The Harry Miller era (1971-78)

Harry Miller, the records show,was a decent basketball coach at Wichita State. His record was 97-90 in seven seasons. He won one Missouri Valley Conference and went to one NCAA Tournament.

Former Wichita State basketball coach Harry Miller.

Beyond all of that, though, Miller coached exciting teams with talented offensive players. Because of Miller’s great mind for offense, Wichita State produced some of its finest scorers in history during his tenure. I don’t think the ’70s get their due in Shocker lore, in fact.

Miller, who died Wednesday at the age of 86 in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he had been in an assisted-living facilty for the past several years.

“He was a hell of an X and O coach,” said Wichitan Art Louvar, who played for Miller during his first season seasons as WSU’s coach in 1971-72 and 1972-73. “He knew what to do against anything. We had a couple of zone offenses and two man-to-man offenses. If somebody threw something at us, we knew what to do.”

It shows in the way the Shockers were able to score points under Miller. On the other hand, his lackluster approach to defense was also apparent.

During his seven seasons, there were 13 games in which the Shockers (9) or their opponent (4) scored 100 or more points. As a barometer, there have been only 13 such games in the past 30 seasons of WSU basketball.

Under Miller, Wichita State produced 18 players who averaged 12 or more points in a season and 11 who averaged 15 or more.

During the mostly-successful Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall coaching eras, dating to the 2000-01 season, the Shockers have had only one player who has averaged 15-plus points – Randy Burns (15.1 ppg) in 2002-03.

Seven of Wichita State’s 1,000-point scorers played at least part of their careers for Miller, including Cheese Johnson, Ron Harris, Cal Bruton, Vince Smith, Bob Trogele and Terry Benton.

“Back in those days, Harry tried to fit the team to his offense,” said Smith, a former Shocker guard who averaged 15.1 points during his career and has lived in Omaha the past 25 years while working for Union Pacific Railroad, a job from which he recently retired. “I enjoyed playing for him. He loosened the reins for me at times and at other times I kind of loosened them for myself.”

Miller was a gruff man and not always media-friendly. I was around him only a few times, but he could also be a great story teller when the mood struck him. He coached in a tough Missouri Valley Conference, but was able to have a shining moment in 1975-76 when the Shockers made it to the NCAA Tournament before losing a heartbreaker in the first round to Michigan and finished 18-10.

That Shocker team included an outstanding starting lineup of Johnson and Robert Gray at forwards, Elmore at center and Bruton and Trogele at the guards. Seniors Neil Strom and Doug Yoder came off the bench, as did freshman Charlie Brent..

All but Gray returned in 1976-77, when the Shockers were again 18-10. But some issues with the NCAA and a decline to 13-14 in 1977-78 led to Miller’s dismissal. He went on to coach at Stephen F. Austin, where his teams were 170-112 from 1978-88. Before coming to WSU, Miller coached at North Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Fresno State and Western (Colo.) State.

I was a huge Shocker fan during the Miller years, which started when I was a junior in high school and ended when I was still taking classes at Wichita State. They were good years and good times, thanks to a bunch of really good players.

My Top 10 from the Miller era include:

1) Cheese Johnson

2) Robert Elmore

3) Terry Benton

4) Ron Harris

5) Bob Wilson

6) Vince Smith

7) Calvin Bruton

8) Bob Trogele

9) Rich Morsden

10) Robert Gray

Thanks for reading. It’s always fun taking a trip down Wichita State basketball memory lane.