You may have heard the Valley is adding three new institutions next year. The announcements got some attention in MVC circles. First Belmont, then Murray State and finally UIC were announced as new league members. After Loyola bolts at the end of this season, the Valley will have 12 teams for the first time since……I think ever? I looked it up and as far as I can tell the Missouri Valley has never had more than eleven members. So that’s cool.
Naturally, fans of the current MVC institutions are curious about what to expect from these new schools. What better way to learn about them than to hear from their fans? I tracked down supporters of all three of the newbie universities, and they were all cool enough to answer some questions for me. I asked about the experience of being a fan of that school, what we should know about their programs, and what Valley fans can do when they make a trip for a game. I’ll start my series with Murray State. Repping the Racers was die-hard fan @RacerJoeD!
MVC Beat: Tell us about your team. Who are some of the guys we should know, both for this year and once you join the league? What about Coach McMahon?
Racer Joe D: This year’s team is really interesting. It’s pretty rare when a mid-major team can play at any tempo, but this Racer team is pretty adept at that. Good perimeter play led by Juice Hill, a former four star commit to Arkansas, and Mr. Do-It-All Tevin Brown are adept at full court and half court. The same is true for 6’10” KJ Williams. He runs the floor really well and is a very good perimeter shooter for his size and position. All the complimentary prices are good too. South Carolina transfer Trae Hannibal is a lock-pick of a guard in a strong safety’s body. He is an explosive athlete who can break down a defense in the secondary break, fast break, or half court. Davidson transfer Carter Collins is a vital part of the team, adding experience and ability. In the post, Southern transfer DJ Burns is a rebounding wizard, while Eastern Illinois transfer Jordan Skipper Brown is extremely capable on the defense end. He had multiple blocks against Muszynski at Belmont. Collins and Skipper Brown are gone after this year, but the Racers have depth. Nick McMullin has really come on this season and will look for more minutes next season.
As for Coach McMahon, where to start? He is as egoless a coach as I can ever remember. He is basketball savvy and is capable of adjusting his game plans for the guys he has available. There are some worries that he may be a target for another school this season, but we hope not. Here is a great stat: in the last 30 years, only Tevin Brown has hit 307 3s, 548 rebounds, 362 assists, and 59 blocks in their career.
MVC Beat: What are some things about Murray State as a department or university that fans of other MVC schools should know?
Racer Joe D: There are a few. On campus we have “The Shoe Tree” where couples who meet at Murray and get married nail their shoes to the tree. We have a racehorse that runs around the track after touchdowns for football. We have one of the few fight songs that are solely ours, no other school uses it. We also play The “Ol Grey Mare”, and have since the 1930s. Our oldest rival, Western Kentucky, were beating us in football and at halftime their band played the song while some of their students dressed as a horse that died. They laughed, but the Racers laughed last as they came back to win. Our band has played it ever since. We play at the CFSB Center, but for a long time, all games were at Racer Arena. If you can find video, I recommend it. At one point Murray had the nation’s longest home winning streak. We expect to win every night. Changing conferences won’t change that. We didn’t have a losing record for 30 years, but then we had two guards leave early to become NBA lottery picks, which were tough to replace. Murray has a history of NBA draft picks and has an NBA hall of famer in Joe Fulks.
MVC Beat: What are some of your best memories as a Murray State fan? And, if you’re willing to open an old scab, what are some of your most heartbreaking moments?
Racer Joe D: Heartbreaking moments: losing to Butler in the NCAA tourney, loss to Old Dominion in the NIT quarterfinal on a halfcourt heave and the loss to Marquette (in the NCAA Tournament). Best memories include following the team in the NIT as they beat UTEP, then Tulsa before going to Old Dominion. I was at all those games. Beating Vanderbilt (in the NCAA Tournament) on Danero Thomas’ bank shot. Also, watching Ja Morant win ROTY in the NBA
MVC Beat: If fans of other Valley schools come to Murray to catch a game, what do you suggest they do? What are the best places to eat, grab a beer before/after the game and stay? What other attractions would you suggest when in town?
Racer Joe D: I love Los Portales. It’s by the arena and it’s just really good. Old school Racers go to the Keg or the Big Apple Cafe. Years ago, blue laws kept alcohol from being sold in Murray so students would go to Tennessee (short trip) to pregame and eat. Once those laws were done away with those places moved into town. We have some nice hotels. All are close to the arena. As far as attractions, Land Between the Lakes is pretty spectacular. They have the largest herd of elk and bison east of the Mississippi. Good restaurants nearby too. Pattys in Grand Rivers is phenomenal. If you come to Murray for basketball, check out the Hall of Champions, Wrather Museum, or just see the statue of our founder, Rainey T. Wells, in the quad. Maybe grab a steak at The Alley. Just be prepared, if you’re there for a basketball game, it’s likely everyone else is too.
MVC Beat: What do you think fans of other OVC schools think about Murray State? How would they describe your university, student-athletes, coaches and fans?
Racer Joe D: For the most part our fans are very nice. But we expect to win. We travel well because everyone gets in their car EXPECTING to come home happy. That might rub some people wrong, especially when Racer fans outnumber the fans from the home school. The reality is that Racer fans will yell and scream for two hours, but they would help you change your tire in the parking lot. (I have actually seen this happen before). Our fans take pride in watching our players progress and get better. This is a small town, and our fans treat our players like their own kids. They want to see them succeed. They are honored that they chose us, and they never forget that. “Once a Racer, Always a Racer”.
MVC Beat: What do you know about the MVC? Do you have any thoughts on what you’ve seen or remembered about some of the accomplishments of the current and past MVC schools? What excites you about Murray State joining the league?
Racer Joe D: The MVC is one of the great old conferences. Everybody knows Larry Bird, Farokhmanesh’s shots in the tourney for UNI, SIUs “Floor Burn U” teams, Walt Frazier, Jerry Sloan, etc. The reality is that Racer fans are pretty rabid college hoops fans. As such, it sucks to be in a conference where there is apathy. The MVC is different- they have passionate fans, which will fuel Racer passions. It’s the perfect marriage.
MVC Beat: What is the one thing that makes you most proud to be a Murray State alum and/or fan?
Racer Joe D: Our guys graduate, they play professionally, they have lives and families, but they always come back to Murray. They remember their friends here and the families that took them as one of their own.
MVC Beat: What are some of the online places fans can go to learn about Murray and follow the team? Where can we find you online?
Racer Joe D: If any MVC fans want to see what Murray is all about, I recommend following Jeff Bidwell at Wpsd. He is doing a ten-part documentary on the 2011-12 Racer team. He also wrote the book “Extending the Stay” about the 2009-10 team. He is not an alum (he is an Ohio Bobcat, just ask him), but he has covered the Racers (and SIU for that matter) for decades. The other person to follow is Lindy Suiter (@racerinsider) that man and his family have lived and breathed Racer sports. For stats, @racerhistory has it all (www.racerhistory.com). Or you can follow me, @racerjoed
I want to thank Mr. Joe D for taking the time to answer my questions. And to all Racer fans, I just want to say we look forward to having your team and fanbase in the Valley starting next season. Stay tuned for fan perspectives from UIC and Belmont later this week. Until then, GO VALLEY!