Editor’s note: “Where Are They Now” is a Muscatine Journal series published on the first and third Mondays of the month. Former Muscatine Journal editor Gil Dietz is producing this feature and welcomes comments and suggestions.
SUN CITY, Texas — In the annals of Muscatine High School basketball, there is probably no player who was as excitingly successful as Murray Wier.
Wier went on to be a record-setting collegiate All-American, a professional basketball player, and a winning high school basketball coach after he graduated from MHS in the spring of 1944.
Murray, with his reddish hair, burst upon the scene at MHS when he was a senior in 1943-44. He had played his freshman, sophomore and junior years at Grandview before his parents, James and Ruth Wier, moved to Muscatine so he could play for a larger high school. His two older brothers had played on state tournament teams at Grandview.
Murray, now 79, and his wife, Marge, live in Sun City, Texas, where Murray plays tennis five days per week to retain his fitness and competitive spirit. Sun City is a Del Webb retirement community of 5,000 persons, about one hour north of Austin.
“We love Texas,” Murray said. “Sun City has multiple tennis courts, two golf courses, a fitness center, and many activities.”
Murray and Marge moved there in 2003 to be closer to three of their five children and their grandchildren, and to escape the cold winters of Iowa.
According to a thumbnail sketch in the MHS Auroran yearbook of 1944, one of the highlights of Murray’s time at MHS was helping defeat the Davenport Blue Devils.
Davenport, the rival of Muscatine, had won 11 straight games prior to the 1943 season. But then, in the season’s first game, Muscatine defeated Davenport 37-36 on Nov. 26. Murray, the new guy in town, tossed a game-high 15 points and his junior teammate, Fred Havemann, scored the winning basket in the closing seconds.
Muscatine lost a second encounter with Davenport that season, 47-36, but came back to defeat Davenport a second time, 50-37, in the district tournament finals. The Little Muskies, sometimes known as the Green Muskies, eventually lost to Ottumwa, 22-20, in a defensive battle in the substate tourney.
At the conclusion of the 1943-44 season, Wier was elected by his teammates as captain of the basketball team. He was picked as a first-team all-stater by Jack North of the Des Moines Register, and also by the Iowa Daily Press Association.
After Murray’s dazzling year at MHS, State University of Iowa basketball coach “Pops” Harrison offered a scholarship for Murray to play for the Hawkeyes.
Murray, at 5-foot, 10 inches and 155 pounds, started all four years at Iowa. The Hawkeyes won the Big 10 conference championship when he was a freshman and finished second to Michigan for the conference title when he was a senior.
Murray was a sort of hybrid in coach Harrison’s scheme. He lined up at forward, but he often brought the ball down the floor like a guard. He could shoot from anywhere on the floor.
Even though they lost the conference crown to Michigan, the year of 1948 was a spectacular season for Murray. He scored what was then an all-time league record of 272 points. His average of 21 points per game was the top scoring average among major colleges in the United States.
Those were the days before the three-point shot and bonus free throws, or Murray might have scored 30 points per game. He was named all-conference first team, the Big 10’s Most Valuable Player and Associated Press All-American first team.
The year 1948 was also when he married his college sweetheart, Marjorie Smith of Long Beach, Calif. Marjorie’s mother and some other relatives had moved to Long Beach from the area of Washington, Iowa, and she came back to Iowa to go to college. She and Murray met when they double-dated with another couple. Marjorie was with the other fellow, and Murray had a different girlfriend, but something happened when their eyes met that night, and now they have been married for 57 years.
After Murray’s sparkling career at Iowa, he played three years of professional basketball with the then brand-new National Basketball Association (NBA). He played two years for the Tri-City Blackhawks, where his coach in the second year was Red Auerbach, who went on to be the famous coach of the Boston Celtics. The NBA was formed when the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of American merged in 1949.
Wier’s third professional year was with the Waterloo, Iowa, Hawks. He began a coaching career at Waterloo East High school that spanned 38 years until he retired in 1989. Wier was the athletic director at Waterloo East for 34 years. He coached boys basketball for 24 years, and was the tennis coach for 10 years.
Wier’s basketball teams at Waterloo East had a record of 374 wins and 140 losses. He took eight teams to the state tournament, winning the state championship in 1974 and becoming runner-up in 1960. He was named Iowa high school Coach of the Year in 1974.
“I truly enjoyed my career at Waterloo East,” Murray said. “I loved sports and competition, and I liked working with kids. I was doing what I wanted to do.”
Murray is a member of the NBA Retired Players Association. He and Marge have attended a number of group reunions, including one last year in Las Vegas, where he visited with many of the NBA’s former greats that he knows.
Contact Gil Dietz at 563-263-5499, or e-mail him at email@example.com