“And that’s why baby I’ve got to let you know” – Kool and the Gang
In the final installment of this five-part series, I honor my dad and the players that made magic happen on a “God-awful blue court” in a gym located on the campus of Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma. My dad and those players were more than just a coach and his ballplayers. They were my heroes, and this series of posts is a dedication to that time, those men, and some unbelievable basketball. And, oh yeah, you know I’m going to bring some sweet sounds from that era as well! Previous: Part 4 “Hutch”
Part 5: The Final Run
In the summer of 1983, while I was busy with summer basketball camps and winning trophies, Anthony Bowie and William Childs were holding down summer jobs in Seminole. Bowie remembers his days under the hot Oklahoma sun well:
“They might not ever have me working for the city (Seminole) ever again. It was hot as all get out! I was working for the city but it was with an oil company. Some of the things they had me doing man. I used to have to run out into a field with high grass, and it’s hot as Hell and I would have to paint a post bright yellow. I had my long jeans on and my boots and was watching out for snakes. It was crazy. I was telling myself I need to just be staying in the gym and working out, but (this job) gave me the opportunity to see some things and it taught me that I was either going to start working a little harder at what I need to be doing or end up with a job like that. I thought if there’s an opportunity where I can make a living playing ball then I’m staying inside with the A/C! Being out in that Oklahoma heat with grass up to my waist – I thought this definitely isn’t for me. (But) everything we did as young men built character, made us stronger, and made us think about what we really wanted to do with life. For me it did.”
Gone was our dynamic backcourt duo of Win Case and Adam Frank, but like Win Case before them, Bowie and Chilli hit the recruiting trail, which ironically led right back to Tulsa and another Division I prospect finishing his career at Tulsa Edison High School. His name was Archie Marshall.
“(Oklahoma signee) “Choo” Kennedy was OKC player of the year. We played together in the summer and I used to ride the bus to OKC and we played together with the OKC Rams. I was Tulsa player of the year, but I was also Oklahoma player of the year. To this day, Choo refuses to accept it though!” laughed Marshall.
“People asked me why did you go to Seminole? There were some stories out there regarding my eligibility as far as academics were concerned. I had to push hard to be eligible to play. I had to go to summer school after my senior year in high school to finish up a class. OU was the school I wanted to go to out of high school. Tubbs pretty much iced me and said publicly that they weren’t recruiting me because I wasn’t going to be eligible. That hurt me because I wanted to go to OU. I wasn’t ineligible. I visited TU, San Diego State, and Kansas State. Rolando Blackmon was there (K-State), but there was something about that program that just didn’t fit. Then here come William and Bowie. Those guys recruited me to Seminole. I even think your mom tutored me a little bit at Seminole. I think she helped me with one of my classes. I was at your house getting tutored because I wasn’t focused academically coming out of high school.”
“The ABC Gang” was back and the three had also moved on from the legendary “White House” to a trailer on campus the three of them shared.
“The damn trailer had holes in the bottom of it and we opossums coming up through the floor! Other than that, everything else was pretty good about it,” remembered Bowie.
Well, maybe the gang had marsupials popping up into their living quarters from time to time, but on the basketball court, our ABC Gang had added Archie Marshall to an already potent offensive attack. Early in the 1983-84 campaign, a photo shoot would have the four of them donning surgical masks and doctor scrubs and posing on top of ladders with basketballs right next to the rim. They were given the tag “Surgeons of Slam.”
I vividly remember using some paint in my garage on a long roll of butcher paper where I wrote “Surgeons of Slam.” After it dried, I rolled it up, took it to the game, put it under my seat at the end of the bench, and waited for the perfect moment.
That perfect moment came later that night when Anthony Bowie came up with a steal and raced down the left side of the blue floor with one defender sprinting to get in front of him before he reached the basket. At the last moment, Bowie glanced over his right shoulder, saw his wingman Chilli trailing, and bounced the ball between his legs perfectly to Childs who then proceeded to hammer home a thunderous left-handed dunk right over the poor defender attempting to take a charge. The gym erupted and an ensuing timeout by the opposing team occurred. That moment enabled the ballboy All-Americans to unroll the sign and hold it up before an approving crowd.
