The All-Harry Miller team

Cal Burton (left) and Cheese Johnson on their way to Denton, Texas for the 1976 NCAA Tournament.

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.