BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
Carver Memories -- Feb. 4, 1988
A magical season with Big Earl and Timmy D
Vikings upset No.1 Grand Canyon in overtime
In his 27 years as men's basketball coach at Western Washington University, one of Brad Jackson's favorite campaigns came in just his third season directing the Vikings.
In 1987-88, Jackson directed one of the most memorable and successful runs in school history, a season in which Western finished 28-8, won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) District 1 championship and reached the second round of the NAIA National Tournament while breaking16 school season records.
"It was a magical season," said Jackson, who was named district Coach of the Year. "The team captured everybody's imagination. It was a great year in terms of what they were able to accomplish, and it was a huge thing for the school."
All the right pieces
The key to the success of the 1987-88 team was a roster that included a special combination of athletic ability, leadership, work ethic and cohesiveness. The Vikings employed a balanced and versatile offensive attack, averaging a then school-record 88.2 points per game, with all five starters averaging at least ten points per contest. WWU stifled opponents with an aggressive, full-court defense that produced averages of 11.8 steals and 20.2 turnovers per game.
Leading the team in scoring average at 14.9 points per game was 6-foot-6 senior forward James "Big Earl" Johnson. A native of Little Rock, Ark., Johnson came to WWU after attending junior college in Texas. He was an honorable mention NAIA All-American and district Player of the Year in 1988.
"James was just so explosive and gifted physically," Jackson said. "He would get out on the break and if you didn't get back, he was dunking on you."
Johnson finished his two-year stint at WWU ranked fourth in school history in rebounds with 517 and sixth in points scored with 1,026.
"No one in this league was ever able to stop him," said teammate Michael Dahl of his fellow co-captain.
Complementing Johnson's game was that of 6-foot senior point guard Tim "Timmy D" Dickerson, a lights-out shooter who averaged 14.6 points and 4.6 assists per game. A graduate of Bellingham High School, Dickerson finished his career among the school's leaders in several statistical categories. He left WWU as the school's all-time leader in assists with 412, games played with 123 and minutes played with 3,272. He finished second in career scoring with 1,347. A career 42.2 percent shooter from 3-point range, Dickerson had a stretch where he made a shot from beyond the arc in 39 consecutive games.
"He and James had a real connection," said Jackson. "The two of those guys really played off each other. We'd put those two guys on the same side of the floor and it was really a tough combination."
Starting at shooting guard for the Vikings was 6-3 sophomore Manny Kimmie, another gifted athlete and excellent shooter who averaged 14.8 points per game and would later end his career as WWU's all-time scoring leader.
"Manny Kimmie was fearless," said Jackson. "Even as a sophomore he was a real catalyst for us."
Providing shutdown defense for the Vikings was 6-6 small forward Eric Schurman, who often drew the assignment of guarding the opposing team's best scorer.
"He was really our stopper," Jackson said. "He was one of those guys who just kind of had a knack defensively. Just a really smart player."
At center was 6-4 junior Rod Whatley, who averaged 12.5 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game.
"He was kind of a Charles Barkley type of player," said Jackson. "He was a wide body, an outstanding shooter. And he was the kind of guy you could put in the paint."
The Vikings also benefited from a deep and talented bench led by Ray Ootsey, an energetic junior who was a high school teammate of Johnson's and could play both guard positions, and junior forward Rich Baxter, who was often utilized in defensive situations and was known for his extraordinary hustle.
"Rich was just the ultimate hustler," said Jackson. "He had one speed and that was all out. People hated playing against him and our fans loved him."
Having spent three years in the Army, Michael Dahl came to WWU as a 21-year-old freshman in 1987 and made the team as a walk-on.
"Mike was a true leader," Jackson said. "Every guy on that team would say he was an integral cog to what we were able to accomplish because he would never let anybody rest."
"If he felt like guys weren't working hard, he'd just go up and grab you. He'd just get in your face, grab your shirt and say `hey, if I can do this you can do this.'"
Despite playing sparingly that season as a freshman, Dahl won the team's most inspirational player award, something he would do four years in a row.
"We had good depth and guys played their roles well," said Jackson. "It didn't matter if a guy was a starter or not a starter. They were really tuned in. They approached every game with a certain desire and intensity that every coach would want."
No trouble in paradise
After winning its first five games by an average margin of 28.6 points, WWU traveled to Hawaii for two games against Hawaii Pacific and one against Chaminade.
"There was a lot of talk going on in the newspapers and on TV about how they were going to handle us and that we were overrated," said Dahl, who went on to be a captain in the Washington State Patrol. "We ended up winning all three over there."
