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Thursday, June 11, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Brightman, Former Su Coach, Dies -- Basketball Innovator Put Seattle In National Spotlight

Al Brightman, a basketball innovator who, in concert with twins John and Ed O'Brien elevated Seattle University from regional also-ran to national power in the 1950s, died yesterday from pancreatic cancer in Portland. He was 68.

Brightman, who was only 24 when he was hired by the Rev. A.A. Lemieux, SU president, in August 1948, led the Chieftains out of a modest campus gymnasium into the basketball spotlight of the NCAA Tournament and Madison Square Garden.

Along the way, Brightman proved that a team could win consistently with a fast break (considered a bit irresponsible at the time) and with a 5-foot-9 center (John O'Brien), and showed the world that the Harlem Globetrotters were beatable.

"For him, there was never a mountain," John O'Brien said last night. "Only hills."

And most were surmountable.

In eight seasons under Brightman, SU won 180 games and lost 68. During the three years the O'Brien twins played, the Chieftains went 90-17.

Games? John O'Brien mentioned the 102-101 victory over NYU. It was the first time two teams each had scored more 100 points in a college game at Madison Square Garden.

There was the 92-70 loss to Washington in an NCAA Tournament game in Corvallis, Ore., in 1953, the first game ever between the cross-town non-rivals. Seattleites who had argued the merits of the two programs for years were provided a treat - the game was televised.

But no game during that era seemed to stand the test of time better than the Chieftains' match against Abe Saperstein's Globetrotters at Edmundson Pavilion. It was played as a fund-raiser for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team - and a standing-room-only crowd of 12,500 showed up to watch.

SU 84, Globetrotters 81.

"I remember before the game, when we were waiting to go out onto the floor to warm up, Abe Saperstein came over, looked at us and said something like `is this all you've got?' " O'Brien said. "That comment and Al's encouragement is all we needed."

O'Brien scored 43 points while being guarded by the legendary Goose Tatum.

Bill Sears, former SU publicist, said, "Al Brightman changed the complexion of basketball in this area. He brought in the fast break. He took the talent he had and did the most with it."

And, said Sears, "He lived life to the fullest. He was no saint, but he was a fine human being and a great individual."

Brightman resigned in 1956, reportedly because SU administrators didn't care for the fact he tried to pick a fight with UCLA Coach John Wooden after an NCAA game in Corvallis.

After that, Brightman continued to coach. His former SU assistant, Lew Morse, mentioned the Anaheim Amigos of the American Basketball Association and a parochial high-school team in California. Brightman eventually settled in Portland, where he and his wife, Katie, managed apartment houses.

Besides Katie, survivors include seven children, 15 grandchildren, one great-great grandchild and a brother.

A private funeral service is scheduled Friday. Sears said a memorial service in Seattle is being considered.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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