Part two: 1974 champ shares season journey

Former Bowie Coach Gayno Shelton got inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. Former players from the 1974 team Rick Belz (left) and David Prater were there for the big day.

The Bowie News is publishing a letter sent in from David Prater, who was the starting center, co-captain and named to the all-state tournament team on the 1974 Bowie boy’s basketball state title team. The son of Bettie and the late Paul Prater, he wanted to give his first-hand account of that season as a tribute to his Coach Gayno Shelton after the team was featured in the Looking Back series. The letter was published in two parts.
The rest of district was uneventful until the last game. The flu had come to town and half the team was either getting over it or just getting it. Coach decided to play us sick ones only two quarters. I played in the first and third quarters. Lee Ray Massey must not have been sick because he had 38 points and we scored 105 points. It was our only 100 point game.
We next had a “warm up” game at Midwestern against Petrolia. They had beaten us three times. The first time was early in the season while football was going on. The second was at their place, where the clock stopped working and Steve committed a phantom foul as time ran out and they made a free throw to win. The third was at a tournament at Midwestern.
This was my first shot at them. We were the better team. I had just recovered from the flu and this was the only game in my high school or college career that I played every second of the game. This was a close game from start to finish.
We were ahead most of the time, but could never pull away. Near the end I got a defensive rebound, but before I found an outlet, they just took the ball right out of my hands and scored.
In the final minute we were down by two points. I was fouled and missed both free throws. We lost the game by two points. I knew how to play when there was plenty of time on the clock or we were up by 20 points. I had to learn what to do with the game on the line in the closing seconds.
The bi-district game was against Coleman. It was the first time I had heard the rumbling in town. Coleman and Hooks were in the same district. Hooks had beaten Bowie the year before and now Coleman had beaten Hooks, so Coleman must be really good.
Looks like a trip to state was not going to happen. Luckily, the players didn’t see it that way. We beat Coleman by 33 points. Tommy Cannon was leading scorer with 20 points and I had 16 rebounds.
At the regional tournament our first game was against Ferris. I did not have a good game. My shot would not fall as I made 3-9. I did get 13 rebounds. Darwin McKinley had 23 and Lee Ray had 18. We won by 15.
We watched the first half of the game of our next opponent. New Boston with the leaper and Kaufman with the three 6-foot-3-inch farm boys, as my dad called them, on the back of their 2 – 3 zone.
To start the game the leaper moved across the middle of the lane, he jumped for a high pass, went back up and made a soft shot. This guy could jump. By half time though, he was no longer catching the ball in the middle of the lane. The 6-foot-3-inch farm boys were positioned so he was catching it almost at the free throw line and outside his comfortable shooting range.
I was asked who I would rather play against and I said Kaufman. I wasn’t sure I could slow down the leaper. If the farm boys stopped me, then that was okay because each of our other four starters could score 20 points in any given game.
Kaufman couldn’t stop all of us. I got my wish, but the town was rumbling again. If Kaufman could stop the leaper they could stop me and we would not go to state. Had the town forgotten about our other four starters? We were not one dimensional. I was just one of five.
Before each game, my dad would tell me to “get after it.” This was about all he was allowed to say because of my insecurities as a player, any helpful comments were always perceived as criticism by me. I knew I wasn’t very good, I didn’t need reminding. This time he told me, if we wanted to go to state, I had to have a great game. I was going to have to carry the team this game if we were going to win.
Before the game, coach went over a scouting report. It was the first we had ever had. He told me not to put the ball on the floor. I thought, I never do that so not a problem.
The game started, I won the tip and on the first play I got the ball on the block. I did two things I had not done all year: I faked the shot, took one dribble to the middle of the lane and jumped in for the layup. I made the shot, got fouled and made the free throw. The game was close the whole time. We finally pulled away at the end and won by 11 points. I had my first 20–20 game, 25 points and 22 rebounds. After the buzzer sounded we jumped around, high five’d and hugged each other. We were going to state.
Years later at one of the many award ceremonies for coach or one of us players, coach said that was the best playing of a big man in the playoffs he had ever seen. He said “Prater was not going to let the team lose. He made sure we won.” We were barely ahead when I fouled out. In the last two minutes, the team made six free throws and stopped Kaufman from scoring. That’s how you win close games.
We chartered a bus with the team from Petrolia for the trip to Austin. Talk about complete opposites in culture. Petrolia was loud, made rude comments to people in the other cars and played poker on the bus. Some Bowie players finally joined in on the cards, but no one would have dared to make comments to people passing by. I could never see me doing well in the Petrolia culture.
We settled into our hotel rooms. The team had the whole floor so we left our doors open to wander around and visit. A couple of players from another team came to our room and sat down for a visit. They said they were from Bastrop, another 2A team playing in the other bracket. After a visit we wished each other good luck and they left. These “Bastrop” players had big R’s on their letter jackets. Maybe the Refugio players, who were 29–0, weren’t that smart.
A couple of things going on at this time was streaking and Cheech & Chong had an album with a track call “Basketball Jones”. I didn’t see any streakers, but some of the parents did on the UT campus. At the state tournament during time outs or just on the bench, it wasn’t uncommon to hear Coach Jackson singing a little Basketball Jones. Keeping us loose and relaxed as best as we could be.
Refugio, the number one team in the state versus Bowie with five loses, four of them by a total of only seven points. They beat several teams going to the playoffs and some higher division teams. Their press defense was their offense. This worked great against any team that did not have a point guard named Bobby Brashear. One-on-one you could not steal the ball from Bobby. Two-on-one was not much better chance. Of course Tommy Cannon or Lee Ray Massey were pretty good ball handlers, too.
The game started and I think the first six times down on offense Lee Ray and I scored three baskets each. Unfortunately, I had picked up two fouls on the defensive end. I started the second quarter and had three baskets before my third foul. I took a whole 30 seconds in the second half to pick up fouls four and five. Not much help to the team.
Rick Belz stepped in and stepped up his game. His starting the first of the year while I was hurt really paid off now. Darwin had his routine 20 point game and we won by seven points. Funny how the only people not shocked was our team. We were never behind during the second half, something Refugio had not experienced. They did not know how to play with the game on the line at the end.

To read the full story, pick up a copy of the mid-week edition of the Bowie News.