“He got to Bob and said, ‘Not only do I think it’s possible you could lead the ACC in rebounding, but you could lead the country,’” Laquintano recalled. “One of the players laughed a little, and that sort of pissed him off.”
Mortell ended up leading the ACC and finishing second in the country, behind Leroy Wright of Pacific University.
“I don’t think [Mortell] weighed more than 200 pounds. He was very thin,” Laquintano said. “He was a good rebounder, had a nice, soft touch around the basket and ran the court well. He always joked that he didn’t make the NBA because I didn’t get him the ball enough.”
In the record-setting game against Washington & Lee, Laquintano, the team’s point guard, said he made a special effort to “have Bob have the best possible game he could have scoring – and he did,” estimating that Mortell finished with around 24 points. “Of course, I had nothing to do with rebounds, but I told him I missed a lot of shots on purpose so he could rebound and score.”
After graduation, Mortell found success off the basketball court. A geology major, he built a career in the mining industry. In 1987, he founded the Eastern Drillers Manufacturing Company, a drilling equipment supplier based in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
Caroline Mortell said her husband’s athletic background prepared him well for his career. “I hope everyone gets as much out of sports as my husband did,” she said. His approach, she said, was to “do what you did well, and delegate the rest to those who knew their field. That’s what a team mentality is all about.”
Mortell also maintained close ties with his former teammates, building a second home in Albemarle County in 2005. “He preferred being here with his friends,” Caroline Mortell said.
Bob Mortell and his teammates – including Laquintano, Gene Flamm and Stu Kessler – closely followed Cavalier basketball, often gathering with pizza and beer in front of “the biggest TV he could have,” his wife said, estimating that it has a 90-inch screen. When circumstances didn’t allow everyone to watch games together, they connected on the phone.
“It’s the UVA way, right?” she said.
With college basketball played so much differently these days, Laquintano said it seems unlikely Mortell’s records will ever be broken. The second-highest season average in UVA history is 12.0 rebounds per game (by Norm Carmichael in 1967-68) – more than 2½ fewer than Mortell’s mark of 14.6. And no one since the mighty Sampson has posted as many as 21 in a single game, let alone approached Mortell’s 25.
“They say that records are made to be broken,” Laquintano mused, “but if you think of all the big men who have been here over the last 60 years, and no one has broken them … I would think it will stand the test of time.”