Many photographs inside Kerry Prather’s office focus on teams, players and moments from his lengthy tenure as Franklin College’s men’s basketball coach.
All are special.
But like most in his profession, Prather, now in his 34th season, has that one unique squad which flourished through the old-fashioned combination of hard work and an authentic concern for one another.
The 1991-92 Grizzlies took the program and its supporters on a memorable four-month ride no one wanted to see end.
Franklin College advanced to the Elite Eight of the NAIA national tournament in Stephenville, Texas, approximately 110 miles southwest of Dallas.
Those Grizzlies finished with a record of 25-4.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this team and its many accomplishments, members of that squad will be honored Saturday before the Grizzlies’ game against Bluffton.
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Spurlock Center.
“To have accomplished such amazing things, this was the ultimate group. They genuinely loved each other,” Prather said. “One of our players, John Holden, used to say, ‘Coach, you line ’em up and we’ll knock ’em down.’
“It was the sum total of everybody’s contributions.”
It had to be. Scott Roberts, the program’s career scoring leader with 1,923 points (a standard that still exists), graduated the previous spring.
Upping the tempo
In the months leading up to the 1991-92 season, Prather came up with the idea of implementing an offense designed to take advantage of the talent returning.Simply put, play faster.
With 5-foot-11 junior point guard Rowdy Williams running the offense and no Franklin College starter taller than 6-4 ½, the Grizzlies were positioned to make a run — literally and figuratively.
“For us to play that way, it made a lot of sense,” remembers Holden, who as a 6-4 senior forward led the Grizzlies in scoring (23.7) and was second-best in rebounding (6.4). “Rowdy Williams was probably the best point guard I ever played with.
“He was the fastest guy with a basketball I ever saw. Rowdy was the catalyst. The guy who kept us going. When teams pressed us, it was a race to the other end to see who would shoot a layup.”
Given the name Rowdy at birth as a tribute to his paternal grandfather’s nickname, Williams, who came from Terre Haute South High School, was glad to live up to it.
In 1991-92, he averaged 14.6 points, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals.
Holden, a 1988 Martinsville High School graduate, finished as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer in 18 games that season. The other starting forward, 6-3 senior Aaron Franks, earned this distinction on nine occasions.Close friends off the court, practice sessions that involved these two high-intensity types colliding beneath the basket rarely disappointed.
“Once a year, I always tell the story of John and Aaron getting in a fight during practice,” Prather said with a laugh. “They were the best of friends, but that’s how intense things were.
“Then, after practice, they were fine.”
Holden, who is senior vice president of sales and operation for HP Products in Canton, Michigan, remembers the skirmishes well.
To the credit of both players, still friends to this day, their battles made them better, their teammates better and the overall product better.
“There were many times Aaron and I would disagree in practice, but we left it on the floor,” Holden said. “Aaron had an uncanny knack for aggressive play and it got under your skin at times.
“But I’m glad he was on my team rather than playing against me. He was the enforcer, and we couldn’t have done what we did without him.”
A memorable run
This was an era in which starting lineups usually consisted of two forwards, a center and two guards.Prather usually started Holden and Franks at forwards, 6-4½ sophomore Dave Dunkle in the post and junior Tim Nierste teaming with Williams in the Grizzlies’ backcourt.
Another critical element in Franklin College averaging 92.6 points a game — it scored 100 or more on a dozen occasions — were reliable backups Brad Davis, Brooks Padgett, Mike Guth, Pat Dunbar, Ed Westmeyer, Brad Emmert and Mark Rosenthall.
Franklin College opened with seven straight victories, producing 100 or more points in the first four. A 103-91 loss at IUPUI briefly halted the momentum, though Franklin responded with wins in eight of its next nine games and settled in with a final regular-season record of 21-3.
The Grizzlies took care of St. Francis by 29 points in the NAIA District 21 opening game, eked out a 96-93 victory against Bethel and then qualified for nationals with a 118-110 triumph at Grace.
Franklin then downed Husson, setting up a rematch with Grace, a team led by former Oregon-Davis High School standout Scott Blum, who had transferred in after playing at Valparaiso University.
Grace exacted revenge with a 106-70 victory on its way to a national championship.
The season was over, but a quarter of a century later the friendships remain.
Memories for a lifetime
Now vice president of medical affairs at Johnson Memorial Health, Dunkle has become a kid again at 45 in anticipation of seeing his Franklin College teammates this weekend.As a sophomore, he lived with Holden, Franks and Nierste. The four remain close friends.
“We were blessed to have players who never gave up and played hard in every practice,” Dunkle said. “We knew we were going to be good that year, even though we lost Scott Roberts from the season before.
“We had a great returning core, and, honestly, I don’t think we thought we would lose a game. Each of our four losses, we were surprised.”
Williams now runs a law firm in his native Terre Haute.
Married and the father of two teenage daughters, the one-time floor general said he believes the 1991-92 team’s collective intelligence had as much to do with its success as anything.
“Coach Prather always made a big deal about GPAs. He always emphasized the importance of academics,” Williams said. “Most of the guys on that team were high achievers academically.
“We were close on the court, but close off it, too. Most of us have remained good friends since then.”
Head coach: Kerry Prather
Assistants: Bob Claxton, Brad Jones
Manager: Andy Tasich