Here in Big Ten country, Missouri Valley Conference schools don’t get much respect. Not since 1979, when Larry Bird led Indiana State to the NCAA championship game against Michigan State and Magic Johnson, has a Valley team made it this far.
But now they are in the Big Dance, the Final Four. The Shockers took out 1 and 2 seeds Gonzaga and Ohio State. The Hoosiers are out. My favorite, the Kansas Jayhawks were embarrassed by Michigan when they had the game won and let it get away.
But the Shockers are going to Atlanta.
My wife and one of my daughters are graduates of Wichita State University. I pastored a church for 18 years that meets just a mile from the edge of the WSU campus. But my history with Shocker basketball goes back to the Sixties when I listened to Rick Weaver announce games on KFH radio. Ranked #1 for a time in the fall of 1964, the Shocks were led by all-American Dave Stallworth, competing in the old Valley against Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis, a power conference of that era.
But the 1964/1965 season was a strange one. Inexplicably, the 6’7″ Stallworth, who average 24 points per game, started his college career at semester break in 1962, which meant his eligibility ran out in the middle of the season in 1965. To make it worse, 6’10” Nate Bowman was declared academically ineligible, leaving 6’5″ small forward Dave Leach as the largest man on the team. Stallworth and Bowman were drafted #3 and #7 respectively in the NBA draft that year.
The Shockers were depleted; not much chance for any post season honors. But the little team never gave up. They won the Mid West regional and went to the Final Four in Portland, where the Fairy Tale ended. Johnny Wooden’s UCLA Bruins took them out in the semis. And in those days, they played a consolation game the night of the finals. Future Senator Bill Bradley scored 58 points as Princeton beat WSU by 36.
Now, 48 years later, Atlanta. The team is at its strongest point of the season as injured players have returned. No one expects them to compete with Louisville on Saturday. But no one thought they could beat Gonzaga or Ohio State either.
What’s the point? Just reminiscing…and dreaming. Go Shocks!