Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The sport of basketball has a long and productive history in the Great Plains. Plains states and their universities have contributed many important players and coaches to this popular American sport.

Basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. Naismith later moved to Lawrence, Kansas, as an instructor of physical education at the University of Kansas and the university's head basketball coach. Under Naismith and his successors, Kansas ranks third on the all-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) victory list. The two universities with more victories were coached for many years by Plains natives Adolph Rupp of Halstead, Kansas (at Kentucky), and Dean Smith of Emporia, Kansas (at North Carolina).

Several college basketball teams from the Plains states have won national championships. Wyoming won in 1943, and Oklahoma State (then known as Oklahoma A&M) won titles in 1944 and 1945. The Cowboys were led by Bob Kurland, who became college basketball's first dominant big man. The University of Texas at El Paso (then Texas Western) won in 1966. The University of Kansas won the title in 1988.

Several Plains natives have been recognized as all-Americans for their achievements on the basketball court. Bob Boozer of Omaha twice won all-American honors at Kansas State University in the 1950s. Wichita, Kansas, produced all-Americans Darnell Valentine of the University of Kansas (1980) and Antoine Carr of Wichita State University (1981). Wayman Tisdale, born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, became the first freshman to achieve all-American status at Oklahoma in 1983. He repeated as all-American in 1984 and 1985. Another Sooner, Stacey King of Lawton, Oklahoma, was an all-American in 1989. Mark Price of Enid, Oklahoma, became an all-American for Georgia Tech in the late 1980s. Bryant "Big Country" Reeves of Gans, Oklahoma, was an all-American center at Oklahoma State University in 1995.

Many of these college stars went on to fame as professional basketball players. In addition, Bill Sharman from Abilene, Texas, was a member of the Boston Celtics dynasty, which won eleven National Basketball Association (NBA) championships between 1957 and 1969. Sharman also coached the Los Angeles Lakers to the nba title in 1971. The NBA's all-time leader in win percentage for coaches is coach Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls/Los Angeles Lakers) of Williston, North Dakota. Two of the old American Basketball Association's stars were Zelmo Beaty of Hillister, Texas, and Ron Boone of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In addition to organized professional and college basketball, the Plains states have been home to several important amateur basketball teams. Premier among these were the 66ers of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Phillips Petroleum Company, the 66ers attracted Kurland and other college stars of the 1940s and 1950s. They won several Amateur Athletic Union championships, and 66er players formed the core of U.S. basketball teams that won gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1948 and 1952. The 66er players also held professional positions with Phillips. Kurland eventually became mayor of Bartlesville, and several other 66ers rose to high executive positions with the company.

The Plains states have been a particularly productive source of women's basketball players and coaches. The Edmonton Grads were the best women's basketball team in the world in the 1920s and 1930s. Jody Conradt of Goldthwaite, Texas, the longtime coach of the University of Texas women's basketball team, is the all-time victories leader among women's coaches. Conradt was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. Two Plains natives have won the Wade Trophy, which is awarded annually to the outstanding player in women's college basketball. Kamie Etheridge of Lubbock, Texas, who won in 1986, played for Conradt at the University of Texas. Lynette Woodard of Wichita, Kansas, who won the Wade Trophy in 1981 while playing for the University of Kansas, is women's college basketball's all-time leading scorer. Sheryl Swoopes of Brownfield, Texas, was the outstanding player in the women's Final Four in 1993 while leading Texas Tech to the national championship.

Fred M. Shelley Southwest Texas State University

Douchant, Mike, ed. The Encyclopedia of College Basketball. Detroit: Gaines, 1995.

Porter, David L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Basketball and Other Indoor Sports. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.

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