Of course that was just one of many dunks that season by the “Surgeons of Slam.”
Archie Marshall recalled: “We competed for shoes, man. There was really nothing else to do… no other incentives. It was rebounds and the hustle stuff. It was almost like a jailbreak I remember the games we played together. How we competed and competed for dunks. I wasn’t a great ball handler, but i knew if I got the rebound and I got the ball to Anthony and ran the floor I was going to get rewarded. You talk about incentives. We fought to run the floor, because if Bowie or Chilli got it they were going to go with it. People fighting to get to their lanes to get a dunk. We were fighting each other for rebounds. Coach Kerwin was a smart dude. He was a player’s coach and knew how to motivate us. I remember the most that he let us play as long as we played hard and played with effort.”
Chilli also remembered the “SJC incentive plan:” “You get so many rebounds you get a pair of tennis shoes. You get over 10 rebounds you get some new Nikes. Coach had to raise it up to 15 rebounds because I was getting some shoes! After about 3 or 4 pairs, coach had to raise that standard!”
The 1983-84 team was more dominant in some ways than the national runner-up team from a year before. With the addition of Archie, the emergence of Marcus Lee as a knock-down shooter, and freshman Roshon Patton to add depth at the guard position, these Trojans were a legitimate national title contender again.
“Marcus Lee was probably one of the best… a pure shooter, said Marshall. “The guys from Jacksonville. “Buster” (Cummings Jacobs) would rebound. Darnell could jump out of the gym. We’d be at the white house talking noise. One time we were all there and it was cold, snow on the ground, probably 15 degrees outside. We ended up taking our conversation to an outdoor park somewhere and it was either 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, but it was me and Chilli for sure and somebody against those dudes from Jacksonville, Florida – Marcus Lee and Buster Rhymes (Cummings Jacob) and we just killed those dudes. We would do stuff like that. That’s how much we loved the game and that’s how competitive we were,” said Marshall.
Early in the season though the Trojans were dealt a set-back when my dad had to dismiss two players that were going to play a lot for this Seminole team – Aaron Combs and Greg Willie.
Chilli recalled the incident: “Aaron Combs came in and he was from California and he was like 6’9 and would have really helped us out. And then we had a guy from Bradley (University) – Greg Willie. So we were starting Bowie and Greg Willie at the guards and then Archie and Ray and I and Aaron Combs was coming off the bench and we were really talented. But at our first tournament in Hobbs, NM coach had to send Greg and Aaron home. I don’t know what those guys did, but I think they didn’t pay for a meal and coach got their ass up out of there! Your dad didn’t play that stuff.”
That dismissal did occur after Combs and Willie skipped out without paying for a meal in New Mexico, and it came on the heels of three straight wins in the New Mexico Tournament to begin the season 3-0.
Connors State College handed the Trojans our first loss of the year 63-60 in the first game back in Oklahoma. After that though, the Trojans won 21 of their next 22 games with only a two point loss to Westark ruining what would have been a 22 game win streak. Two of those wins included double-digit wins over Independence, Kansas.
After a loss to honorable mention All-American Greg Epps and Eastern Oklahoma 87-83, the Trojans, behind our first team All-American Anthony Bowie, won their final three regular season games that season heading into the state tournament, which had been moved from OKC to the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
A first round win over Northern 86-67 set up a semi-final matchup with NEO. Anthony Bowie made his first seven shots that game and our nationally 14th ranked Trojan team was never in trouble routing NEO 77-49.
“They are playing very well,” said NEO coach Larry Gipson after the game. “We had hoped for a nip and tuck game, but we just got a good whipping. We had them shooting 63 percent (from the field).”
Bowie finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, but Chilli was the dominant performer in the NEO win with 24 points and 12 boards setting up a championship game rubber match against Eastern.
