I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I believe the 1991 McPherson High boys basketball team is the best in school history and I also believe it could be one of the five best teams in Kansas history.
No, the Bullpups of that year did not go undefeated like the 1990 and 1994 MHS teams. They suffered an ugly 42-41 double-overtime loss to Hutchinson in the Sports Arena when everything they touched that night turned to brick in what was just their third game of the season.
But that momentary hiccup isn’t going to change my mind. It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years since that team graced the Roundhouse under what coach Mike Henson always called “the magical blue lights.” For those who don’t remember the Roundhouse before its renovation, the circular “blue lights” gave it somewhat of a “pit” look, and opponents probably thought they were being thrown into the lions den since the place was rocking with 2,000 wooden bleacher- stomping fans every game.
MHS finished that glorious year 23-1. It won its two sub-state games by scores of 88-59 and 63-37, then at 5A state it polished off KC Harmon (80-61), Newton (82-57) and Liberal (79-56).
MHS’ only other speed bump that season was a 66-65 overtime victory over Newton, which was a 5A Final Four team that year. No other team played the Bullpups within double digits. In the McPherson Invitational, MHS crushed Buhler (96-72), Garden City (97-55) and Emporia (85-57). I can remember the Garden City game vividly, as the Buffaloes came in as one of the top teams in Class 6A and that challenge seemed to energize the Bullpups, who played one of the greatest first halves I’ve ever seen.
The thing that always struck me about this team was that every starter was capable of scoring 20 points on any given night. You never knew who would have the hot hand and any of the five would almost always have been the best player on the opposing team. The Bullpups as a team that season shot an astounding 56 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point and a sliver under 70 percent at the line. It averaged a whopping 16 assists a game and outrebounded teams by seven a game.
Here’s a breakdown of the starting five:
• Jason Totman — Totman was the only starter who didn’t average in double figures (9.4), but handed out 3.7 assists, and shot 55 percent from the field and 73 from the line. If he had been the featured performer, he probably would have made five or six treys a game as he had remarkable range. He made his mark more on the baseball diamond, as he wound up being one of the best players in Texas Tech history and spent some time in the San Diego Padres’ organization.
• Jonathan Coachman — Coachman was the surprise player of the year. He had played in just 11 varsity games as a junior after moving in from Ohio, scoring all of 18 points. But when inserted into the lineup as a senior, he averaged 12.3 points, shooting 65 percent from the floor, 71 percent from the line while averaging 6.9 rebounds — despite having little-to-no vertical, relying on cunning and guile as he had a lot of tricks in his bag. He later went on to become an All-American at McPherson College and is now known nationally as “The Coach” on ESPN as he has made all of McPherson proud.
• Bryan Vincent — Vinny was perhaps the team’s most versatile player and had a lot of flash to his game, not to mention he was supremely confident. He was second on the team in scoring at 14.9, shot a stunning 67 percent from the field and 62 from the line. He had the exact same number of rebounds as Coachman, averaging 6.9. While he averaged only 1.8 assists, some of his passes were among the most spectacular of the year as he delighted in the no-look dish. He went on to become an All-KCAC player at Tabor and always seemed to hit some big shots against Roger Trimmell’s McPherson College Bulldogs.
• Ryan Herrs — The only underclassmen starter, Herrs was off-the-charts athletic. He averaged 12.3 points, shooting 62 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the line, while leading the team in rebounding at 7.4. Maybe the most graceful big man ever to play for the Bullpups, he really stepped it up his senior year when he averaged 22 points. Was a key player for Wichita State throughout his four-year career.
• Brian Henson — Henson was the most explosive scorer on the team, averaging 20.3 points as he could go on some serious streaks. He shot just under 50 percent from the field and 72 from the line. He had the ball in his hands a lot, leading the team in assists with 4.8 a game. He started his collegiate career at Kansas State before transferring to Washburn.
The sixth man that year was young sophomore Chad Alexander, who of course would go on to a spectacular Bullpup career and later played on a Final Four team for Oklahoma State. Henson rode his starters much of the way, but others who did see time were David Pyle, Chris Wallace and Brandon Parker.
I always wondered how this Bullpup team would have matched up with the 1977 Wichita Heights Falcons, who are still thought to be in a class by themselves. That team included Darnell Valentine, Antoine Carr, James Carr, Adolphus Holden and Calvin Alexander and blew away the field that year to win the McPherson Invitational. It would have been a fascinating matchup of the Falcons’ amazing athleticism against the Bullpups’ beauty of playing “McPherson basketball.” If those teams would ever have met in the Roundhouse, the building wouldn’t have been able to hold it because you’d need to play that one at what is now Koch Arena.
• MHS 1990-91 RESULTS •
1. MHS 101, Campus 46
2. MHS 81, Salina Central 50
3. Hutchinson 42, MHS 41, 2 OT
4. MHS 94, Derby, 40
5. MHS 85, El Dorado 55
6. MHS 57, Winfield 32
7. MHS 96, Buhler 72
8. MHS 97, Garden City 55
9. MHS 85, Emporia 57
10. MHS 70, Arkansas City 57
11. MHS 87, Campus 54
12. MHS 92, Arkansas City 56
13. MHS 77, El Dorado 54
14. MHS 43, Hutchinson 30
15. MHS 66, Newton 65, OT
16. MHS 71, Buhler 40
17. MHS 69, Winfield 48
18. MHS 86, Newton 58
19. MHS 70, Derby 51
20. MHS 88, Hays 59
21. MHS 63, Salina South 37
22. MHS 80, KC Harmon 61
23. MHS 82, Newton 57
24. MHS 79, Liberal 56