Ken Trickey Film to Debut at Circle Cinema
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
Ken Trickey was part basketball coach, part magician, all character.
He was P.T. Barnum reincarnated.
He had a super-sized, super-charged personality with a heart to match.
He might not have invented the game of basketball, but he did give rise to the entertainment aspect of basketball.
With his teams geared to running, shooting and scoring, he injected more verve, more kick into the game of basketball than anyone in Oklahoma before him.
When he arrived at Oral Roberts University in 1969, Oklahoma basketball was forged in the image of Henry Iba, the Iron Duke of defense and deliberate offense at Oklahoma State University.
Scores of 45-42 were common. Passing the ball was mandatory. Shooting the ball from 22 feet was nothing short of blasphemous.
That was Old School Basketball. Prudent. Purposed. Planned. Pre-Ken Trickey Basketball.
Ken Trickey Basketball was simple. Shoot. Score.
He brought with him a style of play he called the WRAG Offense. We Run and Gun.
It was avant-garde. It was a revelation. It was the new game in town.
Today, 51 years after unleashing that flurry of high-energy hoops onto the Oklahoma landscape, Trickey is the focus of a documentary film entitled “Praise the Lord & Pass Me the Basketball!” that captures the spirit and the personality of the coach and his ORU Titans.
The one-hour film, produced in Nashville by Bigscreen Productions with the guidance of Trickey’s children, Kay Herring and Ken Trickey Jr., will premiere in Tulsa at the Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave., at a date to be announced. It was originally scheduled for March 28 but was postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. A second premiere, in Nashville, is also upcoming.
A preview of Trickey and the Titans was on display a year before his arrival on campus. In December 1968, Trickey and his Middle Tennessee State University team played Oral Roberts within its cozy multipurpose home facility known as The Little Round House.
ORU was competing in its fourth season of intercollegiate basketball, playing a schedule of mostly little-known programs such as St. Mary’s of the Plains, King’s College and Harris Teachers College, plus a few junior colleges and university junior varsity teams.
Middle Tennessee was a respected university, a certified basketball program, coached by the 35-year-old Trickey.
On that December night, Trickey’s Middle Tennessee team slapped around the ORU Titans, shooting and scoring at will, prevailing 115-98.
Oral Roberts himself, as normal practice in those days, was courtside. He took note of the rollicking outcome, and the coach on the visiting bench.
When the 1968-69 season was completed, Roberts parted ways with the coach, Bill White, who had launched the university’s program in 1965. Roberts immediately hired Trickey.
Over the next five seasons, 1969-70 to 1973-74, Trickey would convert ORU basketball from a footnote into a headliner.
He recruited talented players, skilled players, players who could and would weaponize the WRAG Offense.
He built a program that commanded the national spotlight.
His teams were statistical marvels. They led the nation in scoring, and in rebounding.
He guided the university through the transition from small-college NAIA to top-shelf NCAA membership.
He joined with Roberts to construct and open the Mabee Center in 1973.
In only his third season, he was at the helm when ORU was invited to the National Invitation Tournament.
In his fourth season, ORU was ranked fourth by Sports Illustrated in its preseason publication. There was a nationally televised game from the Mabee Center. ORU accepted a second-straight NIT invitation.
By year five, Trickey and ORU were legitimate members of college basketball’s elite. The team earned weekly spots in the national polls and defeated established programs.
In March 1975, ORU was selected to participate in the NCAA post-season tournament. The field at that time consisted of 30 teams. ORU was not a member of a conference and was invited as an independent.
Such was the national respect for ORU that the Mabee Center was awarded a regional tournament, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
That is what Ken Trickey accomplished in five seasons as head basketball coach at Oral Roberts University.
He took a nondescript, four-year-old basketball program and within five seasons transformed it into an upper echelon entity.
ORU fashioned a record of 118-23 in those five seasons under Trickey.
Twice, his teams averaged more than 100 points per game in a season. His other three teams averaged more than 93.
The NCAA three-point shot was more than a decade away. The NCAA had issued a ban on dunking basketballs in 1967.
Still, Trickey’s WRAG Offense was the ultimate in basketball entertainment.
In short order, he became a celebrity of the first rank.
He was in demand as a public speaker. Fans crowded around him before, during and after games. He was a media favorite.
He was funny, handsome, outgoing.
He produced entertaining basketball teams, populated by crowd-pleasing operatives such as Richard Fuqua, Larry Baker, Eddie Woods and Haywood Hill.
On many occasions, during spirited action on the court, Trickey could be found conversing with fans in the stands.
Assistant Coach Terry Scott recalled a 1973 pregame talk from Trickey, addressing his team while preparing to write a scouting report of the University of Houston on a chalkboard.
“Oh, never mind,” Trickey said. “We’re better than they are.”
ORU then went out and defeated Houston, 118-108.
Trickey was a player’s coach, consistently turning the focus toward his roster of athletes, giving each the room in which to grow and flourish.
Greg Davis, a member of the 1970-73 Titans, said recently: “Coach Trickey was an inspiration to us all.”
Baker, who played alongside Davis, said of Trickey: “He loved us. He was a master of putting people together from different backgrounds.”
Trickey appreciated offensive basketball like few others. He never met a shot he didn’t like.
“The only difference between a good shot and a bad shot is if it goes in or not,” he used to say.
The title of the documentary, which includes interviews with nearly two dozen former players and assistant coaches, was borrowed from a Sport magazine headline “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ball to Fuqua.”
Trickey died at the age of 79 on Dec. 4, 2012, 44 years and two days after he and his Middle Tennessee team introduced Tulsa to the WRAG Offense.