Vincennes University Honors 1972 Men's Basketball National Championship Team
February 23, 2012
1971-72 Trailblazers rewrote the record books on the way to the NJCAA title 40 years ago
By Troy Guthrie, Vincennes University Sports Information Director
You may remember that in 1972 the country was enjoying “The Godfather” and “The Last Picture Show” in movie theaters, listening to tunes like “American Pie” and “Me and Mrs. Jones” and repeating catch-phrases such as, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” and “Nobody does it like Sara Lee.”
UCLA continued to dominate NCAA Div. I College Basketball that season. But at VU and locales such as Moberly, MO, Burlington, IA, Muskegon, MI, and Hutchinson, KS (a.k.a. “Hutch”), it was the VU Trailblazers making opponents a deal they couldn’t refuse – and doing it better than Sara Lee.
The Trailblazers of 1971-72 were sophomores Bill Butler, Tony Byers, Dennis Shidler, Clarence “Foots” Walker and Dave Woodall, as well as freshmen Jerry Bohman, Mike Darrett, Dave Edmonds, Eartha Faust and Harold Miles. They were coached by the late Allen Bradfield. He was assisted by Dan Sparks.
The group came out of nowhere – Bradfield didn’t expect them to be competitive, let alone championship contenders – to post a 33-0 record on the way to winning VU’s third and last NJCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball National Championship. The other titles came in 1965 and 1970.
Vincennes University welcomed all but Bohman back to campus in January to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that championship run. A Florida resident, Bohman was unable to attend.
This was a truly interesting bunch of players … and not just because Walker went on to be one of the NBA’s top point guards with the Cleveland Cavaliers for several seasons and will be inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame at this year’s National Championship Tournament, or because Bradfield had underestimated the team following NJCAA All-American Bob McAdoo’s departure to North Carolina and NCAA competition en route to being a NBA Hall of Famer.
The 1971-72 edition of VU Basketball was the epitome of what makes today’s old-school hoops fans pine for “the good ol’ days.” The Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview from the following season said it best when it described the previous season’s Trailblazers like this:
“It has won not through individual brilliance but with competitiveness and teamwork and a singular sense of purpose difficult to find within the chaotic (junior college) ranks.
‘We were all very close,’ says one former team member, ‘but very competitive, too. There were so many good players on the team that everybody tried hard just to keep from looking bad.’ ”
The magazine feature went on:
“The game at Vincennes, which is the oldest junior college in the U.S., is played with little ornamentation. There is radio coverage and home television on the school's educational channel and the team will follow this season's wide-ranging schedule in a bus because the Student Senate, in the euphoria of last year's success, put up half the money. Such things that would be regarded as routine at most four-year schools are considered luxury items at a junior college.”
Prior to acquiring the bus, VU made many road trips in a couple of cars, with Bradfield driving one and Byers piloting the other.
Almost every one of the 1971-72 team’s members had a unique story attached to his arrival at VU – and the players are in unanimous agreement four decades later that, if just one member of that magical squad hadn’t found his way to the Trailblazers program, the success story wouldn’t have unfolded.
For example, Shidler had headed to Texas to play collegiately after putting together a sterling prep career at Lawrenceville (Ill.) High School. He decided the Lone Star State wasn’t for him and transferred to VU for his sophomore season. Shidler brought a blue-collar grittiness to the backcourt that complimented the flair of the other guards on that title team.
Former VU Sports Information Director and University Historian Robert “Gus” Stevens proclaimed during the recent reunion, “As good as Foots Walker was, Denny Shidler made him that much better.”
Darrett had come to Vincennes from Evansville on a track and field scholarship. As a result, he was housed in “The Trackhouse” with other VU athletes in that sport. The accommodations weren’t as comfortable as the basketball team’s lodgings in George Rogers Clark Residence Hall. Darrett performed well enough as a freshman walk-on during the championship season that Bradfield put him on scholarship for his sophomore season.
“I remember that so well; it was like a gift to get to go live in Clark Hall,” Darrett said with a smile that still beams 40 years later, during the recent get-together on campus."
Faust had committed to Louisville and was ready to take his skills from Inkster, Mich., to U of L until the scholarship offer with the Cardinals was yanked at the last second. VU was Plan B for the high-scoring guard but he came to Indiana’s first city and paid his dues as a freshman, waiting his turn for a starting spot in the season following the championship.
As the team’s starting center, Butler was the same height as many of today’s point guards. Although barely 6-3, his incredible leaping ability and hard-nosed play enabled him to play like a man much taller. In fact, Butler averaged 20 points a game that season. He and Shidler were named to the All-Tournament Team in “Hutch” and Butler then received the event’s Most Valuable Player Award.
VU got the same type of production all season from another undersized front-court player in Byers, a 6-3 forward, who was the Trailblazers’ leading scorer at 21 points a game. He had a game-high 23 in the 1972 Championship. Walker hit 24 of 38 field goal attempts in the Trailblazers’ four national tournament games and scored VU’s first seven points in the title game on free throws. He ended up with 21.