Eastern had defeated St. Gregory’s in the other semi-final in a close one. We had beaten Eastern early in the year by two and then had lost by four just a few weeks before the state tournament. The Trojans surged to an early 17-6 lead and held a nine point lead at the half. The Mountaineers closed to within 66-59 late in the game before we scored eight straight points to put the game out of reach on our way to our fourth straight state championship. Bowie and Chilli both scored over 20 while Ray added 17 and Archie added 13.
“We’ve got a heck of a ball club,” my dad said after the game. “I told these kids even though we’d won the last three straight state championships, this is the best team I have coached.”
Our Region II opponent was Southern Arkansas Tech University from Camden, AR. In game one, we trailed by two points at halftime before rallying for a 74-54 win.
Game two back at Seminole was nearly identical. A slim halftime lead this time turned into a 74-57 win after a 14-2 spurt to start the first six minutes of the second half. Archie Marshall had a game high 23 points while Alford had 17. Bowie and Roshon Patton both scored in double figures as well.
“I told the players at halftime, if we lose this game, I’m not going to Conway (Arkansas for game three),” said my dad.
The win gave the Trojans nine straight, and put us into the NJCAA playoffs for the second straight season. But in an odd year, the Region II winner had to defeat the Region VI winner (Kansas) to earn the trip to Hutch.
After a 12 day layoff, on March 16, we hosted Independence, Kansas in a one-game battle with a spot in Hutchinson on the line. The Pirates were led in the interior by Ron Roberts (would sign with OU), guard Carliss Jeter (Tennessee-Chattanooga), and a 6’3″ sophomore guard from McPherson, Kansas, named Brad Underwood.
The Trojans started off slowly and we trailed 20-10 just nine minutes into the game. Early in the second half trailing 34-25, we rallied scoring 22 of the next 29 points to take a 47-41 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. We had just given Independence a solid combination that had the Pirates on the ropes. But Ron Roberts hit two straight buckets for Independence to cut the lead to two and steady the Pirates. There were five ties before a Roberts’ tip-in gave Independence a one point lead with six minutes remaining. A pair of Underwood free throws and another Pirates bucket had Independence up 61-56. Chilli scored and we were within 61-58 when the Pirates went into their stall game burning over two minutes off the clock and ending with a Carliss Jeter layup putting them back up five. The Pirates continued to play the stall game and Underwood continued to make free throws. Underwood, who would go on to play for Jack Hartman at Kansas State University and is now the current head coach at The University of Illinois, was averaging 17 points per game and poured in a game high 22 points that night as Independence advanced to Hutch with a 70-64 win.
“We made the game with Seminole such a big game,” said Underwood. “We had a tough road to make it to the NJCAA national tourney that year. We had to go win at Barton County then had to go to Seminole and play on that God-awful blue court.”
After having lost twice during the regular season, everything fell into place for Independence the third time around and the Pirates ended our season and our 26 game home winning streak.
Chilli: “We had just blasted Independence twice during the season (Seminole won 84-68 and 81-70 in the previous two meetings). I don’t know how we lost that game. They just got hot really though. Underwood and Jeter. Basically, it was a first round NJCAA tournament game that we played at home, but we thought why are we playing this anyway?”
My dad had a similar feeling and was quoted after the game:
“We were just so flat the first half. We shot 34 percent and had 11 turnovers in the first half. Maybe it was because we had such a long layoff. We couldn’t get into the rhythm of the game. You hate to lose. Maybe if we played again, we’d win next time. It’s just one of those things.”
Independence took our spot in the NJCAA National Tournament and proceeded to march all the way to the finals where they too fell to San Jacinto in the title game 86-82 giving San Jac and (NYC playground legend and St. John’s signee) Walter Berry back-to-back championships.
“We beat Seminole and then had to win 2 straight games in the same scenario where we had to go full court to win the game (in the NJCAA tourney). A Ron Roberts tip-in won the first game against Vincennes at the buzzer, and the second game (against Nate McMillon and Chowan College in Murfreesboro, NC), we made the shot at the end and won it (Carliss Jeter’s shot). Walter Berry was one of the greatest players I ever played against in the finals that season.”
