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Wichita State Shockers History

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Bob Lutz: This Shocker era shines as brightly as any

March 20 at 6:22 p.m.

Ernie Moore picked up the phone and, once he knew who was calling, he spoke the words so many have spoken this basketball season: “How ’bout them Shocks?”


Before Division I: The Shockers’ first steps

Recruiting for the first basketball team at Fairmount College in 1905 was more of a plea for players. “Everybody come out with the intention of being the star on the team,” physical education teacher Willis Bates wrote in the campus newspaper. “Come and bring someone with you.”

Six men have the distinction of being on that first team, which was 2-4 with victories over Mulvane High and the Hutchinson YMCA. By the 1920s, though, Fairmount (and later the University of Wichita) began to produce notable players.

Harold “Buddy” Reynolds, Harold Davis and Ross McBurney were star players during the decade, then the program really took off under coach Gene Johnson, who gets credit for developing a full-court zone press that was unheard of then but still in use today.


The era that Ralph built

University president Harry Corbin hired Ralph Miller away from East High in 1951. Miller convinced his star player, Cleo Littleton, to come with him and they created the first true buzz in Shocker basketball.

The Shockers played in the downtown Forum in those days. It was an aging, dilapidated venue where fans were on top of the action. Front-row spectators could stick their legs out and trip an opponent or official. So as the Shockers became must-viewing for fans, Corbin and WU set in place plans for an on-campus, state-of-the-art arena.


A rise to national prominence

Just like Gonzaga 2013 and Kansas 1981, the Shockers’ victory over Cincinnati on Feb. 16, 1963 at the Roundhouse was a landmark moment for the program. Cincinnati was No. 1 and the king of the Missouri Valley, but Wichita held the Bearcats without a basket for the final seven minutes. Legend in the making Dave Stallworth scored seven of his school-record 46 points in the last 3:10 and WU won 65-64. A statement victory.


One Valley title with Cheese

The aura of the 1965 Final Four had worn off by the start of the 1970s. Mired in consecutive eighth-place finishes, Gary Thompson was fired and Harry Miller was brought in.

Miller didn’t have much early success, finishing fifth in the Valley four straight years. But in 1975-76, a strong combination of a veteran point guard (Calvin Bruton), dominant center (Robert Elmore), scoring forward (Robert Gray) and freshman phenom (Cheese Johnson) led WSU to its first Valley title in 11 years. The Shockers lost in the NCAA’s first round on a Michigan shot in the final seconds.

Johnson became one of the most notable Shockers, and not just because of his name (Lynbert was his given first name, which sounded like “Limburger” to a relative). He’s one of five Shockers to lead the team in scoring three times (joining Cleo Littleton, Dave Stallworth, Cliff Levingston and Randy Burns), and was two-time All-Valley.

By 1978, flamboyant athletic director Ted Bredehoft had enough of Miller and looked east, to Normal, Ill., for his next coach. Gene Smithson sat in front of the microphones at Levitt Arena, and after he was introduced, explained an acronym that he lived by: MTXE.


Four letters that ignited a city

“MTXE” was the 1980s equivalent of “Play Angry.” Mental Toughness Xtra Effort became household words as Gene Smithson began to turn around Shocker basketball. MTXE was affixed to towels, T-shirts, jerseys, anything with yellow and black.

Things really turned upon the 1979 arrival of Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, quickly dubbed the “Bookend Forwards” and starters from Day 1. Combined with upperclassmen Randy Smithson and Tony Martin, and 6-foot-11 center Ozell Jones, they got WSU back into the national spotlight, even as an NCAA probation was keeping it out of the tournament for in 1982 and 1983.

Pick your memory: Randy Smithson falling backward as the game-sealing free throw goes in against Iowa, finishing a 15-point second-round comeback in a frenzied Roundhouse? Mike Jones’ 25-footer to beat Kansas five days later in the Superdome? Xavier McDaniel’s 43-point, 20-rebound performance in 1985 that showed Bradley coach Dick Versace his stats weren’t padded?


The decade to forget

The beginning of the fall into the abyss came on March 4, 1989. It was a Saturday night in Levitt Arena, and after a day of hosting quarterfinal games in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, it was Wichita State’s turn on the court, the second seed hosting seventh-seed Illinois State.

Eddie Fogler’s Shockers delivered a clunker, losing 66-61 and killing any NCAA Tournament at-large chances. Two weeks and a 1-1 NIT record later, Fogler left for Vanderbilt but left assistant Mike Cohen.


Three correct calls

For all of the wrong decisions of the 1990s, it turned around quickly in the early 2000s. New athletic director Jim Schaus fired Randy Smithson and brought in Mark Turgeon, who by his third season had WSU with 18 wins and third in the Valley.

Just as importantly, these now-winning Shockers were playing a season in the Kansas Coliseum while the Roundhouse was undergoing a Schaus-initiated $25 million renovation that again made it a college basketball jewel.

Turgeon began a string of three 20-win seasons – WSU’s first such streak since 1983 – that culminated in 2006 with the program’s first conference championship in 23 years. In the NCAA Tournament as a 7-seed, WSU dominated Seton Hall in the first round, then used big baskets from Karon Bradley and P.J. Couisnard to beat 2-seed Tennessee 80-73 to reach its first Sweet 16 since 1981.


Already the Shockers’ greatest decade

By Gregg Marshall’s third season, an identity was being built with Shocker basketball. Tough, tenacious defense. Winning the rebound battle nearly every single game. Enough offense to win, but spread around so much that no one player could be keyed on by opponents.

It has led to many memorable moments, most of them in the postseason. In 2011, the Shockers’ second straight NIT visit turned into a Garden party – five straight wins for the program’s first NIT championship, beating Washington State in the semifinals and Alabama in the Madison Square Garden final.


A year etched in history

It’s safe to say we all thought this was going to be a great Shocker basketball season. The combination of a Final Four buzz, so many returning players and a Missouri Valley Conference that didn’t figure to stand up to the Shockers much led to high hopes — probably the highest hopes since Antoine and Cliff, X and Aubrey.

But unbeaten? In March? C’mon, that’s storybook stuff.

Historical photos

Shocker quiz RSS

20 questions to test your inner Shockerness

March 20 at 6:22 p.m.

If you’re new to Shocker basketball, you won’t be able to correctly answer many of these. If you think Jamar Howard played in the old days, this quiz is probably not for you, either.

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