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Monday, March 14, 2011

Ghosts on the Hardwood

With five consecutive NCAA appearances, five conference titles in the last six years and the Mavericks prepping for a men's regional championship game tomorrow night in Taylor Center, it's been a great time for those whose passions run deep for Minnesota State Basketball.

Minnesota State has a proud history with the game played on the hardwood dating back to its inception at Mankato in 1921-22 under iconic first-year coach C.P. Blakeslee.  Under Blakeslee, Mankato State Teachers College built a 123-85 record from 1921-22 to 1938-39 and in addition to capturing one Little Ten title in 1930-31, also won a Minnesota Teachers College Conference championship in 1932-33.

Head coach Jim Clark, who guided MTC for five years in the forties, had a 27-41 ledger before legendary Jim Witham came along.  Witham, who was hired after coaching at Bemidji State, built a 160-73 record in Mankato while leading his team to seven conference titles and two national tournament appearances.  His second team in 1946-47 advanced all the way to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball championship game, where it eventually fell to Marshall by a 78-59 margin.  MSU's first basketball All-American Hank Epp was a member of this team and later on, near the end of Witham's career, other familiar names such Norm Ness, Manny Beckman, Lee Loewen, Bob Will, Hal Peper and Virg Goertzen and Duane Mettler emerged.

Bob Otto filled in for one season before one last year with Witham and then Bill Morris coached Mankato State College from 1956-57 until 1966-67. Morris guided his charges to a 134-112 mark and in addition to a pair of league titles, led the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1963-64. After Morris pulled the pin in 1965-66, Art Ollrich put together a 9-38 mark the next two seasons and Red Severson crafted a 42-61 record from 1969-70 until 1972-73.  

Lloyd "Butch" Raymond ushered in a period in which the Mavericks went 164-133 over the course of the next 11 seasons and in addition to a North Central Conference title in 1975-76, won a NIC crown in 1978-79. Raymond's 1978-79 team hosted a NAIA play-off game vs. St. John's (Minn.) in front of a huge crowd in Otto Arena. Raymond's Running Mavericks featured the dynamic back-court tandem of Gene Glynn and Curt Clark along with a player some have described as the North Central Conference's best-ever player in forward Elisha McSweeney.

Following Raymond's departure for St. Cloud State after the 1983-84 season, Dan McCarrell was brought in from North Park in Chicago and he led MSU to a 284-189 record in his 17 seasons at the helm.  McCarrell, who recruited one of the top-scoring guards in the history of the program in sweet-shooting Brian Koepnick and also brought in Mankato native Pat Coleman - an All-American and the NCC's MVP in 1996, coached the team for 16 years in Otto Arena before christening Taylor Center in 2000-01.

That leads us to the current incarnation of the program. Since the 2001-02 campaign Matt Margenthaler has built a 217-85 record and is in his tenth year with the Mavericks.  And under the former South Dakota State assistant the Mavericks can boast All-Americans such as Jamel Staten, Luke Anderson, Atila Santos and Travis Nelson.  Senior guard Jefferson Mason will undoubtedly receive All-America consideration this year, as well.

You can bet that the luminaries of the program - from Hank Epp, Butch Meyeraan, Jon Hagen, Dewey Mettler, John Schultz and Gene Glynn to Brian Koepnick, Blaine Joerger, Pat Coleman, Drew Carlson, Kory Kettner, Monte Dufault, Paris Parham, Nick Ellenberger, Jevon Budde, Luke Anderson, Chris Whitfield, Tony Thomason, Jesse Clark et al - will all be watching with pride as the Mavericks take on Ft. Lewis Tuesday in the NCAA Division II Central Region championship game on their home hardwood.

It's great to be a Maverick!

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