Friday, October 7, 2011

Once upon a time, hoops was the undisputed king

       Given the success of football at Marshall in the 1990s, it might be hard to believe that there was a time when a sport other than football was the centerpiece for Thundering Herd athletics.
       The 1990s was a golden era. It was a decade in which Marshall won more football games than any other college in America. During that stretch, the Herd won a couple of national championships and a fair share of bowl games.
Russell Lee
       Even so, there was a time – back in the day – when basketball was king. In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Marshall was a beast on the hardwood. The Herd made back-to-back appearances in the National Invitational Tournament, and got as far as the semifinal round in ‘68. Playing in the NIT was a big deal in those days. It was known as the crown jewel of basketball tournaments. The NCAA Tournament had not attained the status it has today as the showcase event for college hoops.
       Football, by contrast, struggled to keep its head above water. For the most part, Herd football during the ‘60s, ‘70s and half of the ‘80s was known for futility, frustration and defeat.
       Now that you’ve been brought up to speed on that bit of MU sports history, let’s punch the rewind button on the DVD machine and go back to the 1971-72 basketball season when Marshall went 23-4 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
       The Herd ranked as high as eighth in the national polls, and finished up No. 12 in the country in final poll – the highest ever ranking for Marshall hoops. The season ended in a disappointing 112-101 loss to Southwest Louisiana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The ’71-’72 team is arguably MU’s best. Some will beg to differ and point to Cam Henderson’s ’47 squad that won 32 games and the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament, which is the school’s only national championship in basketball. The NAIB is more like today’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
       The Herd has its share of blue-chippers on the ’71-’72 squad who left their mark. Some are still at the top of the list in the MU record books
  • Mike D’Antoni – Smooth point guard holds the school’s single-season record for assists (241). He played four seasons with the NBA’s Kansas City Kings before going to Europe where he attained icon status as a championship-winning player and coach in the Italian League. D’Antoni is the head coach of the New York Knicks and before that, he was the coach for the Phoenix Suns.
  • Russell Lee – Named All-American in ’72. Backcourt ace played out of position as a center at 6-feet-5 inches. Drafted No. 1 by the Milwaukee Bucks in the ’72 NBA Draft. Here’s an interesting side bar note about that year’s draft. The Bucks had two No. 1 picks that year. They chose Lee over a player from the University of Massachusetts – Julius Erving, who became the legendary Doctor J. Erving didn’t sign with Milwaukee. He opted to sign with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. Lee played with the Bucks and the New Orleans Jazz during a three-season career.
  • Tyrone Collins – Exceptional mid-range shooter had a football linebacker’s physique (6-feet-3 inches, 218 pounds). Collins, a swing player, delivered instant offense coming off the bench. He’s the most accurate shooter to ever wear a Marshall uniform. During his varsity career (’70-’73), Collins shot an eye-popping 58.7 percent from the field. That’s an outstanding percentage when you consider that Collins was not a low-post player who scored most of his points in the paint.


  1. Of course Marshall's legacy began with a local boy crossed the 'color line' to play basketball at MU - That was Hal Grear, who went on to play professional basketball in the NBA. Huntington renamed 16th Street, the street that connected the black community with Marshall, as Hal Grear Boulevard.

    The backbone of the team that took MU to the NIT back to back in in 1967 and 1968 included the dynamic duo of Bob Redd and George Stone. Stone set a NIT scoring record a 46 point single game performance in the tournament! Dan D'Antoni (Mike's older brother) was a part of that team as well.

    Marshall nearly pulled off an upset in Marquette's Holiday Classic with D'Antoni and Lee. A victory would have ended the home team' 96 game winning streak. I remember their coach, Al McGuire, calling MU 'hillbillies' in the near 'photo finish' with Marquette barely squeaking by!

    Marshall had back to back appearances in urge NCAA regionals with D'Antoni and Lee. Ironically, one of MU's defeats was at the hands of Southwest
    Louisiana, with a hot talent-Dwight Lamarr. He had been recruited by Marshall but the ejection from the MAC in 1969 throw threw that out the window.

    The basketball team's success gave us much relief at Marshall to assuage our pain in the aftermath of the 1970 Crash. Several of the team were walk-ons for the Young Thundering Herd. Rick Turnbow was featured in the documentary "Remembering Marshall". Bernard Bradshaw got saved and served faithfully until being killed in a freak accident when a boulder fell upon his car. He is interred at the MU Memorial next to the fallen players, a worthy tribute to this humble man.

  2. Believe that!

  3. I didn’t know that. Thanks for the lesson.

  4. This is an excellent addition. It brought back many memories for me. Thanks for all you do.

  5. FAN-tastic piece…... almost as if I was there (and I WAS)! See ya next week!