Dennis “Den” Surles says one of the three or four greatest men’s basketball games he saw the Wildcats play in Riley Gym was between the Linfield JVs and the University of Oregon freshman team, a.k.a. the Oregon Frosh.
It took place Monday night, Feb. 10, 1969. Linfield, coached by Tom Leatherwood, won, 109-97. Linfield was wearing home white uniforms. Oregon was attired in traveling kelly green.
“The Ducks came into Riley with a team which included Ken Strand (all-State, Tigard), Bobby Moore/Ahmad Rashad (all-state basketball and football, Tacoma), Walt Reynolds (all-state, Cleveland of Portland), 6-foot-8 Rusty Blair (1968 California state player of the year) and an assortment of other guys who lackadaisically went through the motions,” he said.
Leatherwood elaborates, “The Frosh had one of the best recruiting classes in the Pac-8 that year and they weren't supposed to lose many games, especially to ‘somebody’ like the Linfield J.V. team. When they came into Riley Gym they carried an attitude about themselves that they were just going to crush us. They had big reputations and egos. Believe it or not we were playing really good basketball for a couple of weeks before this game and we thought we had a chance of winning.”
Linfield countered the Oregon roster with a team which included Mike Smithey (Linfield baseball pitcher and a nephew of Roy Helser Sr.), Ron Verdoorn, Bob Murphy (better known as a Linfield football pass receiver), John Melonas, Jim Sims, Bobby James, Cliff Mitchell and others.
“Linfield pressed them and ran them to get ahead at critical points in the game,” Surles said. The press was crucial, said Leatherwood. “It bothered Oregon all night. I designed it. (Linfield men’s basketball head) Coach (Ted) Wilson was curious as to where the press formation came from and we started using it at the varsity level soon after that game. It was probably the best strategy and reaction to the other team that I have ever coached."
Smithey was “unconscious” from 25-30 feet away, he said. If the 3-point field goal had been in effect in 1968, Surles believes Smith would have had 55 points. In addition to no 3-point goals, there was no dunking and no palming the ball when a player starts a move, he said.
Leatherwood called the game a “barn burner. If we would have had the 3-point shot, we would have beat them by 15 or 20 more points because Smithey hit about 10 howitzers. Sims was about 6-5. Murphy was about 6-3. They respectively tore up the boards against a much taller team. Verdorn was maybe 160-pounds dripping wet, but handled their bigger guys well on offense end and held his own on defense guarding bigger and stronger guys.
Melonas was uncanny as he always was throughout his time at Linfield. He had a bunch of steals and many assists to Murphy, Verdorn and especially to Smithey even when he had easy open shots of his own. Melonas never cared about scoring for himself. He got much more enjoyment faking two or three defenders out of their jocks and then getting his teammate an easy bucket,” said Leatherwood.
Wilson told Leatherwood the JV win over the Frosh was one of the best Linfield basketball wins he had ever seen.
For the game, Smithey had 36 points, Verdoorn 30, Murphy 22 and Melonas 14.
Linfield trailed by four at halftime, 53-49, but outscored Oregon 60-44 in the second half.
Box score from the game appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1969, Oregonian:
OREGON FROSH 97 -- Ken Strand 22, Smith 7, Moore 6, Blair 10, Drake 15, Bailey 19, Carr 8, Bakker.
LINFIELD JV 109 -- Mike Smithey 36, Murphy 22, Verdoorn 30, Melonas 14, Sims 1, DePue 4, Van Dorn, James 2.
Oregon Frosh .... 53 44 -- 97 Linfield JV ...... 49 60 -- 109
- The Oregon Frosh had about three losses when it played the Linfield JVs in Riley and ended the Frosh ended the season with a 16-6 win-loss record.
- Linfield students Greg Crawford and Tom Kurt officiated the game. "Oregon was not happy," Crawford told Wildcatville in April 2011.
- Smithey would go on to help pitch Linfield baseball to its 1971 NAIA World Series baseball title and Murphy is still in the Linfield football record book for receptions.
- During the 1968-69 season, the Linfield JVs beat many AAU teams with former Pac-8 players on the teams by 30 and 40 points. And, it beat each of the other Northwest Conference teams it played -- Willamette, Pacific and Lewis & Clark -- three times each, Leatherwood said. Beating each of those three NWC JV teams thrice in a season was a 'first' during Wilson's Linfield basketball coaching career, said Leatherwood.
- Both Leatherwood, Linfield Class of 1969, and Surles, Class of 1971, live in southern California. Leatherwood is a chiropractic physician. Surles is a school teacher and former actor (including in TV’s “Hogan Heroes”).
- Did you know Len Surles, father of Den Surles, and Ted Wilson, Linfield head men’s basketball coach, were friends?. They met while attending UO graduate school one summer in Eugene.
- Photo of Jim Sims and Mike Smithey (l-r) from 1970 Linfield Oak Leaves
- Game story which appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1969, Salem, Ore., Capital Journal daily newspaper.