1970s: One Valley title with Cheese

03/04/2014 3:59 PM

08/06/2014 10:09 AM

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.

Season Overall MVC (Finish) Coach Top scorer
1969-70 8-18 3-13 (8th) Gary Thompson Greg Carney (23.2)
1970-71 10-16 3-11 (8th) Gary Thompson Ron Harris (18.7)
1971-72 16-10 6-8 (5th) Harry Miller Ron Harris (18.3)
1972-73 10-16 6-8 (T5th) Harry Miller Bob Wilson (17.6)
1973-74 11-15 6-7 (5th) Harry Miller Bob Wilson (20.0)
1974-75 11-15 6-8 (5th) Harry Miller Calvin Bruton (13.7)
1975-76 18-10* 10-2 (1st) Harry Miller Robert Gray (13.3)
1976-77 18-10 7-5 (T3rd) Harry Miller Cheese Johnson (17.1)
1977-78 13-14 8-8 (T5th) Harry Miller Cheese Johnson (19.0)
1978-79 14-14 8-8 (T3rd) Gene Smithson Cheese Johnson (22.2)

* – NCAA Tournament

Player Ht. Pos.
Terry Benton 6-8 C
Calvin Bruton 5-9 G
Robert Elmore 6-10 C
Ron Harris 6-6 F
Cheese Johnson 6-5 F
Off the bench
Charlie Brent 6-4 F
Preston Carrington 6-1 G
Robert Gray 6-6 F
Steve Kalocinski 6-6 C
Richard Morsden 6-4 F
Ray Shirley 6-7 F
Vince Smith 6-4 G
Bob Trogele 6-3 G
Bob Wilson 6-2 G

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