Willie Murrell Born: September 13, 1941 (Taft, OK)
Graduated: Moton (Taft, OK) High School, 1960; Eastern Oklahoma A&M, 1962; Kansas State University, 1964
Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee and former Kansas State University basketball coach Tex Winter was in the midst of building the basketball dynasty in Manhattan when Willie Murrell first stepped on campus in the fall of 1962. Winter and the Wildcats made the school’s third Final Four appearance with All-Americans Bob Boozer and Jack Parr in 1958 and Winter was looking to return the program to the Final Four.
What “Tex” really needed was star, a player who could lead the Wildcats back to the promised land. The player he found was Willie Murrell, a genuine All-American who would become, in two short years, one of the greatest players in K-State basketball history.
Murrell, from the small town of Taft, Oklahoma, was hardly a “no-name” player when he arrived at K-State. Already a two-time Junior College All-American at Eastern Oklahoma A&M and the National Juco Tournament MVP, the six foot, six inch Murrell was a coach’s dream of pure, unfettered athleticism.
Known in junior college as the “Scoring Artist,” Murrell struggled in his first few games after transferring into Winter’s structured triangle offense, but he quickly adapted his game and learned to play within the system. Despite his slow start, he averaged 18.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest during his first season, leading the team in both categories. He also led the Wildcats to a 1963 Big Eight conference title and was a first team All-Conference selection.
Murrell’s junior season set up the Wildcats for an historic run the following year. Not expected to be much of a force on the national stage, the Wildcats reeled off eleven straight wins to end the regular season and won another league title. Once again, he averaged a double-double for the season with 22.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and earned All-Conference honors.
But, Murrell and the Wildcats did not stop there. They carried their momentum into the NCAA tournament, advancing to the regional finals against the University of Wichita on the home floor of the Shockers. Murrell matched up with fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Dave Stallworth and the Wildcats advanced to the school’s fourth Final Four in school history behind Murrell’s MVP performance with twenty-eight points.
The Wildcats lost to Coach John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins in the first game of the Final Four despite a valiant effort from Murrell who poured in twenty-nine points and grabbed thirteen rebounds against the Bruins. Although the Wildcats were unsuccessful in their quest for a national championship, Murrell was recognized as one of the best players in college basketball and was named to the All-Tournament team to go along with All-America honors. He is one of only six players in K-State history to average a double-double for his career. In two short years, Murrell averaged 20.6 points and 10.7 rebounds.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 1964 draft by the St. Louis Hawks, he went on to play three seasons in the ABA for the Denver Rockets, Miami Floridians, and the Kentucky Colonels before he retired following the 1970 season.
Nearly fifty years after his career ended at Kansas State, Murrell still stands as one of the greatest Wildcat players and one of the most popular. His jersey was lifted to the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum in 2009.