1968 - Legendary Era of Basketball
A half-century ago, Oklahoma Christian College was working to establish its reputation in its new hometown.
OCC’s athletic teams fought to earn respect from their peers for almost a decade. The struggle had been mighty at times – and then a basketball team came along that forever changed the college’s image.
The 1967-68 Eagles put OCC on the athletic map, twice stunning the nation’s No. 1-ranked team to earn a surprise berth into the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City. That team’s achievement earned the college widespread recognition and helped establish its well-known brand.
Oklahoma Christian University never forgot that team’s contributions and awarded it the honor of OC’s first Team of Distinction, a new award created by the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame committee.
That team’s success meant so much to the university, coming at a formative time in its history.
“To those of us in the Oklahoma Christian community, the 1968 team was the vindication and validation of our founders’ hopes and dreams of Oklahoma Christian achieving excellence in everything, including athletics. In the beginning, there was no guarantee that this little college would endure,” said Frank Davis, OC’s basketball star in the early 1960s, and coach of the 1968 team.
Early on, the team struggled to be seen as legitimate. The university had sought membership in the NAIA’s Oklahoma Collegiate Conference but was denied. But when OC finally achieved full NAIA membership, the Eagles couldn’t be kept from the playoffs.
Soon after transferring to OCC, David Smith – who became a two-time NAIA All-America selection – had a conversation with Coach Davis about how to succeed.
“We had to win 80-plus percent of our games and beat the number one ranked team on their home court twice,” Smith said. “It seemed like it was totally impossible. But my goal was to achieve that objective.”
In 1967, the Eagles finished among the top three highest-rated teams in District 9. Their reward was a playoff game against Oklahoma Baptist, a team that had won the 1966 NAIA title and had played in the 1965 NAIA championship game.
After the game, OBU’s coach Bob Bass said, “All I can say is never underestimate OCC.” That comment proved that the Eagles rapidly were closing the gap.
The next season, the Eagles did well enough to earn a best-of-three series against Northeastern State, the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked team. “That was almost like a mountain that you can’t climb,” Smith recalled.
But the Eagles did and advanced to the NAIA national tournament.
“When I think of our school spirit, I remember how it was, when our hopes and dreams were seen only through faith. I think of those who put their confidence in us and our school, long before we accomplished anything of significance,” said Davis.
It took until 1982 before an Oklahoma Christian team again advanced to the NAIA tournament – highlighting just what a significant accomplishment the 1968 squad achieved. Most of those players went on to successful careers in a variety of fields.
Davis went on to coach at Georgia State and Southeastern Oklahoma State before becoming a successful businessman, but he’ll tell you it’s hard to top the good memories of 1968.
“Those men of destiny of that day were truly champions,” he said. “They earned their place in Oklahoma Christian’s legacy and in the state of Oklahoma’s record book of champions. Those were fun times!”
Smith (featured on page 10) founded one of the nation’s largest awards companies – MTM Recognition in Del City – and is in the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Hall of Fame. He spoke at the ceremony recognizing the 1968 team, surrounded by the men he had worked so hard with all those years ago.
“You can ask anyone in the business world and they will tell you that I am an alumni of Oklahoma Christian University. I have been very proud of it and I let people know,” said Smith.
View more stories from the Fall 2018 issue of Vision magazine.