I wasn’t born the last time McPherson College won a KCAC men’s regular-season championship. And not a lot of things happened before I was born. Trust me.
It was 67 years ago, in fact, that the Bulldogs had won their most recent conference title. But that changed last week, when McPherson put on a KCAC crown for the first time since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, wrapping up a 16-2 conference season to win by a game over St. Mary.
The Bulldogs continued their roll Thursday night, defeating Bethany 76-68 in the quarterfinals of the KCAC Tournament, and are 28-3 and ranked fifth in the country.
This team has been simmering during Tim Swartzendruber’s four years as coach. It wasn’t until McPherson College took on a McPherson High flavor that the Bulldogs blew the roof off the place.
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“One of the things I did after I took this position was to make a real concerted effort to reach out to the McPherson kids and to try and get them interested in coming here to college,’’ Swarzendruber said.
It was a tough sell.
The high school Bullpups play at the Roundhouse, one of the legendary basketball venues in the state. They draw huge crowds and play for state titles. That’s never been the case for McPherson College.
But when former Bullpups Aaron Frazier, Adam Brunner and twins Jordan and Chris Crawford decided to transfer to McPherson from respective junior colleges and small colleges, the Bulldogs began to snarl.
“We had all stayed kind of close to the area at junior colleges,’’ said Frazier, a senior who scores 17.7 points per game. “And we decided we all wanted to play together. In high school we were on a (2007) team that finished second in state to (Topeka) Highland Park. And that was a bad feeling. We wanted to get back together and try to get a championship.”
The four McPherson natives combine to average 45.6 points per game. Jordan and Chris Crawford are the Bulldogs’ top two rebounders.
“The college hasn’t always been known for basketball,’’ Frazier said. “But a lot more people are talking about it now.”
McPherson has only four non-Kansans on its roster. One of them, sophomore guard Samson Shivers, from Houston, leads the team in minutes played and averages 15.8 points.
But it’s the quartet of kids who grew up within a few blocks of the college campus who have made the biggest difference.
“We all kind of left high school and did our own thing for a while,” Chris Crawford said. “Being able to come back together and do something together has been a really neat experience. McPherson is a huge basketball town, especially for the high school. When we were growing up, you could drive around town and see a basketball goal in the driveway of just about every house.”
Yet the college was unable to attract much basketball attention. It was all going to the high school teams, boys and girls.
A big name in McPherson basketball, Kurt Kinnamon, is thrilled to see his alma mater performing so well. He also happens to be the McPherson High boys coach.
“It’s been awesome to see,” Kinnamon said. “And it’s even more fun when you go to the games and there are four Mac High kids on the floor at the same time.”
Kinnamon graduated from McPherson College in 1987 and is glad the Bulldogs are finally reaping some of the basketball rewards he’s become accustomed to at the high school.
“Good basketball breeds good basketball,” he said. “A lot of times, our high school players will be at the college watching their games. It’s good to see Tim at our games and recruiting our kids. It’s a very good relationship that we have. Tim’s daughter, Taylor, is our basketball manager.”
McPherson won 41 games the previous two seasons and was 13-5 in the KCAC in 2009-10 and played in the NAIA national tournament. But this season’s team, Swartzendruber believes, is special. In fact, there’s a buzz across the athletics spectrum.
“It’s not been just basketball here,” Swartzendruber said. “Our football team captured a KCAC championship in 2010 and went undefeated. That was the first football championship since 1952.”
Still, basketball is what matters most in McPherson. It’s a basketball town. Maybe even the basketball town in Kansas.
Most of that reputation is based on the success of the Bullpups. Even though their mother graduated from McPherson College and their grandmother worked at the school, neither Chris nor Jordan Crawford gave much thought to playing basketball there.
“No, not really,” Chris said. “Playing in the Roundhouse, that was one of the coolest gyms in the state of Kansas. But we’ve had great support here at the college now in our gym. They’ve renovoated it in the past year or so and there’s a lot of cool stuff.”
For years, it was impossible to find a McPherson kid’s name on the McPherson college basketball roster.
It wasn’t cool to stay home to go to school. But it’s cool to come back.