Levi Convirs, Sports Information Director
WICHITA – The 1968-69 edition of the Friends University Men’s Basketball program, a trailblazing unit that gave the school its first championship, will be forever immortalized into the University Athletics Hall of Fame.
In addition to giving Friends its first championship, the unit, under the direction of head coach and athletic director Jim McNerney, finished the season 20-4 in winning the KCAC title and wound up 20th in the final national rankings.
The team featured a swath of local talent from the Wichita area, which made it easy for the community and fans to get behind.
Players prepped at local schools such as East, North, Valley Center, West, Campus, Heights and Goddard.
Speaking to the revered talent on the team, four players from that squad (James Jemmerson, Mitch Murdock, Mike Holliman and Rod Lee) were named to the Wichita Eagle’s Top 100 Wichita High School basketball players of all-time list.
The squad received plenty of accolades, producing multiple All-KCAC performers along with the conference’s regular season MVP.
The Falcons also qualified for the men’s district 10 tournament in Emporia, Kan. and finished the campaign with averages of 85.7 points per game while shooting 50 percent overall from the field.
Holliman was the team’s leading scorer (17.8 ppg) and rebounder (11.5 rpg), while Jemmerson was second in scoring at 15.6 ppg.
Earning the nickname “Big Game James”, Jemmerson scored two layups and recorded a steal in the final 38 seconds to seal the Falcons’ title clinching 63-62 victory at Tabor College on Feb. 18, 1969.
Jemmerson spoke on the uniqueness of being part of the team and what playing in that era entailed.
“When we hit this league, to my knowledge, there were very few African Americans in the conference,” Jemmerson said.
“There was a lot of social unrest in those times, I remember when the Football team went on the road for a game and the African American player’s wives were not welcome in the restaurant. However, at Friends University, we were blessed to not go through any of that. You were home and there was no one to say I’m above you. It was equality and we felt right at home. Everyone treated us equal, we were happy to be here and the university made us happy to be here, and we considered it a blessing to participate in athletics at Friends.”
“It was a lot of fun being a part of the team and we couldn’t wait to get to practice every day.”
Mitch Murdock, who recently passed away, made his mark on the 1968-69 squad. Murdock got his own rebound and put a shot in off the glass to force overtime in a game the Falcons won 64-63 over St. Benedict’s to advance to the finals of the District 10 playoffs.
Murdock is a name that current Falcon fans are certainly familiar with, as his grandson, Jordan, is carving his own legacy at Friends University. Last season, Murdock was named a first-team NAIA All-American and led the nation in scoring as a junior. He also eclipsed the 1,000 career-point mark within his first 41 career games.
Lee, who averaged 6.9 ppg and shot 50 percent from the field during that season, also shared his thoughts on his experience playing for the Falcons.
“At Friends University I received a terrific education and still have very special friendships with fellow students and athletes,” Lee said. “As a student athlete at Friends, I celebrate those years for numerous reasons. It is there I found my life’s partner and together with the lessons we learned, we’ve built a business and cherished family life.
“The Falcon basketball teams of 1968 through 1972 celebrated conference championships three out of four years. Our members were very competitive and talented/gifted athletes. The arena was filled to capacity nearly every game. Many spoke of how much fun the team was to watch. We weren’t afraid to practice and work hard year round because we loved to be around each other and loved to WIN. In Jim McNerney and Jack Kater, we had coaches that were extremely skilled and motivating. These coaches cultivated an expectation of winning, and each could have coached at the highest level as they were that skilled in their defensive and offensive systems. They taught us life lessons of integrity and discipline.”
“Individually, Mike (Holliman) was one player away from making the 1968 Olympic team, but what I believe really made these teams’ champions was the chemistry. We played at a time when our country and city had so much strife. We were able to bond and insulate ourselves from outside racial turmoil that was taking place in the late 60’s. The strength of our team rose above adversity on and off the court. It was like a sanctuary, a place of refuge, an oasis that shut out the rest of the world. It allowed us to focus on the strengths of each other developing character and leadership that would not be denied. Even more than the championship teams, life-long friendships were born and are treasured still to this day.”
“Memories of these days as student-athletes will always be held close by each member. Leadership was developed and nurtured from our coaches’ throughout the team. There was a caring heart toward one another that instilled a winning attitude in every phase of our lives. The culture of winning on and off the court still today continues to influence each member.”
The 1968-69 team will officially be inducted in a ceremony on Oct. 5, as part of Friends University’s Homecoming weekend.
For more information about the awards ceremony, visit friends.edu/homecoming.
Friends University, a Christian University of Quaker heritage, equips students to honor God and serve others by integrating their intellectual, spiritual and professional lives.