IOWA CITY, Ia. — One of the original Iowa athletes to hit the big-time, former Hawkeye basketball great Murray Wier passed away Wednesday morning. He was 89.
In football, our state’s first hero was Nile Kinnick. In baseball, it was Bob Feller. In wrestling, it was Dan Gable.
In basketball, it was Wier.
Though Wier doesn’t carry the iconic stature of those three names, there were few, if any, players better in his era.
Wier remains the only Iowa player to lead the nation in scoring, as he did in 1948 at 21 points per game. And the “Rampaging Redhead” did it with an unconventional style to compensate for his diminutive 5-foot-9 frame, sometimes shooting from the hip or while whirling through the air.
“He threw it," said Terry Wier, who in October posted a YouTube video showing some of his father's wildest shots caught on 1940s film. "No coach would ever let him on the floor today. And it would go in more often than not.”
Only two Hawkeyes have ever been named consensus first-team all-Americans: Wier in 1948 and Chuck Darling in 1952.
Wier would go on to play professionally for the famed Red Auerbach. He had a chance to further his basketball career in Fort Wayne, Ind., but didn't want to leave the state he loved. So he became a history teacher and Hall of Fame high school coach for 24 years at Waterloo East.
Not bad for a small-town Iowa kid. Wier grew up in the eastern Iowa town of Grandview, playing three years of high school ball there before going to Muscatine as a senior.
“He’s a local guy that made it big — all-American. That’s big. We love that stuff,” said Dave Buhr, the captain on Wier’s 1968 Waterloo East team that made the state tournament. “I don’t care if it’s (Iowa), Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Drake.”
Buhr was involved in a recent push for the University of Iowa to retire Wier’s college number 17. Though it was unsuccessful, Wier’s legacy is prominently displayed on the Carver-Hawkeye Arena concourse.
Wier certainly set a high standard Hawkeye hoops. He scored a then-school-record 958 career points as Pops Harrison’s Hawkeyes assembled a 58-16 record during his four-year career. As a senior, Wier was magnificent. He scored a then-conference-record 272 points in 12 Big Ten games, accounting for 42.3 percent of the Hawkeyes’ total.
His most memorable game was a 34-point performance before 16,048 fans at the Iowa Field House in a 70-61 win over Illinois on Feb. 9, 1948. After the game, he was carried off the floor on the shoulders of teammates Don Hayes and Tom Parker.
He was beloved, and certainly unique.
“I guess I took a lot of shots that would make a coach mad or nervous,” Wier once said . “But it never dawned on me that they were unorthodox. I was small, and I had to be doing something out there to prove I belonged.”
As a coach at Waterloo East, he was demanding and as determined as he was in his playing days, which ended in 1951 with the Waterloo Hawks of the National Professional Basketball League.
"It wasn't easy playing for him," Buhr said, "but it was worth it."
Wier was never supposed to survive an aortic aneurysm. He did, and he lived another six years until Wednesday. He passed away in Georgetown, Texas, where he lived his final 15 years. Wier is survived by his wife, Marge, sons Terry and Jeff, and daughters Sandra, Marcia and Sally.
Beyond his court wizardry, Wier was known as a comedian. He regularly lobbed good-natured insults at family and friends. As his son tells it, people would visit Wier's home just to see what he'd say next. Wier's wit was responsible for coining many-a-nickname.
No doubt he was an entertainer, in life and on the court.
“They often will debate whether he was (the Hawkeyes') greatest player ever," Terry Wier said. "But they will always agree he was the most exciting."
Two-sport Hawkeye star Thorson dies
Sherwyn “Thumper” Thorson, who starred at Iowa as a football player and wrestler in the more than 50 years ago, passed away Tuesday night after a battle with cancer. The Fort Dodge native was 75.
Thorson started 25 of 27 games in his Hawkeye football playing days from 1959 to 1961, including as a two-way starter (at offensive line and linebacker) on Forest Evashevski’s 1960 team that reached No. 1 in the national rankings and finished 8-1. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League under Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant.
As a Hawkeye wrestler, he was a national runner-up at heavyweight in 1960, then won an NCAA title in 1962.
In 2011, Thorson was named to the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame.