BELLINGHAM, Wash. - 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 breaking 16 school season records.
WWU's biggest win that season came at home over No.1 nationally ranked Grand Canyon, which went on to win the NAIA national title.
Those Vikings will be recognized with a reunion prior to and following the game, and a halftime introduction on Saturday, Feb. 17, when Western plays host to Alaska Fairbanks at 3 pm in Carver Gym.
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 10 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 Western 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At center was 6-4 junior Rod Whatley, who averaged 12.5 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game.
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.
A Grand Statement
After a 9-0 start, WWU suffered a pair of overtime losses and was 16-4 when it faced its 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 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.
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, but lost 72-51 at Ellensburg.
That defeat set the stage for a decisive third game in Bellingham. 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 Jewell (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.
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.
Event Contact and Information:
Courtney Stringer (Courtney.Stringer@wwu.edu)
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