Wichita State basketball in the 1970s is generally dismissed as an unimportant era, even by myself, and there is unfairness in that. Harry Miller, who coached the Shockers from 1971-78, didn’t have great success, but he did recruit entertaining players and played an entertaining, high-scoring style. Miller died on Wednesday at 86.
His teams reflected the times – lots of points. WSU averaged 73 or more points in all of his seasons (it happened once from 1990-2012). He recruited nationally, bringing in Parade All-American Cheese Johnson and others from New York. He got in trouble with the NCAA, contributing to WSU’s probation in the early 1980s. He played a challenging non-conference schedule, regularly playing ranked teams. While the Shockers never won more than 18 games, people seem to remember that era as a lot of fun.
It was also an era when everybody had a nickname. For me, those were the first teams I was old enough to watch and read about. When you’re 10, players nicknamed “Wild Bill,” “Cheese,” “Super Cal,” and “Bionic Man” are irresistible.
Miller’s best season was 1975-76, when the Shockers won the MVC title and lost to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.
F – Cheese Johnson (1975-1979). WSU’s No. 5 scorer with 1,418 points and earned All-MVC honors in 1977 and 1979. Drafted by and played for Golden State.
F – Rich Morsden (1972-74). Averaged 15 points as a junior and 16.5 as a senior.
C – Bob Elmore (1973-1977). All-MVC three times. Averaged 14.1 points and 12.4 rebounds. Drafted by the New York Nets of the ABA.
G – Bob Wilson (1972-74). Averaged 17.6 points as a junior and 20 points as senior. An All-MVC pick in 1974. Drafted by Chicago and played for three NBA teams.
G – Vince Smith (1970-73). Averaged 15.1 points and scored 1,004 points for his career.
Miller’s memorable wins
- Ron Harris scored 45 points, at the time one point shy of the school record, in a 91-83 win over Southern Illinois in 1971. He made 16 of 20 shots and grabbed 19 rebounds.
- The Shockers won their first MVC title in 11 seasons with a 75-69 win at Drake in 1976. Guard Cal Bruton scored a career-high 29 points.
- WSU ruined Marquette coach Al McGuire’s final home game by beating the Warriors 75-64 in Milwaukee. Marquette recovered to win the 1977 NCAA title.
- Cheese Johnson scored 28 in a 1977 shootout with Southern Illinois guard Mike Glenn, who finished with a career-high 40. The Shockers won 91-90 in two overtimes.
- Johnson scored 29 points in an 87-83 win over No. 16 UNLV in 1978 at Levitt Arena.
- WSU defeated Larry Bird and Indiana State in Bird’s junior appearance at Levitt Arena, winning 74-70 in 1978.