Drake hits century mark

By RICK BROWN
REGISTER STAFF WRITER

February 7, 2006

 


Drake basketball was born on a piece of campus ground near the Cowles Library, 500 footsteps from the front door of the Knapp Center.

There, in a building nicknamed "the Shed,'' Drake's hoops history started with a game against the Des Moines Baptists on Jan. 26, 1907.

Paul Morrison thinks his father, Marion, was at that inaugural game.

"I'm just sure of it,'' Morrison said.

Marion Morrison met his future wife, Leonta, when they were freshmen at Drake in 1902. Their son, Paul, came to Drake as a freshman in the fall of 1935.

Paul Morrison is now in his eighth decade of following Drake basketball, which celebrates its centennial season this weekend. The school's all-decade team will be revealed at a dinner Friday and introduced at halftime of Saturday's 7:05 p.m. game against Evansville.

The first game Morrison attended was Dec. 10, 1935, when Drake opened the season with a 51-18 victory over Simpson in Drake Fieldhouse.

"When I was a student, we won a couple of conference championships under Bill Williams,'' Morrison said.

Morrison, 88, has been watching ever since. He's been employed by Drake for 60 years in a variety of roles, from director of the university's news bureau to business manager to sports information director and now historian.

Drake basketball in a nutshell?

"Ups and the downs,'' Morrison said.

From "the Shed'' to Red Murrell, a 23-game losing streak to a Final Four appearance in 1969, Drake basketball has seen it all.

Morrison still travels with the team, and keeps Drake's official scorebook home and away.

"I just love it,'' he said.

The seven decades Morrison has watched, and the three he missed, have left a lasting legacy.

1907 to 1909-10
The following one-paragraph story appeared at the bottom of the sports page in the Jan. 26, 1907, Des Moines Register and Leader:

"Drake university plays the Des Moines college basketball team at the latter's new gymnasium tonight. Both teams have been in the field but a short time but the game is expected to be bitterly contested.''

The Bulldogs beat the Baptists 36-17.

"Twenty-minute halves were played and the game was fast from start to finish,'' the Register and Leader reported.

1910 to 1920
When Drake hosted the Des Moines Baptists in the season-opener Jan. 6, 1912, it also welcomed the inventor of basketball to campus.

James Naismith was on hand in what was dubbed the "laboratory game.'' Naismith was joined by coaches and officials from other Missouri Valley Conference schools. The purpose of the gathering was to reach a uniform method of interpreting the rules that Naismith said would let the game be played as he envisioned it.

"I am emphatically in favor of a fast, open game in which skill will count more than strength and in which the risk of injury is reduced to a minimum if not entirely eliminated,'' Naismith told the Register and Leader. "I believe that no player should dribble the ball when it is possible to pass to a teammate.''

Naismith also said that as long as the rules of the game were agreed on by both sides, "the official should interpret them to the letter.''

Drake won the game 28-26.

"Every man who wore the blue played hard and fast at all times, but the Bulldogs lacked accuracy in attempting to make free throws,'' the newspaper reported.

1920-30
Drake Fieldhouse still stands at the corner of 27th Street and Forest Avenue a magnet for memories.

It was built for $250,000, a drop in the bucket compared to contracts of today's big-name college coaches.

One of the game's great names, Phog Allen, brought his Kansas team to town to play Drake in the inaugural contest at the fieldhouse Jan. 4, 1927. A sellout crowd of 5,000, including Iowa Gov. John Hammill, watched the Jayhawks prevail 27-13.

"The weight and ranginess of the rugged Kansans was enough in itself to put Drake under a big disadvantage, but the polished passing, the accurate basket shooting and the airtight defense of the invaders made it apparent from the start that the Jayhawks were the masters,'' wrote Bert McGrane in The Des Moines Register.

The Drake men left the fieldhouse for Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1957. The last men's game played in the fieldhouse was a first-round Valley playoff game against Southern Illinois in 1987 when the auditorium wasn't available.

1930-40
Color was a problem when Iowa visited Drake on Jan. 28, 1935.

Both teams took the floor wearing white uniforms. The game was delayed while the Bulldogs switched to blue.

Then the game was played in a fog. The no-smoking ban in Drake Fieldhouse was ignored.

"A crowd of almost 4,000 persons saw a game which was played in a murky atmosphere which handicapped the players considerably,'' wrote the Register's Sec Taylor.

The Bulldogs upset Iowa 45-25 after Drake's Frank Smith got hot in the second half.

Taylor wrote that Smith "made a series of sensational and in some cases 'unconscious shots' on his way to a career-high 14 points.''

Taylor added that Iowa's shooters didn't possess the deft touch Smith did on this day. "This was especially true of Ivan Blackmer, who put the casaba in the barrel several times only to have it fall out.''

Drake went on to share a piece of its first Valley title that season, and Chuck Orebaugh was a first-team all-conference selection. Orebaugh, a native of Des Moines, led Drake to another title the next season. He became Drake's first all-American and a three-time all-Valley selection.

1940-50
Oklahoma A&M was the power in college basketball in the 1940s under Henry Iba.

The Aggies won the NCAA title in 1945 and 1946, and came to Drake for a game on Feb. 7, 1947, with the awe that follows Duke today.

But the Bulldogs used the deadeye shooting of John Pritchard and Gene Ollrich and sticky defense to post a 42-34 victory. It snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Aggies.

Pritchard and Ollrich made seven field goals each for the Bulldogs. The Oklahoma A&M team managed just 10. And only four of them came in the second half against a defense led by Bill Evans.

The Register's McGrane wrote that Evans "dogged the Aggies relentlessly, and snatched passes with lightning darts into the path of the ball.''

Evans was a second team all-Valley selection that season as a sophomore and a first-teamer his last two seasons.

