Bob Lutz

Valley's greats won't be forgotten

ST. LOUIS — For me, the beauty of basketball is about the players.

There is no other sport that displays the grace, agility and raw athleticism of its athletes more than hoops. And every time I come to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, I think about years gone by in the Valley. About the players I've seen.

The MVC was once referred to as "The Valley of Death," long before the six BCS conferences puts their stranglehold on college sports. The Valley was college basketball for three decades, the most powerful league in America.

The All-MVC team was announced this week and it rightly includes Wichita State point guard Clevin Hannah. He's the 25th Shocker to be chosen to the All-Valley team since Cleo Littleton made the first of his four appearances in 1952.

Littleton is the only Wichita State player to be chosen to four All-Valley teams.

Dave Stallworth, Warren Armstrong, Xavier McDaniel and Robert Elmore all were chosen to three. Did you know Elmore is not in the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame?

Cheap dig, sorry.

Hannah is the first Shocker player of the decade (what is this decade called, anyway?) to be chosen, obviously.

There were three in the last decade: Jason Perez (2000), Jamar Howard (2003-04) and Paul Miller (2006 Valley player of the year).

It won't surprise you to know that no Shockers made an All-Valley team during the 1990s. No Shocker deserved to make an All-Valley team during the 1990s. Every Shocker fan probably would like for the 1990s to be stricken from the record book.

The 1980s were better. Way better.

Cliff Levingston (1981-82) and Antoine Carr (1982-83) were two-time All-Valley forwards. Steve Grayer and Sasha Radunovich made the team while playing for Eddie Fogler in the late 1980s. And McDaniel, who once led the country in scoring and rebounding, was the Valley's player of the decade, with apologies to Bradley guard Hersey Hawkins, the conference's all-time leading scorer with 3,008 points. Some guys named Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird rank second and third.

McDaniel, though, is the Valley's No. 8 scorer and No. 2 rebounder, behind only former Louisville center Wesley Unseld.

The Valley was at its best during the 1960s and 1970s, and that's when Wichita State produced some of its greatest players: Ron Heller, Gene Wiley, Nate Bowman, Dave Leach, Stallworth, Kelly Pete, Jamie Thompson, Armstrong, Greg Carney, Terry Benton, Bob Wilson, Rich Morsden, Elmore and Cheese Johnson.

Wichita State's All-Valley players from the 1950s were Littleton and Joe Stevens, a slick guard who made the team in 1957.

The Valley was so thick with great players that from 1962 through 1975, the conference picked 10 to the first team. That's a cop out, and thankfully the MVC has stuck to picking a first and second team for the past 35 years.

The deeper you go in the Valley's annals, the more recognizable are the names.

Robertson and Bird are two of the greatest players in basketball history and Unseld, still far and away the Valley's No. 1 rebounder, is with them in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

So are former Oklahoma A&M standout Bob Kurland in the 1950s and Ed Macauley, a star at Saint Louis a decade earlier.

My goal in writing this column was to pick All-Valley teams from each decade. Hours later, I'm still debating. It's much more difficult than I anticipated.

Since I'm one who always tries to reach my goals, I'm plowing forward. But I'm going to start with the 1960s, a decade with which I'm familiar.

And I'm only picking five players per decade. No cop outs here. Basketball is played with five guys on the floor, not six. And certainly not 10.

So, here goes:

1960s — Chet Walker, Bradley; Dave Stallworth, Wichita State; Wes Unseld, Louisville; Paul Hogue, Cincinnati; Warren Armstrong, Wichita State. Other candidates: Ron Bonham, George Wilson, Jim Ard, Rick Roberson and Tom Thacker, Cincinnati; Joe Allen, Bradley; Gene Wiley, Jamie Thompson and Kelly Pete, Wichita State; Butch Beard, Louisville; Willie McCarter, Drake.

(Note: Yes, I'm partial to Armstrong. Yes, he's one of my all-time favorite players.)

1970s — Larry Bird, Indiana State; Junior Bridgeman, Louisville; Larry Kenon, Memphis State; Larry Finch, Memphis State; Roger Phegley, Bradley. Other candidates: Robert Elmore, Cheese Johnson and Terry Benton, Wichita State; Willie Biles, Tulsa; Jim Price, Louisville; John Williamson, New Mexico State; Ron Robinson, Memphis State.

1980s — Paul Pressey, Tulsa; Xavier McDaniel, Wichita State; Hersey Hawkins, Bradley; Antoine Carr, Wichita State; Lewis Lloyd, Drake. Other candidates: Cliff Levingston, Wichita State; Steve Harris, Tulsa; Mitchell Anderson, Bradley; Benoit Benjamin, Creighton; Allen Murphy, Louisville; John Sherman Williams, Indiana State; Melvin Mathis, Drake.

(Note: This was a really tough decade. How do you leave off Levingston, Harris and Anderson? Because you have Carr, Pressey and Hawkins, that's how.)

1990s — Bob Harstad, Creighton; Anthony Parker, Bradley; Ashraf Amaya, Southern Illinois; Marcus Wilson, Evansville; Rodney Buford, Creighton. Other candidates: Chad Gallagher, Creighton; Johnny Murdock and Danny Moore, Missouri State; Shea Seals, Tulsa; Chris Carr, Southern Illinois; Marcus Timmons, Southern Illinois.

2000s — Kyle Korver, Creighton; Nate Funk, Creighton; Darren Brooks, Southern Illinois; Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois; Kent Williams, Southern Illinois. Other candidates: Jamar Howard and Paul Miller, Wichita State; Ben Jacobsen, Northern Iowa; Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State; Adam Koch, Northern Iowa; Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley.

Thanks, that was fun. There are sure to be disagreements. But like I told you when I started this column, it's about the players.