For the Trojans that final season, four of them averaged at least 15 points per game including our sensational freshman Archie Marshall, who scored at a 16.7 clip.
“The thing I remember is it was just fun to play with those guys,” said Marshall. “Everyone challenged each other to get better and Coach Kerwin was easy to play for. He would get on your ass and yell and scream with his scraggly voice, but I wasn’t thinking about wins and losses. Our practices were fun. The food was terrible. I think it was Wednesday Salisbury steak day. Nobody had any money but playing with Chilli and those guys was just good memories.”
“The ABC Gang” was as good as advertised that final season with Ray Alford and William Childs both averaging 15 points per game, but it was Anthony Bowie who led our last Seminole team in scoring with an 18.5 average, and who was also responsible for many Division I coaches visiting the SJC campus and the Kerwin house.
Athletic Director Thurman Edwards recalled one particular meeting with my dad, Bowie, and an assistant coach at a prominent Division I program:
“(This coach) came into my office after a basketball game that season, and he had a wad of money in his hand for Bowie. But your dad, said ‘Anthony, don’t you do it,’ and he didn’t.”
Anthony Bowie ended up signing with the University of Oklahoma and played the next two seasons under Coach Billy Tubbs. After his career at OU, Bowie was drafted in the 3rd round of the NBA by the Houston Rockets. He would go on to play for 16 seasons combined in the CBA, NBA, and in Europe. Bowie currently resides in the Orlando area.
“I enjoyed with what I was doing and I had good guys I was playing with and we were really enjoying it. We were like one big family. When we were at Seminole, the staff, people like Miss Bonnie (Ritchie) taking care of us. And just the people in the town of Seminole like your mom and dad and their friends like the Sims and Lacks and Moddelmogs. We could not do what we did without the help of those people you know what I’m saying. Those people took care of us and made sure we were eating and making sure we were doing alright. We don’t do what we do without all the people involved and the support of the people in Seminole. All we had to do was go and play,” said Bowie.
“Sugar” Ray Alford signed with Paul Hansen and Oklahoma State University where he teamed up once again with Win Case. Alford graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and spent over 20 years in the aviation industry. Now retired, Alford lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area.
William Childs went on to become a starting forward at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, and averaged double figures the next two seasons before playing overseas in France a few years. Childs then joined and toured with the Marques Haynes Harlem Magicians. He now resides in Tulsa and still keeps in frequent contact with Case, Bowie, and Alford.
Archie Marshall returned to Seminole Junior College under new head coach Riley Wallace for his sophomore season before leaving at semester break and enrolling at the University of Kansas. Often sidelined by knee problems, Archie Marshall earned a national championship ring as part of “Danny and the Miracles” in 1988. Marshall was also the final draft pick of the 1989 draft by San Antonio and his former coach, Larry Brown.
“That was the year Bowie was signed by the Spurs and I got to spend the summer with him. I was actually with Bowie when they offered him the contract. We were eating at the mall one of those all you can eat joints and he ended up buying everybody lunch after he found out.”
Archie now lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area.
“Here’s what’s crazy,” said Marshall. “John Calipari was a part-time assistant at Kansas and the only reason he saw me play was because he was recruiting Bowie and probably Chilli at Seminole. Cal started recruiting me to go to Kansas. Halfway through my sophomore year, I called Coach (Larry) Brown and I said ‘I’m ready to leave, do you have a spot for me?’ I called my mom. I was staying in the trailers and I grabbed my stuff out of the trailer and I was gone. So they’re (Bowie and Chilli) the reason I probably got the opportunity to go to KU.”
“People need to be reminded of the good things they did like your family. The sacrifices, the commitments. He wasn’t just a coach. He was like a father. I know he spent a lot of money off the record feeding us and it takes a huge commitment as a coach and as a coach’s wife to be committed and to support that. I’m sure it got easier at the Division I level, but that was still fun to go back and reflect on it.”
