The Pryor Times

March 14, 2013

'There ought to be a law'

Remembering the 1963 Chouteau basketball team

Chuck Porter
Sports Editor

CHOUTEAU, OK — In 1963, Chouteau's boys rode three crucial “C's” to a state basketball championship: Christ, concentration and candy.

“Christ is the foundation for anything in your life, so that was the foundation for our ball club,” then-head coach Nelson “Doc” Devers explained.

“Concentration is about doing what you're supposed to do,” Devers continued. “Going out there and not thinking about what you're going to do on the weekend or anything else, but being focused on the basketball game.”

And the candy?

“We played a real rough brand of basketball. Not dirty, but rough. In scrimmage one day, we got a little bit too rough,” Devers said. “We all respected one another, and I wanted to keep things from getting out of hand. We needed to save that rough stuff for the games. So the next day I said, 'Let's all go to the dressing room,' and I handed out a Hershey's to everybody.”

The players were confused.

“I said 'Have you ever seen somebody angry eating a Hershey's candy bar?'”

After that, there was no more dissent in the locker room.

— — —

Any discussion of Chouteau's basketball tradition begins with Doc Devers and his squads in the early '60s, but current CHS coach Travis Wheeler's boys play a pretty high caliber of hoops.

This year's state tournament Chouteau squad was led by several seniors, including guard Jason Couch.

“He's one of the best players I've seen around here in years,” Devers said. “He's got quickness, and he's really very humble. He's got skills, he can see passing lanes and get it in there. Just an all-around great player.”

While all of that is definitely true, it's possible that Devers might be a little biased.

“I'll proudly claim him as my nephew,” Devers said with a laugh.

Yes, there's plenty of Chouteau basketball blood running through Couch's veins — sometimes so much so that a little spills out. During an area playoff game Feb. 23 against Kiefer, Couch was cut above the eye. Blood streamed down, but Couch, ever the competitor, had it patched up and stayed in the game. Chouteau prevailed, 43-40, and Couch wore a bandage above his right eye for the rest of the postseason like a badge of honor.

Playing through pain seems to be a trademark of Wildcats who make it deep in the playoffs. Dwain White, who was a top threat on Devers' state championship squad, rolled his ankle (walking up his front porch, not driving for a layup) before the state tournament began, but played in all three games and led the team in scoring in the most important game of his high school career.

There was no way White was going to be denied his opportunity to play on the state tournament stage. “We wrapped it up tight and he played through. He was a tough kid,” Devers said.

He's one of many tough kids that have worn a Wildcat uniform.

— — —

Devers coached for five years at Chouteau, his alma mater. He was 32 years of age when his team won the state title in 1963.

“We concentrated on our defense. We ran a 1-3-1. If they can't score, they can't win. That's kind of the way we looked at it,” Devers said. “Defense was the name of the game for us. The 1-3-1, if it's not set up right, it's the sorriest zone in basketball. If it is, it's the toughest thing you've got going.”

Chouteau lost just one game in their 1963 state title season, a 38-31 defeat at the hands of Salina. They blazed through the regular season and postseason tournaments, finally winding up in Oklahoma City for the state tourney.

In the first round of the '63 tournament at the Oklahoma City Municipal Auditorium, the Wildcats played Geary. Geary took a seven-point lead with about three minutes to play when Doc called a timeout.

“Our front man, Johnny Justice, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, 'Coach, we gotta do something,'” Devers said. “I said, 'Yeah, you're right.'”

Whatever they did, it worked. Chouteau found itself up by three with 15 seconds to play. Devers, along with everyone else in the building, knew who was going to take Geary's next shot: H.L. Brown.

Brown was well-known as a pure shooter. As Devers recalled, he just knew how to put it in the hole. He could knock it down from anywhere on the court.

“If we'd have had 3-pointers back then,” Devers said, “there's no telling how many points he would have scored.”

In the huddle before Geary's final possession, post player Ken Holmes spoke up with authority. “If you all get out of my way,” Holmes said, “I'll get the rebound when he misses.”

