Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Basketball Legend Red Murrell Says, 'I Loved Drake And Des Moines' As He Prepares to See Wells Fargo Arena Opener For Davis' Bulldogs

When Dan Callahan brought up the idea, Red Murrell jumped at it.

"Tom Davis did us a good turn when we had our 35th reunion a couple of years ago," Callahan told me, "so I'd like for Red to come in and support Drake basketball and coach Davis."

Count on it that Murrell, the career scoring leader at Drake with 1,657 points from 1955-1958, will be at the 16,558-seat Wells Fargo Arena [pictured] in downtown Des Moines Nov. 20 when the 2005-2006 Bulldogs play the first basketball game in the building.

The 72-year-old Murrell [picured at the top of this column], who now lives in Bartlesville, Okla., knows all about an opening game in a new arena.

Paul Morrison, Drake's 88-year-old athletic department historian, tells me that Murrell played in the Bulldogs' first game at then-new Veterans Memorial Auditorium nearly a half-century ago.

"Red scored 28 points for us and Gary Thompson scored 27 for Iowa State in a Jan. 11, 1957 game at Vets," Morrison said. "A crowd of 7,492 watched Iowa State win, 97-71."

Davis' Drake team plays Detroit at 4:05 p.m. Nov. 20 in the first game at Wells Fargo Arena, and Murrell is looking forward to being there.

"I loved Drake, I loved Des Moines and I loved the people there," Murrell told me. "It's super that I'll be able to be at the new arena. Danny Callahan has been pushing the idea that I come up there for the game, and I'm happy to do it."

Callahan, who includes Valley High School in West Des Moines and Morningside College among his coaching stops, said, "Since Red played in that first game at the Auditorium, I thought it would nice for him to be present for the first game at Wells Fargo Arena."

Callahan said Davis and other Drake officials have been very cooperative with his idea.

Callahan, 71, who lives in Sioux City, is the only living member of the Maury John coaching staff that took Drake to a 26-5 record and a third-place finish in the 1968-69 NCAA Final Four at Louisville.

John [pictured at the upper right under the photo of Murrell] died in 1973 when he was Iowa State's coach, and assistant Gus Guydon died in 2003.

"Bringing Red Murrell back serves as a get-together for several people," Callahan explained. "We plan to have dinner with Jean John, Maury's widow, when we're in Des Moines, and we'll see Jay Cookman and his wife and other people who have been close to the Drake scene. We also plan to see a Drake women's game and the Paul Morrison Hall of Honor at the Knapp Center on campus."

Murrell said this will be his first trip to Des Moines since his uniform number [33] was retired a number of years ago.

He's one of only two Drake players to have a jersey number retired. The other is Lewis Lloyd. A number of people close to the 1968-69 team have urged Drake to retire the numbers of players such as Dolph Pulliam and Willie McCarter, but so far it hasn't happened.

Unfortunately, McCarter [pictured at the upper left below the photo of Murrell]--a standout guard on John's teams and a first-round NBA draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers--is now battling some serious physical problems.

Although he looked good at the 35th reunion, Callahan said McCarter suffered a recent stroke while awaiting heart surgery.

Actually, two strokes -- as related today to members of the Drake Tip-Off group by Dolph Pulliam, a teammate of McCarter on John's outstanding teams. More on what Pulliam said about McCarter's situation later in this column.

"Before McCarter could go in for the heart surgery, he had a stroke," Callahan said. "It was kind of a two-headed monster. He's now in a nursing home and receiving physical therapy. I hear it's a miracle he's still alive."

Murrell played for John at Moberly, but his coaches at Drake were Jack McClelland and John Benington.

Callahan told me that one of Benington's favorite banquet stories in those days went like this:

"I'm becoming popular and well-known in Des Moines because everybody refers to me as Red Murrell's coach."

Callahan, who was on John's staff at Drake from 1966-1970, hasn't seen Murrell since 1988.

When I asked him about the key to Red's basketball talent, Callahan said, "He weighed 215 or 220 pounds and was 6-4, but he was the fastest guy on our team. And he had a shot that's never been duplicated.

"When he played at Moberly, he averaged 17 points a game. At the time, Red said, 'I just can't shoot the ball the way I used to.' He was right. When he came to Drake, he got his old shot back. He's a legend."

Asked about the shot that can't be duplicated, Murrell told me, "I shot from behind my head, and I was falling backward. I always kicked my right leg up when I shot the ball."

In his 73-game Drake career, Murrell averaged 22.7 points--26.7 as a senior in 1957-58. And that, of course, was long before the three-point field goal came into being.

Murrell said he still pays attention to collegiate basketball, but not the professional game.

"There's too much pushing, shoving and kicking in the pros," he explained

The redhead said he now weighs 182, and still plays racquetball.

"I'm in pretty good shape," he said. "I quit eating red meat and fatty stuff. I stick with fish and chicken."


On a personal note, I'd like to say a couple more things about Callahan.

Although he was a fine player and later a loyal member of John's coaching staff at Drake, it was unfortunate he never got the chance to be the university's head coach.

I'm sure he would have done an outstanding job.

I've known Dan a long time. Heck, I even bought a car from him.

It ran, too. For a while.

It was a black 1959 Volkswagen, and "beetles" or "bugs" of that era had what was known as a "reserve" gas tank.

There was no gas gauge, but when the car quit running, you always knew you could get to a gas station on the fuel in the reserve tank.

Well, after Callahan sold me the car, I was driving it the first day. Almost immediately, I ran out of gas. Or thought I was out of gas.

Someone told me about the reserve tank, and I was able to get home.

When I called Callahan on the phone the other day to talk about Red Murrell, I reminded him of the Volkswagen.

"I don't think I charged you enough money for that car," Dan said with a laugh.

At least I think he was laughing.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Ron's editor. You'll notice that there's a 1959 Volkswagen pictured higher in this column. The photo, however, is of a red VW. Ron's was black. Ron says cameras weren't yet invented when he had his car. I think he's joking].


On Willie McCarter's health situation, Dolph Pulliam said, "Willie has had two strokes--the first in September.

"His heart rhythm was way out of whack......He was in his doctor's office in October, and he had a second stroke in that office. It was very fortunate that the stroke was in the doctor's office because they were able to get him to a hospital.

"The hospital was in Lansing, Mich., where Willie was living. Because he had three conditions--his heart, a blood clot in his lung and another blood clot in his brain--there was no way the hospital there could handle him.

"So they flew him by helicopter to the hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. they went to work on Willie. But while they were operating on Willie's brain, his heart stopped. They were not sure they could get his heart started again.

"But, after 5 minutes, his heart started beating again, and they finished the surgery. They were not sure Willie was going to wake up from recovery. When I called him a couple of Sundays ago, it's a miracle Willie McCarter is still here.

"But he's a fighter. God's will saved him. Willie has now been moved to a nursing home in Jackson, Mich. We need Willie to get going in therapy. He's got to get healthy again."

McCarter's mailing address is:

Willie McCarter
Heartland Health Care Center
434 W. North Street
Jackson, Mich. 49202-3313