In '74, rare air for Webster, Bears

Champs: Thirty years ago, with a 7-1 `Human Eraser' leading the way, Morgan State rode an unselfish team style to a national title.

March 02, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thirty years after Morgan State won the NCAA College Division national championship, anyone associated with the 1973-74 Bears men's basketball team still agrees that everything revolved around center Marvin Webster.

The 7-foot-1 powerhouse from Edmondson High, one of the best big men the Baltimore area has produced, averaged 21.4 points and 22.4 rebounds. He averaged 7.4 blocks, living up to his nickname, the "Human Eraser." And he went on to a solid career in the ABA and NBA.

But it was how coach Nat Frazier clearly defined roles for the other Bears - and the unselfish way they accepted them - that helped Morgan State go 28-5 and win a national title. That championship was commemorated last night at halftime of the Morgan-UMES game.

Thirty years ago, everyone knew Webster would be the key that season. However, instead of basing everything on his center's talents, Frazier pounded home the message that no matter how good Webster could be, true success depended on every player doing his job.

In other words, standing around watching Webster might be fun, but it wouldn't help the team win.

"He defined each role for us," said Elias O'Neal, a forward who averaged 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds. "He let us know what our limitations were and what he expected. Coach said that Marvin can do a lot of things, but he can't win every game for us. The rest of the players have to help."

Joe McIver came to Morgan State from Westinghouse High in Pittsburgh, and he helped as one of the team's top players off the bench. The forward, who became the school's first sports information director and now serves as its assistant athletics director for external operations, averaged 4.9 points and 3.2 rebounds.

"One thing that Coach Frazier did is he knew everyone's strengths, and he put you in the position where you could best use them," McIver said. "It took him two or three years to get everyone to buy in, because we had a lot guys who wanted to run and gun, but Coach Frazier made us buy into what he was doing. If you didn't do it, you sat out."

Frazier's system of team play used the now well-known triangle offense - the scheme veteran coach Phil Jackson has employed to rack up nine NBA titles.

"I just thought that we had the personnel," Frazier said. "I was very fortunate that I had the mix."

Webster - still the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,990 points and top rebounder with 2,267 - proved crucial to the mix in many ways. Jethro Crum (12.9) was the only other Bear with a double-figure scoring average, but point guard Billy Newton (9.1 points, 4.2 assists), O'Neal and others scored on a regular basis, and Webster's unselfish nature was vital.

"There was only one star, and it was the right system, the right time," Newton said. "But Marvin never looked at it that way. He was a great guy to be around. You'd never get that aura of `I'm a superstar.' But he was a superstar. He was just so regular, and his thing was everyone's got to contribute something."

Webster never liked the limelight. In fact, his teammates have rarely talked with him in recent years, and he didn't come to the ceremony at last night's game, where Morgan State retired his jersey.

He couldn't be reached for this article.

But everyone knew the Bears needed Webster's talents to win a championship. Morgan State's run began, oddly enough, when it lost to a tough UMES team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference final. UMES was then invited to the National Invitation Tournament, which helped Morgan State get a berth in the less-prestigious NCAA College Division tournament. The Bears got off to a good start by scoring tough wins over Potsdam (N.Y.) State and host Hartwick (N.Y.) College in the East Regional.

Morgan State advanced to the College Division championship finals in Evansville, Ind., where it beat Bloomsburg (Pa.) State, 71-57, to make the final four. Webster then turned in a 29-point, 24-rebound effort as the Bears rallied to beat Assumption (Mass.), 73-70, in the semifinals.

The championship game against Southwest Missouri State the next day proved much easier. Webster had 21 points and 19 rebounds as the Bears rolled to a 67-52 victory and claimed the national title.

"There was no doubt in my mind that we [could do this well]," Frazier said. "I said when I first came there that in my third year we'd have a championship. That was my third year."

The players from the 1974 team who came to the ceremony gathered to sit in the first few rows behind the Morgan State bench last night.

They swapped stories again, talked and laughed while watching this year's Bears - who wore the wild shorts with horizontal stripes their predecessors wore 30 years ago.

The players talked with Frazier for long stretches and caught up with each other's lives. They hadn't been together as a group since the 25-year reunion five years ago.

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