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April 19, 2024

Championship Team Remembered

DSU honors basketball team that won first GSC Men’s Title in 1972

By Andy Collier

Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet

The night of Feb. 19 turned out to be a special night as Delta State University honored the 1971-72 Statesmen basketball team that won the inaugural Gulf South Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1972.

Players and coaches were recognized during a ceremony at halftime of the men’s basketball game with the University of Montevallo at the Lloyd Clark Court at the Walter Sillers Coliseum. Before the ceremony, the surviving members of the 1972 team that were able to attend were given their championship rings. They also had a chance to visit with fans at the Margaret Wade Room during the women’s game. 

Tevora Grifflin, a graduate of East Side High School and Cleveland resident that played basketball at DSU from 1971-73, said the idea to start up a 50th reunion came up in a casual fashion. 

“My neighbor, Coach (Craig) Roden’s wife, asked me if I’ve seen the pictures over at the athletic field house,” said Griffin. “I said, ‘No’, and she said, ‘They got your picture on the wall up there with you and some of your honors. After a couple of days, I figured I would go by and see what Coach Roden’s wife was talking about. I went by there, and I saw the pictures when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and they had a lot of good things up there. They had some of my stats up there.”

When Griffin was at the field house, he ended up striking up a conversation with Delta State University Director of Athletics Mike Kinnison. 

“Mike (Kinnison) was coming out of his office.,’ said Griffin. “I said ,’ Hey Mike.’ He said, ‘Hey, T. How are you doing?’ I said, ‘Good. There’s a question I need to ask you.’ I said, ‘Normally when a team or college team wins a championship, they get rings right? When I was in school, they didn’t do that back then.’ He said, ‘I tell you what T. You get me those ring sizes, and I’ll see if I can do something about it.’”

Griffin called all of the surviving members of the championship team.

“I got everybody’s ring sizes, and I gave them to Mike,” said Griffin. “He said he’s going to make it happen. We stayed in contact with each other, and I told the players that we’re probably going to be receiving some rings from Delta State for winning the first Gulf South Conference Championship. They were elated and just happy about it. To make a long story short, it came to pass. We got those rings.”

In the 1971-72 season, the Statesmen went 19-8 and defeated Jacksonville State University 87-62, North Alabama 81-71 and Troy University, then known as Troy State, 90-58 to win the GSC Tournament. The Statesmen that year also went 1-1 in the NCAA Regional Tournament at Cleveland by beating Transylvania (Ky.) 71-59 but lost to Tennessee State 79-73. 

Members of the 1972 team are Mickey Burton (5-2, 193, F/G), the late Don Cooper (6-3, 175, G), Larry Magee (6-0, 165, G), Verbon Maness (6-4, 180, F), the late Jesse Palmer (6-3, 185, F), Don Fitzgerald (6-7, 220, C), Tommy Goodwin (6-4, 210, F), TGriffin (6-7, 231, F/C), Derrick Hunter (6-6, 186, F), Roger Owen (5-11, 155, G), Charles Patrick (6-3, 188, G/F), Don “Pete” Peterson (6-1, 167, G/F) and Walter Scrubbs (6-7, 215, C). Jack Waters was the head coach and Ken Parks was the assistant coach. The managers were Dan Stephens and David Kilgore.

Cooper and Griffin earned All-GSC honors that year, while Cooper and Jesse Palmer earned NCAA Division II All-Region Laurels. Griffin is currently fifth on the school’s all-time career rebounds list with 778, while Cooper is 11th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,278 points. Griffin and Cooper are both members of the Delta State University Sports Hall of Fame. 

Peterson is a Mound Bayou native and a graduate of John F. Kennedy Memorial High School and Goodwin, and Owen are Drew natives, and Drew High School graduates. 

Members of the team that were there to be honored were Griffin, Goodwin, Hunter, Magee, Owen, Patrick, Peterson, Stephens, Kilgore, Parks and Waters.

“Everybody was sporting their rings,” said Griffin. “I put mine on and everybody else had theirs on. I think I’m going to wear this rascal for a while.”

Waters, who posted a record of 33-17 in two seasons as head coach of the Statesmen, was thrilled about the team being remembered 50 years later. 

“These kids were great in 1971 and 72,” said Waters. “The fact that they showed up 50 years later shows how great they really are. They are super people. They’re fine men and good strong people in their community. I would like to thank Mike and everybody at Delta State for making this thing possible.”

Griffin felt fortunate he and his teammates were able to be remembered one more time. 

“Some of us got our flowers while we were still living,” said Griffin. “That’s a blessing.”