Thursday, January 30, 1969, North Texas State University, Denton, Texas.
Basketball. When the Eagles were at home, my future wife knew where we were going. Glad we were there for this one.
Returning home to “The Snake Pit”, the Eagles took on the highly ranked Drake Bulldogs. At this point in the season, Drake was 10-3 with wins over three of the top 20 teams in the nation (by the end of the season they had victories over seven top 20 teams). The Bulldogs were much in need of a victory against NTSU to keep their chances of winning the Missouri Valley Conference alive. But the Eagles, led by guards, Joe Hamilton (NTAHoF ’89) and Crest Whitaker (NTAHoF ’94), both of whom ended the year averaging over 20 points per game, had other ideas. The Bulldogs faltered early in the game and NT’s blistering shooting attack was something to behold that night. The final: NTSU 118 – Drake 99 in one of the all-time great basketball games in North Texas history. In that game, Chest Whitaker scorched Drake with 36 points, hitting 13 of 19 field goals and 10 of 11 free throws, and his counterpart Joe Hamilton poured in 31. No three-pointers in those days. It was something to see!
That game was a high point for us in a season that saw us finish with a very respectable 15-10 record and a fourth-place finish in the MVC which was one of the toughest basketball conferences in the county. We won 12 of our 13 home games that year and averaged 99.8 points per game at home. The 1968-69 season was North Texas’ first winning season in 15 years and no NTSU team had ever finished higher than 7th in MVC play.
It was also Drake’s last loss in the regular season, which they finished out at 20-4, and received a bid to the NCAA tournament. Victories over Texas A&M (81-63) and Colorado State (84-77) gave the Bulldogs a 12-game win streak and a trip to the “Final Four” where they faced the #1 team in the nation, the UCLA Bruins who were led by 7’2”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Drake gave Abdul-Jabbar and UCLA a run for their money coming up just three points short (85-82) of beating the eventual National Champion Bruins. Two days later, Drake beat North Carolina to finish at #3 in the tournament and ended their season with a 23-5 record and a #9 ranking.
I included a photo of the “old man” of the team, 27-year-old, Wendel Hart. It didn’t matter how loud it was in “The Pit”, when Wendel got up off of the bench to check-in to the game, it got louder, much louder, “Wendel, Wendel, Wendel”. Many times in the 67’-68’ and 68’-69’ seasons we loudly encouraged Coach Spika to put Wendel in the game. Wendel had been a JC All-American at Dallas Baptist and served four years in the Air Force before becoming an Eagle.
Today’s “It’s a Small World” story. One of the starting guards for Drake that night in Denton was a young man named, Don Draper. And here we are 50 years later with, I am told, our own member of the family, #55 D.J. Draper, grandson of Don Draper and a big part of the reason that NT is 18-3 this season. Fly Like An Eagle!