The 1983 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament provided many storylines that fans talk about today.
Whether it’s North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles' put back as time expired to give legendary coach Jim Valvano his only NCAA Championship, or the 1983 Dream Game between Kentucky and Louisville that helped set up the annual series, 1983 means so much to college basketball.
But 1983 was also a defining year for the Morehead State Men’s Basketball program. A team led by former coach Wayne Martin made MSU history by taking the Eagles to the Big Dance for the first time since 1961.
The Eagles, an 11 seed, were selected to face sixth seeded Syracuse in Hartford, Conn., on March 18, 1983. They lost 74-59.
But almost 30 years to the day, Martin can remember like it was yesterday.
“We were on a bus halfway between Murray and Morehead when we got word of who we’re playing and where and what day,” Martin said. “It was a wonderful time for college basketball for Kentucky.”
Morehead State was 19-11 that season and second in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 10-4 record. Murray State, who won the regular season, hosted the OVC Tournament. The Eagles faced Tennessee Tech in the tournament, defeated them to face Akron, who upset the Racers on their floor for a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“We were so certain that Murray would dominate that game (vs. Akron), we did not even bring film or scouting info on Akron,” Martin said. “Our team secretary left Morehead at midnight with film and we starting reviewing Akron that next morning.”
In a thrilling championship game, Morehead State pulled away from the Zips 81-65 to represent the OVC in the tournament.
But to Martin, behind that curtain of a championship was a decision midway through the season to springboard the Eagles to their success.
Morehead played in UNLV’s Christmas tournament that season. A decision was made after some adversity in Las Vegas to insert Jeff Fultz and fifth year senior Rocky Adkins into the starting lineup.
“From that point forward, our coaching staff decided that we would not have any time during the 40 minute stretch that Jeff and Rocky were not on the floor,” Martin said. “We played to our potential the rest of the season.”
With a team comprised of Guy Minnifield, Earl Harrison, Jeff Tipton, Rocky Adkins, Jeff Tucker, Jeff Fultz and many others from the 1983 team, they placed their names in the history books at MSU.
“It was one of the greatest games I had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Adkins said. “To come out of that tunnel and live that dream was a tremendous honor and it’s a memory I think about often and never forget.”
So the university had about five days to scramble to get tickets, transportation and lodging for players, administration and the fans to see the Eagles play the Orangemen. Martin, like any coach, gives credit to everyone who helped to have such a following 770 miles from campus.
“Keith Kappes immediately began organizing everything,” Martin said. “We had a huge following come to watch us play. That team was easy to support. We had two guys from New Jersey and one from Indiana and the rest were Kentucky high school products.”
Adkins, who was Martin’s first recruit when he took the program over in 1978, believed there to be anywhere from 8,000-10,000 blue and gold clad fans to cheer on the Eagles during their game against Syracuse. He still gets goose bumps thinking about it.
“To hear that MSU fight song and see all those fans as we came through that tunnel …it was a night myself or my teammates will never forget,” Adkins said.
Syracuse had three preseason All-Americans on that team, Leo Rautins, Erich Santifer and Tony “Red” Bruin. But that did not matter to Adkins and the rest of the Eagles, because they had earned an opportunity of a lifetime to be in the tournament field.
“Our preparation didn’t change a lot for that game,” Adkins said. “There was plenty of excitement playing in a game that all of us that had dreamed about. Players do not look forward to practice but I can remember enjoying every minute of practice leading up to that game.”
Martin said this team meant so much to not only him but every fan of Morehead State.
“Anytime you have a bunch of young men that take you to the NCAA Tournament, which is a goal every year and completely bond after our adversity in that year, it was special,” Martin said.
MacKenzie Bates can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 784-4116.