For almost a century, Austin hosted the University Interscholastic League’s state tournaments in both boys and girls basketball. The Erwin Center served as home of Texas’ best high school hoops from 1979 to 2014, when the UIL moved the event to San Antonio’s Alamodome. Those 35 years are filled with countless memories, but here are a few from some Austin area residents and high school basketball luminaries, as told to the American-Statesman through interviews or on social media.
A 1991 dance-off
Granger Huntress, a longtime Austin resident and the purveyor of sixmanfootball.com, is a graduate of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio. He had already graduated high school when he watched his alma mater compete in the 1991 boys state tournament, where the Mules beat Pampa in a triple-overtime thriller before falling to Port Arthur Lincoln in the title game.
Huntress: “I knew so many of the kids. They were little brothers of classmates and neighbors. My sister was (Alamo Heights mascot) Caledonia the mule and (she) had a dance-off against the Lincoln Bumblebees (dance team) during a timeout in the finals.”
South Plains pain
Doug Warren, Wimberley’s head football coach and athletic director, was a gritty guard for his hometown Lamesa, on the South Plains. The Tornadoes qualified for the Class 4A boys tournament in 1985 and fell just short of their fourth state title.
Warren: “(We) beat New Braunfels in the semifinals and lost to Bay City 65-63 in the finals. That one still hurts.”
— Meggie Hunter (@meggie_hunter) March 2, 2022
The Nazareth dynasty
Meggie Hunter, a native of Nazareth in the Texas Panhandle who works in the chancellor’s office at Texas Tech University, played on Nazareth's 2005 team and has been a part of arguably the greatest high school basketball dynasty in state history. The Swiftettes have made a record 30 appearances in the girls basketball state tournament and have won 24 titles. No boys or girls team can match that prolonged success.
Hunter: “My favorite Erwin Center memory: The 2005 Nazareth Swiftette state championship, along with all the other Naz Swiftette victories.”
East Central: The best boys team ever?
Cedar Park boys basketball coach Blake Brown, who led the Timberwolves to two state tournaments in his 18 seasons at the school, is also a Texas hoops historian who runs the website backroadsbasketball.com as well as several social media accounts. A native of Dimmitt in the Panhandle who served as the team manager for the Texas men’s basketball program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brown has attended dozens of state tournament games at the Erwin Center.
Brown: “The 1995 boys state tourney and the undefeated San Antonio East Central Hornets. (It’s) hard to imagine a better state champion team than this. I know there’s been some amazing ones over the years, but the Hornets have to be ranked as one of the all-time best in Texas. They set scoring records (and averaged) over 100 points a game on the season. They were undersized but played above the rim. We stood up several times and gave it the ‘We’re not worthy’ salute with every Stanley Bonewitz assist and point. Those Hornets featured one of the best father-and-son duos in Texas basketball history. On the sideline was legendary and iconic San Antonio native Stan Bonewitz and his son, Stanley (who later starred at Texas Tech and now coaches Concordia University).”
And now for #6
Top 10 Drum Memories
The 1995 @uiltexas Boys State Tourney and the undefeated San Antonio East Central Hornets @_ECBBasketball.
Hard to imagine a better State Champion team than this…I know there’s been some amazing ones over the years, but the Hornets… pic.twitter.com/HOC40RruXV
— B L A K E B R O W N (@gym_picker) March 1, 2022
Yates- Lancaster in 2010 was a pure thriller
Chris Schmidt, who works in the UIL’s media relations department, has seen plenty of thrillers while working for the state’s governing body of high school athletics. For pure entertainment, none have surpassed Houston Yates’ 92-73 win over Lancaster in a 2010 title game that featured an array of dunks and 37 points from Yates star Brandon Peters. The victory gave Yates its seventh of nine state championships
Schmidt: “There should be an oral history on 2010 Yates-Lancaster championship game. Greatest game I’ve ever been a part of in 14 years at (the) UIL.”
Eight titles is the tops
No coach spent more time in the Erwin Center than Cathy Self-Morgan, who grew up near Jourdanton in South Texas and played at Texas before embarking on a hall-of-fame coaching career. In her 42 years as a coach, Self-Morgan accumulated a record of 1,170-287 and a record eight state titles, including three with Westlake in the 1990s and five with Duncanville in the 21st century.
Self-Morgan: "I was one of the first women athletes on scholarship at UT. Those were groundbreaking days. We had to work and fight and scrap for everything we had and make do with what we didn't have. I just wanted to work hard and go after everything I could. That’s what I have continued to do to make it the best experience possible for the ladies that I have been privileged to coach. To help them become independent, self-sufficient young women."
To coach a phenom
Arguably the best girls player in state-tournament history — Brittney Griner of Aldine Nimitz — delivered a historic game in a 2009 state semifinal win over Pflugerville. The 6-foot-8 Griner, who later starred at Baylor and still shines in the WNBA, broke the state tournament girls scoring record with 44 points and added 17 rebounds and eight blocks. Her scoring explosion included a dunk, the first for any girl at the state tournament. Nimitz coach Debbie Jackson could only marvel at her phenom.
Jackson: “I never get tired of seeing that. She is a superstar.”
'The greatest player to ever play'
The boys state tournament has featured some winners who would go on to notable careers in the college ranks and the NBA, including Texas Longhorn luminary T.J. Ford (Fort Bend Willowridge) and future NBA champions Chris Bosh (Dallas Lincoln) and Kendrick Perkins (Beaumont Ozen). But not one matched the outsized presence of Shaquille O’Neal, who led San Antonio Cole to the 1989 Class 3A state title. Charles Breithaupt, the UIL's executive director, called O'Neal the "greatest player to ever play" in the Texas state tournament when the UIL recognized Cole on the 25th anniversary of its title.
O'Neal: "We were just a little school in San Antonio. No one believed in us, but the lessons I learned at Cole carried my whole career — being humble, playing hard, working with your teammates. Cole gave me the start of my dreams."
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Shaquille O'Neal, others recount state title memories at Erwin Center