Sure enough, Brown missed to the right, and Holmes snared the rebound. The game in hand, Holmes passed out to teammate Robert Steddum ― who happened to be standing out of bounds.

“Boy, I could have cried,” Devers said.

With five seconds left, Geary went to inbound the ball ― and promptly passed it to a Chouteau player. The Wildcats escaped with a 47-44 win.

“When we got back to the hotel after that first game, I took off my coat and looked down. There were sweat rings that went to my belt,” Devers said. “There was a good deal of pressure in that game.”

— — —

In the state semifinals, Chouteau drew a tough Dunjee team they beat by four, 45-41, to set up the state final match with Muldrow.

After the win over Dunjee Friday, Devers went back to his hotel room and went to sleep in preparation for their game Saturday with Muldrow. At 2:12 early Saturday morning, he received a telegram. Devers feared the worst, because a telegram that early in the morning was almost always bad news.

It wasn't bad news, though. It wasn't really news at all.

“It was from some ag teacher or something at two o'clock in the morning sent me that. 'Don't stop now,' it read. Go all the way.'” Devers said. “Add to that there was a honky-tonk across the street that had been slamming doors and making noise all night. Boy, I was just so keyed up then, I couldn't go back to sleep.”

Since Devers was already dressed, he decided to take a walk. He went five or six blocks down the street in downtown Oklahoma City, where he found a small church.

“To this day I have no idea what the name was or what denomination it was, but when I tried that door, it was open,” Devers said.

Doc prayed that he wouldn't make any coaching errors and that he and his players would perform to the best of their ability. He didn't pray for a win, because that's exactly what Muldrow would be praying for, too.

“I stayed in the dark for about 10 or 15 minutes and felt really good when I came out of there,” Devers said.

— — —

Six o'clock. It was go time.

Muldrow shared the hotel with Chouteau, one floor below the Wildcats. The night of the state title game, the Chouteau manager overheard some of Muldrow's players saying that they were going to attack Holmes at the rim, because they thought he was “just big and clumsy” and couldn't stop them.

“That was the best thing Ken could have heard,” Devers said. “He showed 'em on Saturday night.”

Holmes was a terror that night. He anchored the Wildcat defense, which held Muldrow to just 11 points in the first half.

The two teams were deadlocked at 11 heading into halftime, but then Devers did something he'd never done in his coaching career. He didn't head into the locker room. Instead, the team stayed on the floor to stretch or stay loose.

Devers looked around at his team, gathered them close and said three words: “We've got 'em.”

Chouteau was a third-quarter team that year, and proved it to the state that night in Oklahoma City. Steddum and Justice led Chouteau on a 9-2 run out of the break. The Wildcats outscored Muldrow 16-5 in the third quarter and coasted to the win on free throws in the fourth, securing the school's first ever boys basketball state title with a 29-1 record.

All-stater White scored 11 points and was named to the the all-tournament first team. Holmes scored 10 points and was named to the second team.

“Muldrow ran a 3-2 zone [in the 1963 state title game],” Devers remembered. “The next year, they came back and won the state championship. I went down and watched them, and they played with a 1-3-1 zone. The same one we used to beat' em the year before.

“That's one of the biggest compliments you can get as a coach.”

Unfortunately, winning the trophy wasn't all good news for Chouteau.

After the game, Devers pointed out that the high school didn't have a trophy case big enough to put the hardware in.

— — —

It's been exactly 50 years since March 14, 1963, the night that Chouteau celebrated its last state championship in basketball. This year's edition of the Chouteau Wildcats came close, but fell just short in the state semifinals.

“That [1963] team had a great respect for one another,” Devers said. “They respected me, and I respected them.”

Those three “C's” — Christ, concentration and candy — have plenty to do with that.

Times have changed a little since Doc and his boys won their title. A player can score three points on just one shot now. Chouteau plays in Class 2A, not in Class B. Doc still wears a hat, but there's a little less hair under there than in '63.

But there's no denying when a team is just plain good.

“One night,” Devers remembered about his 1963 team, “after we'd beat a team pretty bad, a fellow came up to me and said, 'Coach, there ought to be a law against having a team as good as that.'”