O-State fans remember Reeve’s basketball heroics

Berry Tramel | The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY (TNS) — Kerry Eades and his family vacationed in Washington, D.C., a few weeks back. They toured the National Archives, a rather hallowed place, and briefly spoke to a security guard who was standing watch over the original Declaration of Independence.

Awhile later, in a different part of the Archives, the same security officer approached the Eades and asked where they were from.

They told him Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The officer responded, “Big Country could sure play some ball.”

Yes indeed, Bryant Reeves was a basketball player of considerable note, a truth not lost among the nation’s most treasured documents nor among the legions of OSU fans who felt a rare affinity for the 7-footer from the sticks of Sequoyah County.

Armed with soft hands, a skilled shot, an Oklahoma work ethic and sport’s best nickname, Big Country captured Cowboy hearts like no other.

“For those of us who grew up in small town Oklahoma, Big Country was our ‘Hoosiers,’” said Mike Martin, who grew up in Haskell and eventually became an architect who worked on the first Gallagher Hall remodel. “It was our proof that great things happen from all levels.”

Reeves led OSU to the 1995 Final Four, a pinnacle event for an athletic program starved for basketball success. Until Eddie Sutton’s 1991 arrival, the Cowboys had gone 26 years without a single NCAA Tournament victory.

And now Big Country is in the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. He’ll was inducted Monday night, and no athlete there — not Mickey Mantle, not Barry Switzer, not Wayman Tisdale, not Barry Sanders — enters with the adoration of a fan base like OSU has for Reeves.

“I’m a 35-year-old Okie from Chickasha,” said rancher John Nicholas. “I never really had much preference in state schools until I saw this tall country boy with his signature flat-top. He was playing in what was probably an NCAA Tournament game on my grade-school classroom TV. Our teacher let us watch the game since it was on during the school day.

“Being a farm kid, I never got to play many sports, there was always work to be done. But my father helped put a basketball goal on our old wooden garage and I started playing in our gravel driveway, posting up against imaginary Big Eight defenders shooting baseline fadeaways with my freshly cut flat-top.

“Been a Cowpoke ever since. Big Country dyed my blood Orange and gave me a love for basketball that still runs through me today with our beloved Thunder. He was one of a kind.”

Big Country embodied that which OSU holds dear. Rural. Unpretentious. Productive. Industrious. Took what he had and made something special. Loyal to the core.

The stories of Reeves’ career haven’t diminished. Henry Iba, sitting at a practice before Reeves’ freshman year, declaring “that boy has a long way to go.” Making the starting lineup by that November. Big Eight player of the year as a sophomore. The halfcourt shot against Missouri. The 33-point, 20-rebound game against Kansas. His grace after a scoreless game in Allen Fieldhouse. The Final Four run.

“Growing up in Stillwater, my brother and I fell in love with ALL things OSU,” said Daniel Boyington, now of Mustang. “Big Country easily became a favorite of ours because he truly WAS Oklahoma. A country boy who looked to know nothing about big-city life. He lived on a farm and his family looked as down to Earth as his haircut. You just wanted him to succeed from the beginning and when he did … it was the most amazing ride for an OSU fan during those times who had to deal with, for the most part, bad football.

“I’ll never forget Feb. 24, 1993, as long as I live. I was 11 and my brother was 14 the year he hit the halfcourt shot against Missouri. We knew the sports facilities inside and out from our summers exploring campus as kids. So we were able to sneak into basketball games through the old basement in Gallagher where the indoor track and batting cages were held. This is how we got in to see probably the most memorable shot in Gallagher-Iba history.

“We were standing in our normal spots on the floor, in the corner, in between the baseline seats and the seats behind the goal. When that shot went down, it was straight pandemonium for a few seconds. We had only seen a buzzer-beater like that on SportsCenter, so when it happened right in front of us we went nuts. Even if we wouldn’t have won that game in overtime, I believe that would still have been the moment the legend of Big Country began.”

It’s been 22 years since Reeves wore the orange and black. Did it really happen? Did we dream it? Could the legend of Big Country actually be true? Did an oafish-looking kid from Gans, a hamlet no one this side of Sallisaw had ever heard of, really take OSU, and the Big Eight, and the nation, by storm? Did he really shatter a backboard at a Final Four practice and further the tall tale?

Was he myth? Was he Paul Bunyan? Did Bryant Reeves really make country cool?

No, he was not myth. Yes, Reeves made country cool.

“I have a piece of the shattered backboard!!!” OSU fan Cathy Kincade-Walters wrote me. “I watched Bryant play every game in GIA. Then traveled for post-season play.