“Hey Coach Wire, I’m Kent Murphree. Welcome to Ark City, we’re glad you’re here and we are going to win the 5A state championship!” This part of the story may not be chronologically accurate but the statement was made very early in our coach/player relationship. Though somewhat skeptical, I was encouraged at his optimism and enthusiasm. The 1987 Bulldogs had just completed a nine win season and even though it had been the most successful in years, the likelihood of transitioning from nine wins to state champions was improbable. In fact, there were some around the high school and community who took exception with a comment I made in my first interview with the Traveler, one in which I stated we would like to come in and get it going and win 15 games or so. The comment was viewed by the athletic director as “cocky”, perhaps disrespectful to the previous coach. In contrast, the three returning guards for the Bulldogs that year actually took exception with “15”. I think Shane Mullen, Garrett Long, and Kent Murphree knew we had a chance to do something special.
Being a young coach and having only taught in a small school I had not been exposed to the basketball resources available in Ark City. The high school had two gyms, both under 10 years old. The middle school gym was small but nice, and the community college program was improving and was going to “take off” under Coach Murphree (Kent’s father). It seemed Ark City lacked an awareness of the basketball resources available to the community as well. There was a tremendous football and wrestling “following” but overall, that of basketball paled in comparison. Acknowledging the physical resources available, these paled in comparison to the human resources available. There were basketball players in Ark City, potential just waiting to be tapped.
Murph took advantage of both.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1987, Ark city basketball players were congregating at the Cowley County gym and at the “Rec” working on skills or playing pick-up games. If you had basketball potential and you weren’t playing, you were on Murph’s call list. There is little doubt that some weren’t as appreciative of being a part of the call list as others but his persistence paid off for the Bulldogs during the 87–88 basketball season and was an integral part of the team’s success that year and future years. Importantly, as I was busy coaching freshman football during the fall, anyone who was not involved in a fall sport was playing basketball after school or in the evenings.
In December 1987 we opened up our season against Eldorado at home with a very ugly 71-45 win. We followed the Eldorado game with a huge road win against state-ranked Newton and I started to see that we may really have something. However, Kent Murphree was particularly displeased with his performance through the first two games and after we dismissed the team for the weekend, came up to me and apologized for his level of play, promising he would play better. In the off-season and early season, Kent had already demonstrated extraordinary commitment to himself and his team.
But, we were about to witness an entirely different level.
On Saturday after the Newton game “Murph” spent the entire day working on his game, shooting around with the Cowley County team, the day was all basketball. Sunday after church I agreed to meet him at the high school gym for some shooting time. This in and of itself was not unusual as we were going to open the gym on Sunday afternoons most of the season anyway. I went to church that morning and when I arrived at the gym around 1 o’clock Kent had already found his way inside (I still don’t know how players were always able to get in to the AC gym).
Kent warmed up working his way around the basket several times and eventually started toeing up to the 3 point line. He had set a goal to make 25 “threes” in a row before leaving the gym, a very difficult task. One hour became two; two became three, four and so on. I don’t recall if he ever made 25 in a row, I am betting that he did! That day defined “Murph” for me: dedication, commitment, the ability to stick with something even when it becomes drudgery, a determination that very few possess.
Kent scored 6 points in game one and 5 points in game two. The game following that Sunday shooting marathon saw Kent go 13-15 from the field and score 33 points. He modeled a life lesson for me and his teammates, if you aren’t satisfied with things that are within your control, work hard and do something about it. Are you already working hard? Work harder!
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all of your might! Do it as if for God, not merely for man” Colossians 3:23 (paraphrase)
I had this scripture in the playbook throughout my coaching career. I believed then and more so now, that hard work, commitment, and dedication should be a hallmark for Christians. We should stand out at work, at school, at practice, due to extraordinary effort and work ethic. “What else can I do for you?” “How can I help?”
Kent Murphree and the 1988 Bulldogs epitomized the principal of “doing work with all of our might”. There’s much more to say about these Bulldogs. They were a very special group of young men. In my opinion, we were the best team in 5A Basketball that year but had to settle for the 3rd place trophy (see “I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know).
Kent Murphree – KBCA All-Star Program entry
1988 Bulldogs – Kansas 5A 3rd Place