In honor of March Madness and the basketball frenzy that has washed over the University Library like a monsoon, (I may be exaggerating), we thought we would pay tribute to our own Wright State Raiders and their basketball accomplishments over the years. While WSU hoops teams may not be perennial champions, the university has a rich basketball history, including a national championship and a fervent, pirate-themed student rooting section known as the “Raider Rowdies”. The latter, in fact, gave rise to our first mascot, Rowdy Raider, in 1987. The orange bearded, tights wearing viking may have given way to Rowdy the Wolf, and our pirate-clad fans replaced by the bowler hats and visages of the Wright Brothers. But the distinctive Wright State spirit continues to endure on the hardwood at the Nutter Center. There are many highlights in the history of WSU basketball, including the men’s team, women’s team, and wheelchair basketball team. In this installment we will be covering the men’s team, with additional installments to follow. There are too many highlights and stories to cover in a single post, but below are some of our favorites. If you are interested to learn more about WSU sports history, we invite you to visit Special Collections & Archives, where you can review the archival records of nearly all of of our athletic teams. We also would encourage you to visit the athletics hallway by the Berry Room in the Nutter Center, where numerous exhibits are on display of WSU athletics, its teams and awards.
The first varsity basketball game at Wright State, January 26, 1973 in the new P.E. Building, (now a part of the Student Union). Prior to 1973, the varsity basketball team held all of their practices and home games at either Xenia High School, Stebbins High School, or the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.
Due in large part to the large pool of local talent in area high school teams, Wright State quickly established themselves as a regional contender. In 1978, Ralph Underhill became head coach and developed the team into a Division II powerhouse. In 18 years at WSU, Underhill compiled an overall win/loss record of 356-162.
By the 1980’s the men’s basketball program had emerged as a national contender, culminating with a trip to the Division II National Championship in 1983, where the Raiders defeated the District of Columbia 92-73 to become the Division II national champions.
After spending many years as a dominant Division II force, Wright State Athletics transitioned to become a NCAA Division I school in 1987. While the move to Division I Athletics is often a very difficult transition for a school to make, WSU’s Men’s Basketball made an immediate impact, and in 1990 was invited to join the Mid-Continent Conference. In just its third year in the conference, WSU defeated the University of Illinois-Chicago in the MCC Championships. Earning its first invitation to the NCAA National Tournament, The Raiders played Bobby Knight’s Indiana University in the first round. WSU lost by approximately a zillion points, but it was a watershed moment for WSU athletics.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected and exciting memories of WSU Men’s Basketball was on December 30, 1999, when the 6th ranked and eventual national champion Michigan State Spartans visited the Nutter Center, and were upset by Wright State 53-49. The game was referred to as the “Upset of the Millennium”.
There have been many exciting upsets for the Raiders over the years, and while none can quite compare to the upset over Michigan State, there were several that perhaps were more meaningful. One example would be the 101-99 upset over the University of Dayton Flyers at UD Arena on January 6, 1990. Another example is the 91-90 upset over the Xavier Musketeers in 1995, WSU’s first victory over a nationally ranked team. Most recently, and pictured below, was the 2007 upset over Butler University in the Horizon League Championships, earning WSU it’s 2nd trip to the NCAA National Championships. People were a little excited.