Home Official News Releases Drake celebrates 40th anniversary of its Final Four basketball team

Drake celebrates 40th anniversary of its Final Four basketball team

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Drake will retire the jerseys and numbers of Dolph Pulliam, Willie McCarter and Willie Wise.

Drake will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its 1969 Final
Four team by unveiling two new banners honoring the team and its coach, the late Maury John, in a special ceremony starting at 6:45 p.m.
today in the Drake Knapp Center, 2525 Forest Ave.

Then at 7:05 p.m. the Drake men’s basketball team will take on Austin Peay in
the ESPN BracketBusters game. At halftime, Drake will retire the jerseys and
numbers of 1968-69 team members Willie McCarter, Dolph Pulliam and Willie Wise.

Read more about the storied Drake team in today’s Des Moines

Under the leadership of coach John, the 1968-69 Bulldogs were one of the
greatest comeback teams in college basketball history. After finishing last in
the Missouri Valley Conference in 1967, the Bulldogs rebounded with a No. 3
national ranking in 1969.

The Bulldogs posted a then school record 26-5 mark in 1968-69, sharing the
Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title with Louisville before
defeating the Cardinals in a playoff for the league’s bid to the NCAA

Drake defeated Texas A&M and
Colorado State in the 1969 NCAA Midwest Regional to advance to the Final Four.
In the semifinal round the Bulldogs gave two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA
everything it could handle before dropping an 85-82 setback.

Drake rebounded to overwhelm North Carolina, 104-84, in the consolation
championship behind 28 points and 10 assists from McCarter.

Drake finished third in the final 1969 Associated Press college basketball
poll. John was named the national coach of the year in 1969 by the U.S.
Basketball Writers Association of America. He died of cancer in 1974 at the age
of 55

“I’m excited [about the 40th anniversary reunion and celebration] and
honored on behalf of our coaches and our entire basketball team,” said
Pulliam, who wore No. 5. “They were a special group of guys. I’m so
appreciative that the University has chosen to honor us this way.”

McCarter and Wise echoed Pulliam’s comments, attributing much of their success
to coach John.

“Without Coach John being present in my lifetime, none of this would have
happened,” said McCarter, No.15. “Everything I’ve received all my
life is because of Drake. This is just the icing on the cake for me and I’m
really blessed and honored.”

Wise, No. 42, added, “I’m so appreciative of Maurice John. He took a
chance on me and inserted me into the starting lineup and from there everything
else is history.”

McCarter, the leading scorer on the 1968-69 team, earned All-American honors by
the Helms Athletic Foundation. Setting school records for field goals in a
season and field goals in a career, he was ranked second on the school career
scoring charts when he left Drake. He went on as a 1969 first-round draft pick
of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Pulliam ranked as one of Drake’s best all-around performers, renowned for his
defensive, scoring and rebounding abilities. Pulliam left Drake ranked No. 11
on the career scoring list and No. 9 on the career rebounding charts. He was
drafted by the Boston Celtics and also turned down a free agent contract with
the Dallas Cowboys.

Wise was a standout performer on the 1968-69 team, setting a school
single-season record of 343 rebounds. He ranked fourth on the school career
rebounding list, and went on to success with the Utah Stars of the American
Basketball Association (ABA). Wise also was named to the 30-member all-time ABA
team in 1997.