Bradfield won his third NJCAA Coach of the Year Award in leading the Trailblazers to the crown. He deflected much of the credit, however, to his players. He even proclaimed the 1971-72 squad “the greatest VU team ever!” after the final win. It was the same team he had held concerns about in the preseason because of the loss of McAdoo, the 6-10 scoring machine, from the 1970-71 team.
The players reminisced on those and hundreds of other memories during the weekend gathering in Vincennes in January. The group’s trip down Memory Lane included a viewing of the 1972 championship win over Ferrum, a tour of the campus’ changes and growth since the early 1970s, a reception, an opportunity to dribble and shoot on the Beless Gym floor again, watching VU’s current team post a 78-64 victory over Kankakee and catching up with lots of long-lost friends.
A visit to the bottom floor of Clark Residence Hall elicited recollections of where each player’s dormitory room was located, where pool and ping pong tables sat and the tiny television that provided rudimentary viewing in a central location for everyone on the floor. Shidler found it especially amusing that his former room is now an electrical room for the residence hall.
When the players were driven by the VU Physical Education Complex – the home of VU Men’s and Women’s Basketball since it opened in 1974 and relegated the outgrown Beless Gym to other uses – one of the players verified that the P.E. Complex was the home floor. When a university representative affirmed that fact, Edmonds deadpanned, “Oh, that’s the place that we built…”
Upon the VU employee’s amusement at the remark, Edmonds asserted again, “It’s true. They started that building after we won it in ’72.”
Butler, who still lives in his native Florida, summed up the reunion’s campus tour as “spectacular,” and raved about the university’s evolution in preparing young people for life. He added, “…and, wow, that basketball arena is tops” in junior college ranks.
Shidler called the return to VU “so special and a memory that I, my family and all the guys will cherish forever. To be honored and remembered so graciously meant so much to all of us.
VU opened that magical 1971-72 season with a 95-79 win over Elizabethtown (KY) in the second game of the Trailblazer invitational at Beless Gym. Miles led the scoring for the Trailblazers with 26. The next night, VU’s press left opponent Orchard Ridge of Farmington, MI, spinning like a top and the Trailblazers claimed their own invitational with a 111-68 drubbing of Orchard Ridge. Win No. 3 on the season came on the heads of highly-regarded Moberly in the form of a 101-74 VU triumph when Butler and Miles combined for 44 points, and the fourth win of 1971-72 was a 47-point dismantling of Mineral Area.
In that one, the Trailblazers led 45-15 with nearly five minutes to play in the first half. A 78-74 thriller against Burlington (IA) provided the fifth win of the season, as Butler erupted for 25 points.
In the second meeting with Moberly - this time on the Greyhounds’ floor in Missouri as VU’s first road game of the year - VU passed another test with an 88-84 win. The Trailblazers moved to 6-0 on the campaign and were sitting atop the NJCAA Top 20 in mid-December 1971 when it came time to travel to Muskegon, MI, in search of their seventh win of the year. VU got that win in convincing fashion with a 129-66 win behind Shidler’s 27 points. Another blowout (104-76) win over Southwestern (MI) bumped the Trailblazers to 8-0 and a 110-59 victory over Delta (MI) was the ninth win. VU followed up a two-week holiday layoff with its 10th win of 1971-72 by dispatching Genesee (MI) 101-72 back at Beless.
Throughout the rest of the season, the Trailblazers secured Bradfield’s 400th career win with an 87-72 decision over Ohio Valley in mid-January, turned in a 58.5 percent shooting performance to turn away Elizabethtown, 114-90, for victory No. 13, shot even better against Edison for a 133-96 win to begin a five-game swing through Florida, scored 72 first-half points in a 109-59 pasting of Manatee and reached the 20-0 mark on the season by besting Elizabethtown for the third time on the year, 112-85.
VU got a scare in mid February when it had to squeak by Robert Morris (IL) by an 83-82 score after losing a late 11-point cushion. The Trailblazers also had to edge Burlington, 79-77, in their final road game of the regular season.
In the NJCAA Region XII Tournament in Bay City, MI, VU handled Oakland, 99-65, and then posted a 94-77 victory over Lorain (OH) to earn a finals berth against Southwestern (MI). VU’s 85-77 win in that contest earned a trip to “Hutch” and the NJCAA National Championship Tournament. There, the Trailblazers posted 107-83, 96-85, and 89-81 wins over Erie Tech, Paducah and Gulf Coast, respectively to set up the title game with Ferrum.
The diminutive man who coached the team may have come up with the most powerful of all ways after the season to honor what may have been the best junior college basketball team in history. Bradfield said, “Few things have been harder for me to do than to realize after last March that graduation would dismantle our ‘well oiled blue machine’ that splendid group of young men it was my privilege to coach.
It may well be that the likes of Bill Butler, Tony Byers, Foots Walker and Dennis Shidler cannot be replaced.”
Photo 1: The 1971-72 Vincennes Trailblazers were, front row, l-r: Student Manager Delbert Browder, Tony Byers, Clarence "Foots" Walker, Dennis Shidler and Dave Edmonds. Back Row, l-r: Assistant Coach Dan Sparks, Dave Woodall, Eartha Faust, Jerry Bohman, Harold Miles, Mike Darrett, Bill Butler and Head Coach Allen Bradfield.