1950-60
Houston coach Guy Lewis had a plan.

He'd let Red Murrell score his 30 points, limit the rest of the Bulldogs and leave Drake Fieldhouse with a victory March 3, 1958.

But Murrell made the final game of his Drake career a memorable one, scoring a school-record 51 points in an 88-87 overtime victory.

Murrell provided the winning basket with 27 seconds to play, two of the 10 points he scored in overtime.

"It was a special night, my senior night,'' said Murrell, 72, who lives in Bartlesville, Okla.

Murrell's number was retired after the game. His overtime flurry let him tie his own single-game school record of 20 field goals. He still is Drake's career scoring leader with 1,657 points.

"Our strategy was to hold the rest of the Drake shooters to their minimum, so Red's 30 or so wouldn't hurt,'' Lewis said. "But, my gosh - 51 points.''

Lewis called Murrell's performance the best exhibition of shooting he had seen.

"When the redhead cut loose, it was like shooting squirrels between the eyes,'' Lewis said.

1960-70
Dolph Pulliam has heard it, time and again, from people who come to the Knapp Center.

They look at the rafters, where banners represent the school's basketball history.

"They feel as if something is missing,'' Pulliam said.

Two numbers hang among the banners for the men's program, the No. 33 of Red Murrell and the No. 30 of Lewis Lloyd.

There is also a banner honoring the school's 1969 Final Four team. But there's been discussion for years to retire the numbers of three key figures on the Final Four team - Pulliam's No. 5, the No. 15 of Willie McCarter and the No. 42 of Willie Wise.

"I would like to see it happen,'' Pulliam said.

The 1968-69 team is regarded as the greatest in school history.

"There are some great individuals hanging there right now,'' Pulliam said. "This was a great team. It was Maury John's team that went to the Final Four. People say Pulliam, McCarter and Wise should be there. And I agree. But it's not my decision to make.''

If it does happen, Pulliam hopes he, McCarter and Wise are still around to enjoy it.

"You'd like to get accolades for something you accomplished while you are living,'' Pulliam said. "You'd like to smell the roses. We're not getting any younger.''

1970-80
Wayne Kreklow took good shots. And he took bad shots. It didn't matter.

"It was just one of those nights when everything I threw at the basket went in,'' Kreklow said after making 19-of-22 from the field and scoring 42 points in a 109-91 victory over Memphis State on Dec. 15, 1978.

Shot selection became a moot point.

"I shot a few that I might not have shot on other nights, but I was hot and so I shot them,'' Kreklow said.

Now the volleyball coach at Missouri, Kreklow's 43 points is tied for fourth on Drake's single-game scoring list. Kreklow's shooting touch helped Jeff Hill get 15 assists, which still shares the school record. Kreklow's 86-percent shooting was another single-game record.

Kreklow went on to score 1,471 career points, sixth on Drake's all-time list. He had a brief NBA career, playing for the Boston Celtics' 1981 NBA title team.

1980-90
It was a game that Pop Wright will not soon forget.

"A lot of people say it was one of the most memorable games in Drake basketball history,'' Wright said of the Bulldogs' 107-87 victory over Tulsa on Feb. 21, 1981.

Lewis Lloyd, whose number was retired before the game, scored 37 points. But he was upstaged by Wright, who scored 39.

"Any time you scored more than Lewis Lloyd in a game, that was pretty good,'' said Wright, who runs Positive Outreach Program in Des Moines.

Lloyd made 14-of-20 shots from the field, and 9-of-10 free throws, to go with 11 rebounds against a team that would go on to win the NIT. But Wright topped him, making 18-of-29 shots and 3-of-4 free throws.

"I hope I never have to watch that Pop Wright shoot like that again,'' Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson said.

As Wright works to keep the youth of Des Moines off drugs, the Tulsa game is brought up time and again.

"One thing I can say about the Des Moines fans, they have never forgotten me,'' Wright said.

1990-2000
The 1994-95 season was off to a 1-5 start. B.J. Windhorst knew a loss to San Diego on Dec. 29 would make the trip to New Orleans the next morning a miserable experience.

"I just remember thinking, 'We can't lose,' " said Windhorst, now the boys' basketball coach at Southeast Polk.

Windhorst had just two points in the first half. Teammate Lynnrick Rogers kept Drake in the game with 20 points over the first 20 minutes.

And then history took over. Windhorst scored Drake's final 26 points over the last 9:29, including the winning free throw with 2.2 seconds left in the Bulldogs' 99-98 win.

"One of my teammates, Kevin Bennett, said to me, 'Do you know what you just did?' " Windhorst said. "I hadn't realized it.''

Windhorst's fast finish included seven consecutive 3-pointers.

"I remember my dad and a friend of mine were in town,'' Windhorst said. "I remember looking up at them when I hit the seventh one in a row, and I started shaking my head. The place was going crazy. It was a great feeling.''

2000-present
Drake coach Tom Davis enjoys a great bounce pass more than a spectacular dunk. But there's a time and a place for everything.

Nick Grant made a definitive second-half dunk over Wichita State's Adam Liberty that sealed a victory for Drake.

The Bulldogs went on to an improbable 71-60 road victory on Jan. 3, 2004, against a Shockers team that had been picked to win the Valley title.

"That one made a statement,'' Davis said of Grant's dunk.

When Drake hosts Illinois State today at the Knapp Center, Davis will be trying to make a statement of his own. He's in his third year of trying to rebuild a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1986-87.

Drake enters today's game 11-13, playing a schedule deemed the toughest in the Valley on several computer rankings.

"I share with my team that there are many people who feel this is as good a team as Drake has had in the last 20 years,'' Davis said. "I don't know for sure, but it's a thought. I don't think the players understand how far they've come.''