By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
Over the first weekend of November, Tulsans turned the clock back one hour for Daylight Saving Time.
Just a few days prior to that time change, an intimate group in Tulsa turned the clock back even further, back 50 years to remember a basketball coach and his five-chapter Cinderella storybook.
More than a dozen players from the golden age of Oral Roberts University basketball gathered to celebrate the days of their youth, the years of their maturity, the litany of their accomplishments.
At the focus of their retrospection was the coach who brought them all together, the coach who molded them into a functioning and celebrated unit, the coach who shaped their lives, Ken Trickey.
Trickey, who died in 2012, was hired in 1969 by ORU President Oral Roberts to take control of a four-year-old basketball program struggling to find its way along the path of nondescript colleges and their unremarkable teams.
Within a run of five years, Trickey had turned this small-college basketball neophyte into a bright-lights, Top 20 sensation.
Many of the building blocks in that foundation of success, and ultimately in the construction of the Mabee Center, were reunited in Tulsa during the late-October weekend with members of the Trickey family and a pair of assistant coaches.
They came from California and Tennessee, from Illinois and Florida. They came to reminisce. They came to honor and to praise their coach, their alma mater, their spirituality.
Players who became instant stars in 1969-70, players like Richard Fuqua, Haywood Hill, Ingram Montgomery, Larry Baker, relived the good times from that 27-4 season with team managers and role players.
Sam McCamey and Tim Cameron, Eldon Lawyer and Greg Davis, vital operatives of those Trickey teams, shared good-time memories with assistant coaches Jack Sutter and Terry Scott.
Anecdotal reflections unraveled with the suddenness of a fast break.
They talked about unwrapping Trickey’s self-proclaimed WRAG (We Run and Gun) offense in an era when Henry Iba’s methodical influence saturated the Oklahoma basketball landscape, when game scores typically hovered in the 48-45 range.
Trickey and his band of new recruits, virtually all from out of state, many from Tennessee, quickly changed that image, scoring 90 points in their first home game and surpassing 100 in two more games before the end of his first month.
The home court for the ORU Titans at the time was a little round fieldhouse on campus that housed a swimming pool, with an accompanying and protracted aroma of chlorine.
The players were immune to such scents, breathing instead the rarefied air of instant success. They did not lose a home game in three seasons, playing 41 games in the cozy confines.
Trickey inherited a “Bible-college” program and a dubious schedule when he arrived from his alma mater Middle Tennessee State University. Immediately, he began the two-year process of applying for membership in the NCAA and upgrading the ORU schedule.
After a rollicking 27-4 debut, Trickey had his 1970-71 squad humming along to his own entertaining beat. The Titans went over the 100-point mark 14 times during a 21-5 schedule, averaging 105 points. Fuqua was leading the way. The 6-3 sharpshooter from Chattanooga averaged 32 points and Hill averaged 22.
By Trickey’s third season, the Titans had become bona fide members of the NCAA. They were ready for their coming out party.
With Fuqua averaging 36 points and sophomore Eddie Woods averaging 14.5 rebounds, the Titans reeled off a resounding regular-season record of 25-1, led the nation in scoring average (105 points with 20 100-point games), earned Top 20 recognition in The Associated Press poll (peaking at No. 16) and were invited to the National Invitation Tournament in New York (at a time when the NCAA field was limited to 25).
Fuqua received All-American certification and the Titans commanded the local, state and national spotlight. They won their NIT opener before losing to local favorite St. John’s.
Their schedule, dotted with games against Hiram Scott, Cameron, Fisk and Bellarmine a year or two before, now included opponents such as Harvard, Butler, Fresno State and Lamar.
In just three seasons, Trickey’s teams had fashioned a record of 74-11.
And they were just hitting their stride.
The 1972-73 season opened with some heady moments, unlike any before.
Sports Illustrated spotlighted the ORU program, inserting the Titans at No. 4 in its preseason issue. The AP had ORU at No 18. And ORU was opening the doors to its glamorous new home, the Mabee Center, on Dec. 4 against a big-name opponent, the University of Wisconsin.
The Titans took out Wisconsin, 90-76, and used that as a springboard to another 21-5 regular season.
ORU now was competing against a heavyweight Division I schedule, facing teams such as Texas A&M, UNLV, San Diego State, Jacksonville and Illinois State.
The Titans spent six weeks in the Top 20, reaching No. 10. Again, they were invited to the NIT, but lost to North Carolina.
Through it all, the Titans remained committed to Trickey’s style, scoring more than 100 points 11 times. Fuqua averaged 23.5 and 7-foot sophomore David Vaughn averaged 19,2 with 14.3 rebounds. Following the season, Fuqua and Vaughn were drafted, respectively, by the Boston Celtics and the ABA Virginia Cavaliers.
In 1973-74, for the first time in Trickey’s tenure, Fuqua was not in the lineup. Instead, the offense was triggered by Sam McCants (24-point average), Al Boswell (18.4) and Greg McDougald (15.3), with Woods averaging 14 rebounds.
They averaged 95 points per game, hitting 100 or more 11 times, playing a schedule that included Houston, Southern Cal, Long Beach State, Southern Illinois, Virginia Tech, and for the first time, Tulsa.
For five weeks, the Titans had a spot in The AP Top 20, cresting at No. 18.
They were so good, they were invited to the NCAA Tournament. And, ORU was designated to host the Midwest Regional. In only its third year as an NCAA member, ORU was competing in, and hosting, a tournament that would send its winner to the Final Four.
Previously, the only time the state of Oklahoma had hosted an NCAA Regional was 1954, in Stillwater.
The Titans reached the Regional finals, falling to Kansas in overtime.
The game marked the final appearance of Trickey, who resigned and took other coaching assignments before returning to ORU in 1987 when the school had dropped back to the NAIA level.
It was that initial five-year stay, and a record of 118-23, that was celebrated over an October weekend, 50 years after Trickey’s arrival.
The story of his Cinderella ascent to basketball glory is the subject of a documentary film being produced by Trickey’s children, Ken Trickey, Jr. and Kay Trickey Herring.
In its final stages of preparation, the documentary is expected to be released in March 2020, coinciding with March Madness, according to Trickey Jr. and Trickey Herring.
Included in the film are interviews with more than a dozen former players, many of whom were in Tulsa for the reunion, and highlights from landmark games during Trickey’s halcyon days.
The documentary is expected to cement the legacy of a basketball program, driven by a visionary coach and fueled by an All-American offensive force, that fashioned a Cinderella story of ascension and accomplishment over a span of 141 games.