic conference and made five straight NIT appearances.
From there, his career really took off. Two-straight 20-win seasons at Rhode Island saw him land the Texas head coaching job, where the best years of his career took place. He won the SWC three times, made the NCAA tournament eight times in ten years and got to the Sweet Sixteen twice. He was 208-110 overall with the Longhorns, making him the winningest coach in school history at the time. Unfortunately, his time at Texas was cut short by health problems.
According to the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore, Penders had to keep the knowledge of his selection a secret for a year. He offered some candid thoughts and opinions on his career in that interview with Amore, who wrote that Penders isn’t shy about offering his opinions or taking “a jab at the establishment every once in a while.” His fast-paced offensive style that was somewhat groundbreaking at the time has now become the norm in college hoops.
“The Texas fans thought I was out of my mind when I brought [the 3-point shot] to Texas. It’s the most exciting thing in basketball now,” he told Amore. “That is the thing that ignites a crowd. And you can teach that. [...] The Final Fours might not be loaded with lottery picks, but you have a lot of guys that compete and the coaching keeps getting better and better. There are some good young coaches out there. I don’t think the game has missed a beat.”
The latter part of Penders’ career took place at George Washington, where he made one NCAA Tournament in four years, and Houston, where he earned an impressive 121-77 record at the helm.
Penders will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, located in Kansas City, Missouri, as part of the 2020 class in a ceremony with the 2021 class, due to COVID-19 restrictions.