WWU returned to Bellingham with an 8-0 record. But aside from legitimizing the team's early success, the week in Hawaii was one of many road trips that brought players and coaches closer together.
"Wherever we went on the road we had a good time together, that's where our team really bonded," said Dickerson, who works for Rice Insurance in Bellingham. "When we went on road trips, if we went to go eat, everybody ate together; if we went to a movie, we'd all go together. There was great team camaraderie."
A grand statement
After a 9-0 start, WWU's first loss came at the hands of British Columbia. The Vikings responded with a 137-79 drubbing of Sheldon Jackson (Alaska), followed by a 20-point victory against Saint Martin's. After a pair of overtime losses to Puget Sound and Central Washington, WWU won five of its next six games to improve to 16-4.
That set up the team's toughest test yet, a home match-up against No.1-ranked Grand Canyon, whose coach was Paul Westphal, a former NBA all-star and later head coach of Phoenix and Seattle. Grand Canyon went on to win the national title that year, but on this day, Feb. 4, 1988, WWU was the better team. Led by a 29-point effort from Dickerson, all of them after halftime, the Vikings upset Grand Canyon 99-88 in overtime. That victory set the tone for the remainder of the season.
"We recognized during that game that something special was going on and that Western was going to be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the year," Dahl said.
Home Sweet Home
WWU followed the Grand Canyon upset with an 83-80 victory against Central in front of a standing room only 3,200 fans at Carver Gym. The Vikings then beat Alaska Southeast by 40 points and finished the regular season winning five of their last seven games.
WWU headed into the district playoffs with a 24-6 regular season record. Behind the 27 points of Kimmie, the Vikings escaped with a 92-87 first-round victory against Simon Fraser, setting up a best of three series against Central with the winner earning a national tournament berth.
WWU won the opening game, 78-75, aided by another sold-out crowd at Carver Gym. With an average home attendance of 1,889, Western compiled a 17-1 home record that season. The Vikings entered pre-game warm-ups to "Welcome to the Jungle," and the fans lived up to it.
"The students that year were big time into basketball," said Jackson. "They were loud and they were rowdy.
"[Carver Gym] was a very tough place to play. It was very much of a home court advantage. The team really fed off our student body."
Ahead in the series, 1-0, WWU traveled to Central to play in an equally hostile environment.
"Over there it was a volatile crowd," Dickerson said. "They had the signs that weren't always politically correct. Some of our parents even got into it with their parents. It was pretty obnoxious over there."
A cold start and poor shooting contributed to a 72-51 loss, the Vikings' lowest point total of the season. WWU's 25 first half points and 29 percent shooting from the field were also season lows.
The loss set the stage for a decisive third game in Bellingham. Like they had all season, WWU fans came out in full force. Another raucous and sold out Carver Gym witnessed a 95-84 victory over Central as the Vikings advanced to the nationals.
"That particular night was really magical," Jackson said. "The buildup had been taking place for a long time. The game was sold out in eight hours. The students were just going crazy. When the game was over, it was just pandemonium.
"It was a very special night. One of those types of games that every player lives to play in."
On to nationals
Seeded 12th among 32 teams at the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, WWU opened with an 80-67 victory over West Virginia Tech. But an 89-70 second-round loss to William Jewel1 (Missouri) put an end to the Vikings' run.
As disappointing as the loss was, the accomplishment of reaching nationals was not lost on the team.
"It was nearly 40 years ago and we're still talking about it. Only one team from this area gets to go and that year it was us," Dahl said. "It's one of those things we'll always remember."
Dickerson still keeps in close contact with several of his old teammates and always looks forward to being reunited with those he hasn't seen in a while.
"I was blessed to play with such a unique group of guys who had such strong character and loved to play the game of basketball and played with a coach that was a players' coach," Dickerson said. "The combination of coach and players, that will be tough to duplicate."
He occasionally watches highlights of the 1987-88 season. The videotapes are getting "old and tired," said Dickerson, whose son Derek played one season for the Vikings
Johnson and Kimmie were later inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame and named to WWU's All-Century Team with Dickerson receiving honorable mention. Jackson finished with 518 wins during his Viking career, including a NCAA Division II national championship in 2012.
Johnson went on to become a basketball coach and professor. He wrote a book in 2015, entitled, "Goal Achieving Techniques, Action Steps That Work."
Originally written in 2008 by Brady Henderson, a student intern in the WWU sports information office, and later updated and revised by Paul Madison who served 48 years as director of sports information at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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