"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tex Winters put together players, coach and offense for MUs 1st Elite 8 team

The report from Lakers coach Phil Jackson that his mentor Tex Winter was improving yesterday from an apparent stroke is welcome news to a key person in Marquette basketball history. We all hope his recovery continues.

While the basketball world will remember Winters for inventing the triangle offense, Winter got his start when Marquette named him the youngest coach in the country after the 1950-51 season before he had even turned 30 years old.

Winter got the job after a DREADFUL 12-year stretch during which Marquette won less than 40% of its games (90-139). The 1952 yearbook features a picture of the young Winter, and his assistant and eventual successor, assistant coach Joel “Jack” Nagle.

All Winter did right away was go out and recruit a class that I ranked as the 9th best recruiting class in MU history in a previous blog. Luckily freshman were allowed to play then, and four of Winter’s first recruits accounting for about half of the wins during the National Catholic Championship season his first year.

As freshmen, Russ Wittberger put up 299 points and had an estimated 200 rebounds, while high school All-American Rube Schultz (94, 120), Bob Walczak (195, 90), Robert Van Vooren (84,34) rounded out the freshman contributors.

Winter then put together an incredible follow-up class with Terry Rand, who I ranked as the 10th best Marquette player of all time, Don Bugalski and sharp-shooter Pat O’Keefe the next year. I am not sure if the freshman eligibility rule changed that year or not, because all three of these players did not play for Winter their freshman year. Even without their services, the team went 13-11 with Schultz and company, including losing on a trip to No. 1 Kansas State, where Winter would coach the next 14 seasons.

Two years after Winter left for Kansas State, those seven players took the court along with sophomore Gerry Hopfensperger to form an incredible 8-man deep team. As I wrote in the Ultimate Hoops Guide - Marquette University, the team used an innovative 1-3-1 offense that no one could stop.

I had the chance to talk to O’Keefe a few days before hearing about Winter’s stroke, and he claimed that the coaching strategy was all Winter’s before his assistant, Nagle, took over the year before that fateful 1954-55 season. I don’t know if the 1-3-1 offense was a precursor of the triangle offense that Winter would use to revolutionize the NBA under Jackson, but it would seem at least some of the concepts had to be in place.

The offense was so good that Marquette scored more than 84 points a game in 1954-55, a full three points more than the second best offense of all-time from Jim Chones’ first season. Schultz and Rand dominated in 1955, and Marquette won 22 games in a row. The team finished the season ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll, then went all the way to the Elite 8 finishing with a 24-3 mark.

By the time his recruits and his former assistant took Marquette to their first Elite 8, Winter was already in his second season of his incredible 14-year run at Kansas State, but he had made his mark on Marquette. The Marquette tradition was on its way thanks in part to a brief 2-year stint by one of the greatest basketball minds the sport would ever know.


Packer Pat said...

Where's the news on this recruit guys? It's going on 24 hours so I suppose I'll provide the link for those who haven't heard and come to CS for NEWS.

It's fine to write stories on who was 9th best in our history and useless Stat analysis after every game but please keep with important things like RECRUITING.

Keep up the good work guys when you get back to work.

EastCoastMidwesterner said...



Blowing my mind

JohnPudner said...

Yep, been focused on the great recruiting news. Unfortunately, as I've admitted in past posts, I am CLUELESS on the recruiting process so really don't have much to contribute there other than to say I'm really excited like everyone else that we actually have some size. I know most people would much rather read about the new recruits, but when ESPN starting hitting the breaking news on Tex, it occurred to me most fans probably didn't even know he was at MU so it was worth a note.

TB said...

Fellas thank you for chiming in. As long as Cracked Sidewalks remains a hobby for the contributors, we'll have a few droughts when life gets in the way.

Thank you for reading.

Packer Pat said...

Understood. Thanks for all you do.