One cannot mention Lehigh basketball without including the name of Mike Polaha in the same sentence. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native decided to play close to home and the result was the most glorious period in the school's basketball history. Two NCAA Tournament appearances, a school record 21 wins in 1987-88 and a combined 52 victories are only the start of the Polaha legend.
The only Lehigh player ever to score over 1,400 points and have more than 400 rebounds and assists, Polaha was the first basketball player in school history to be named captain three times. He set school records in three-point field goals and free throws in a game and is still second on the all-time scoring list. During the final two years of his career Polaha reached double figures in 53 of 57 games, scored 20 or more points 37 times and 30 or more points on six occasions.
His postseason award list is truly impressive. A 1988 Sporting News All-America selection, Polaha earned East Coast Conference First Team honors as a senior, second team honors as a sopho-more and junior and was named to the All-Rookie team as a freshman. Come crunch time, it was Polaha who led the pack becoming the first player in ECC history to be named tournament MVP on two occasions.
But despite the numbers, Polaha will be remembered for his part in some unbelievably fantastic finishes. It was his basket in overtime with 10 seconds left that gave Lehigh its first-ever ECC Championship with a win over Bucknell; the 1987 ECC quarter final double overtime game against Drexel when he set a then ECC record of 42 points; the 20 points he scored against Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Tournament game, when he was the only player to score 20 against the Hoyas the entire season; the 1987 game against Lafayette when he scored the final 13 points in a one-point Lehigh victory; and his 1984 performance against American where he scored 32 points, including the final 10, for a 74-70 quadruple overtime victory in the longest game in Lehigh history.
"Mike Polaha is the best guard that I have ever coached in 17 years of Division I basketball," former Lehigh Head Coach, Notre Dame Assistant, and current North Carolina Greensboro head coach Fran McCaffrey says. "Mike was one of the best clutch players I've ever been around. He was and continues to be a fine representative of Lehigh University. It was a pleasure to be associated with Mike and his family."
His statistics and performances resulted in his being invited to the Indiana Pacers training camp in 1988, but a knee injury limited his ability to perform. Still his number 24 is one of only two men's basketball numbers to have been honored (teammate Daren Queenan's is the other) by hanging it from the Stabler Arena rafters.
"Obviously I feel very honored to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is the culmination of a lot of effort and has brought me back in touch with some of the years I had for-gotten about," Polaha says. "From a purely athletic standpoint I will always remember playing on two championship teams. But most importantly I will remember the relationships I had with the coaching staff, my teammates and the Lehigh community."
Polaha graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's in finance. He and his wife Doreen reside in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania with their daughters Victoria and Rebecca. Polaha currently works as a senior consultant for KPMG Peat Marwick.