Scoring defined college basketball in the 1970s and former Wichita State coach Harry Miller kept the Shockers up with the trends.
Miller, 86, died Wednesday in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he coached Stephen F. Austin from 1978-88. Miller coached the Shockers from 1971-78, when his fast-paced motion offense fit the times and produced scoring stars.
“He was a great X-and-O guy,” said long-time friend Al Spector, a former WSU student who remained close to Miller and his family. “His record with offensive basketball is beyond reproach. It just flowed.”
NCAA teams reached a high by averaging 77.7 points in 1971-72, Miller’s first at WSU. That national average stayed at 74 or better until dropping below 70 in 1982 and staying there the next five seasons. Miller’s debut team averaged 76.6 points — without a shot clock or three-point line — and made 48.9 percent of its shots, then a high mark for the program in its Division I history. Since then, six WSU teams made a higher percentage.
His 1972-73 went for 81.5 a game, fifth-highest in program history. During his seven seasons, he coached seven of WSU’s 41 1,000-point scorers and three players who rank in the top 10 for career scoring average.
His time at WSU peaked in 1976, when the Shockers won the Missouri Valley Conference title and swept into the NCAA Tournament with 10 wins in 11 games. The season ended with a 74-73 loss to Michigan in the first round, a loss that scars long-time fans. Michigan finished as the national runner-up, losing to Indiana.
“That team was clicking like a team that was on a serious, serious roll,” Spector said. “It’s my belief that team would have been headed for greatness and could have ultimately changed Harry’s stay in Wichita.”
Instead, Miller’s time at WSU ended badly. Athletic director Ted Bredehoft fired him after a 13-14 record in 1977-78. NCAA violations on his watch contributed to WSU’s probation in the 1980s under coach Gene Smithson.
Miller found a more welcoming home at Stephen F. Austin.
“He didn’t talk a whole lot about his time in Wichita,” said Stephen F. Austin athletic director Robert Hill, the school’s radio play-by-play announcer when Miller arrived. “He was disappointed about how it all worked out.”
Miller guided Stephen F. Austin from the NAIA to the NCAA Division II and into Division I. He went to the NAIA and Division II national tournaments before putting the Lumberjacks in the 1987 NIT in its first season at the highest level. Hill said Miller’s experience made him the perfect coach for those transitions. He won the 1969 NAIA title at Eastern New Mexico and also coached at Fresno State and North Texas before WSU and Stephen F. Austin.
Miller adjusted his offense, playing more patiently to compensate for his talent. Even at a slower pace, it worked. Current Lumberjacks coach Danny Kaspar spent three seasons as an assistant under Miller and uses the motion offense.
“(Miller) was such a great floor coach,” Hill said. “In tight games, I would just chuckle because I knew he would out-coach the other guy on the bench.”
Miller went 97-90 at WSU, where he ranks fifth in career wins. He went 170-112 at Stephen F. Austin and 534-374 for his career at six schools.
“He was all basketball,” Hill said. “He was kind of gruff and growly to be around sometimes, but it was just an act. Over the last couple months, so many players came back to visit with him. He had a bond built with his players.”
Services for Miller are Monday in Nacogdoches. He is survived by wife Tillie and sons Bob, Tom and Gary.
An official might be wondering what people want at the end of a tight game. Simple — find the perfect blend of enforcement and discretion. Every time. Without checking the replay over and over.
The MVC is telling officials to get it right, erring on the side of swallowing whistles on close calls.
Coaches seem to agree.
“I just don’t want situations where players are not deciding who wins the game,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “In that vein, the next time that’s not the case, I feel pretty good the odds are with us.”
Bradley coach Geno Ford said the final seconds are the time when the strong survive, regardless of intervention by the officials.
“You’ve got to go in (the lane) and you’ve got to finish,” Ford said. “I don’t have a big problem when officials don’t call a lot of things late in the game. I kind of like them to let the players make the plays. They build weight rooms on all these campuses for a reason. You’ve got to get in there and be strong and able to take contact and finish.”
Coaches also want consistency.
“I think the entire 40 minutes should be officiated the same,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Any play can impact the outcome of the game, whether it’s the first play of the game or the last play of the game. I would like to think that we’ve got experienced enough officials in our conference that understand that and call the game accordingly.”
The Shockers usually fly home after each game. Instead, they will spend Sunday night in Normal, Ill., and bus to Terre Haute, Ind., for a practice on Monday.
MVC commissioner Doug Elgin let Marshall choose between Tuesday or Wednesday. Marshall chose Tuesday to simplify travel plans. Since WSU played both teams earlier in the season, scouting reports are easier to implement in the rematch.
“You do have two less flights,” he said. “And you’re going to have to play back-to-back-to-back in St. Louis (in the MVC Tournament) ultimately, if you’re fortunate to get that far, so it will be good to get back in that type of routine.”
The top three runners in that race rank 1-2-3 in the world for the fastest time this indoor season. Iowa State’s Betsy Saina won with a time of 15 minutes, 21.66 seconds. Tuliamuk-Bolton finished at 15:25.47, followed by professional Diane Nukuri-Johnson at 15:41.75.
Tuliamuk-Bolton’s time represents the fifth-fastest in NCAA history. She also broke her own MVC and WSU records in the event (15:36.53).
Most of the Shockers rested this weekend in preparation for the MVC indoor meet, which begin Friday in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The WSU women are No. 20 nationally in computer rankings compiled by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.