Under Coach Riley Wallace, the Trojans would go on to win their fifth straight state championship without Archie in 1985.
In his four seasons at Seminole, my dad led the Trojans to a 122-24 record (an 84% winning percentage). In six seasons as junior college coach (two at Northern and four at Seminole), my dad sent 16 players to NCAA Division I schools and 15 others to smaller four-year colleges.
My dad was hired by Billy Tubbs after that 1984 season and joined the Oklahoma Sooner staff for an initial salary of $34,000. The next six seasons my dad would help recruit Sooner greats like Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock, Ricky Grace, and Harvey Grant.
After the 1989-90 season, my dad joined up as an assistant coach for Dana Altman, who was then the head coach at Kansas State University.
After two seasons in Manhattan, my dad was hired as the head basketball coach at Western Illinois University, where he spent 11 seasons as the head man of the WIU Leathernecks. Ten of those seasons his top assistant coach was Brad Underwood.
All roads lead back to Seminole.
In the February 1985 Seminole Producer newspaper, my dad was asked if he missed Seminole to which he replied:
“You do a lot of moving in the coaching profession. We made a lot of good friends in Seminole which we will always have no matter where we go.”
We did make a lot of good friends during those four years and created some great moments on the basketball floor and off of it. I was 13 when we moved from Seminole to Norman, and I would get to witness some great basketball in the days ahead watching Sooner greats like Wayman and Mookie and Stacey. But it was those Seminole guys – “Deac,” Bruce, “Boo,” Win, “Chilli,” Ray, Archie, and others that will always be my first heroes, my forever guys you could say.
They were the ones I would pretend to be playing on the nerf hoop hanging on my bedroom door. They were the ones I would imitate across the street on the chain-netted basketball goals at Northwood Elementary in Seminole. They were larger-than-life heroes that could do no wrong. They seemingly made every crucial basket, got every rebound, chased down every loose ball, and threw home the best dunks I’d ever seen. And they were led for four glorious seasons by my dad, who was the greatest coach in the world to me.
Times change. The game evolves and marches forward. Heroes age. They become mortal. The specifics of times long ago fade somewhere into the recesses of the mind. The memories become fragments and pieces. Trophies and plaques gather dust while newspaper clippings and pictures sit in boxes in storage units and attics. But the stories… oh how the stories will live on. And the feelings born out of that time, of excitement and nervousness and joy and sadness, will always resonate deep down within all of us that lived those four years. And most of all, the deep bond that developed within the players, the coaches, the staff, the All-American ballboys, and the people of Seminole – those will be the things regardless of distance or time that we’ll always have.
“She’s the one, the one for me. She’s the kind of girl makes you feel nice, so”
I started this series with a Kool and the Gang classic and I feel it’s only right to end it with another one. I distinctly remember being in one of the old SJC station wagons that we used to travel to the games with, and hearing this song on the radio on one of those post-game late night trips back to Seminole. It hit #1 on the R&B charts in January of 1984 and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 a short time later just as the team was cruising to its’ fourth straight state championship. It’s the mid-tempo dedication to “Joanna”…
Finally, this series would not have been possible without the cooperation of the many people that contributed to these pieces. So, my thanks to the following people:
The players and my phone interviewees:
William “Chilli” Childs – Chilli was the first interview and also has a lot of pictures on his Facebook account which helped out too! It’s two “L’s” Thanks Chilli!
Dr. Henry “Deac” Wright, Jr.
Joseph Boutte (via Twitter)
Rodney “Slim” Jones (via text)
Former SJC staff:
Bonnie Ritchie (via FB Messenger)
Coach Brad Underwood
Coach Don Sumner
Coach Dana Altman
My dad, Jim Kerwin
And thanks to my co-All-American ballboy Brandon Buss
Thanks for reading and thanks for spending some time with me back in 1980 through 1984 in the town of Seminole, Oklahoma and on the campus of SJC.