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Oral Roberts: The Basketball Pioneer

Oral Roberts: The Basketball Pioneer Oral Roberts: The Basketball Pioneer

Originally Published: Dec 20, 2009 11:36 PM CDT

Kyle Dierking
Oklahoma Sports Reporter

TULSA, Oklahoma - Engaging evangelism, faith healing and the university that bears his name made Oral Roberts legendary, but perhaps his most understated contribution came in basketball.

“I think he had great vision knowing that the popularity of basketball and athletics in our country that if you have a successful team, it’s going to get out to millions of people,” said ORU basketball coach Scott Sutton.

Long before he set out on his ministry mission, Roberts’ fascination for basketball began as a young boy in rural Oklahoma. Sports later forged a bond between father and son as former ORU president Richard Roberts recalled in an exclusive interview.

“We both loved athletics,” Richard said. “He taught me how to ride horses, he taught me how to golf, he taught me how to shoot a gun and hunt. He took me to basketball games all over the country.”

Oral Roberts University opened in the mid-1960’s complete with a basketball team. Roberts hand-picked head coach Ken Trickey in 1969 to carry out his basketball vision.

“We had talked about, ‘we’re going big time.’ We used the words ‘big time’ a lot,” Trickey said. “He said, ‘we’re not going to be small time, we’re going to be a big program.’”

The prayer tower might be the most polarizing monument on the ORU campus, but the Mabee Center – a premier venue when it opened in 1972 – symbolizes the athletic success that Roberts strived for.

“I think he wanted badly to have a big time college basketball team,” Sutton said. “I think he went all out to try and get that.”

And the Titans of the early 70’s did just that - pioneering a basketball landscape that included a fast-paced offense, recruiting nationally with a private plane and a first-class facility in the Mabee Center.

“I could go anyplace I wanted to go, had great assistants and told him I needed some assistants and he said, ‘you’ve got them,’” Trickey said. “He never said no, never said no. He could feel it and understood what we were trying to do.”

Soon, ORU went from local sports pages to Sports Illustrated. Fancy spreads and features documented the rise of the basketball program – The pinnacle coming when the Titans advanced to the elite eight in 1974. It happened just nine years after the university opened and just two years after the program became Division-I.

“I don’t anybody could do what he did,” Trickey said. “He loved it, he just loved it. Boy, he just wanted to win.”

Like the faithful following he created some years earlier, the gospel of Roberts’ hoops heaven became widespread.
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