Former Tar Heel legend Pete Brennan, a pivotal member of North Carolina’s 1957 NCAA championship team and the ACC player of the year in 1958, died Friday after a fight with cancer. He was 75.
NBC reports Brennan had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in April and was recently released from a North Carolina hospital, where he was being treated for diverticulitis.
“He was a great teammate and a great friend after all these years,” Brennan’s UNC teammate Lennie Rosenbluth said. “Our team (in 1957) became more than teammates. We were almost like brothers. When something like this happens, it really hurts all of us.”
Brennan, a native of Brooklyn, NY, is remembered most for hitting a buzzer-beater against Michigan State in the 1957 national semifinals that forced the second of three overtimes in the Tar Heels’ win.
Rosenbluth recalled Brennan’s clutch shot to the Sporting News:
“If we had been in a practice right then, (coach) Frank (McGuire) would have called timeout and chewed Pete out for taking a dumb shot,” UNC teammate Bob Cunningham once said. “He would’ve told him to look for the men out in front of him and get the ball up the floor. But thank God Pete didn’t follow that strategy. He probably should’ve gone deeper and tried to throw a bounce pass for a layup. But he pulls up and takes this jumper.”
After that victory, UNC went on to defeat Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks in another triple-overtime game to be crowned national champions. North Carolina finished the season with a perfect 32-0 record, becoming (at the time) only the second team ever to go undefeated on their way to the NCAA championship.
Brennan finished his UNC career with a rare double-double average (16.4 points, 10.5 rebounds). His No. 35 jersey hangs among the honored jerseys in the Smith Center rafters.
Following his NCAA career, Pete Brennan played briefly in the NBA with the New York Knicks.