The 2006–07 men’s basketball season at Wright State began in a time full of uncertainty and ended with one of the most memorable finishes in school history.
The Raiders were 13–15 in 2005–06, the last of five consecutive non-winning records. Head coach Paul Biancardi and the university parted ways in March 2006. Brad Brownell, who had directed UNC-Wilmington to two NCAA tournaments in three seasons, was hired to replace Biancardi.
Brownell worked with the Raiders during the spring and summer, but only nine scholarship players were available when fall practice began.
“Everything was new,” said Todd Brown, a freshman on the 2006–07 squad. “Everyone was just learning each other. But Coach Brownell liked to push the ball, which was just my style of basketball. It was the most fun time of my four years at Wright State.”
“I don’t know that we thought we had an NCAA tournament team when we took over, but we certainly felt like it was a group that would get better,” Brownell said. “We felt like there was enough talent there that we could be competitive in the Horizon League. It was a group that really fit together. The pieces fit.”
Brownell didn’t exactly find the cupboard bare when he arrived.
Senior guard DaShaun Wood had been first-team all-conference in 2006. He would become the Horizon League player of the year, tournament MVP and all-defensive team in 2007. Wood is Wright State’s No. 2 all-time scorer with 1,849 career points.
“We felt like, if (Wood) could improve his shooting, he might be the best player in the league,” Brownell said.
“Brad Brownell and coach Billy (Donlon) always said, ‘You haven’t won a championship. You have to get to that point in your career where you can elevate the guys around you,'” Wood said. “I knew I had to get something extra out of my guys and also myself. I wanted to be known as that player.”
“DaShaun was a very tough competitor,” Brown said. “Every play mattered to him. He would yell at you. A lot of people couldn’t handle that, but it was all out of love. (Sophomore) Will Graham was a coach’s son, so he would yell at you too. He would just use nicer words than DaShaun.”
Wood said, “Will Graham was the good cop; I was the bad cop.”
Vaughn Duggins (1,777) is third on Wright State’s all-time scoring list. Brown (1,469) is No. 10, Drew Burleson (1,176) No. 20. All were on the 2006–07 roster. Burleson was a 6-foot-6 senior forward. Junior forward Jordan Pleiman (6-8), who averaged 5.4 rebounds, was the only player taller than 6-6.
“I was confident we would be good,” Wood said. “I just didn’t know how good.”
The Raiders opened with a 57-56 win at Miami University, a victory Brownell said provided a key juncture in the development of the team.
“That game was probably more important than people realize,” Brownell said. “It gave our staff credibility to our players — how important defending was and how you could win games with defense.”
Wright State was 5–6 after 11 games, won four in a row, then was bulldozed at Butler, 73–42. The Raiders avenged that loss with a 77–65 victory at home a month later and finished the regular season 21–9, 13–3 in the Horizon League.
“We won some close games early, and we continued to improve,” Brownell said. “Guys got better defensively and we did a much better job of organizing our offense and concentrating on our strengths.”
Wright State earned the No. 1 seed and hosted the league’s postseason tournament, which the Raiders hadn’t won since 1993.
After dispatching Green Bay, 67–51, in the semifinals, Wright State squared off against a Butler team ranked No. 19 nationally with a 27–5 record. The Nutter Center had to add extra bleachers to help accommodate one of the biggest crowds in its history (10,686).
“The atmosphere was electric,” Brownell recalled. “One of the great things about the Nutter Center is, it’s big, 10,000-plus, and all the seats are in a bowl that’s right on top of the stadium floor. It’s just people everywhere. You don’t see empty spaces. Because of that, it gets unbelievably loud.”
That loud crowd was disappointed by a rough start, as the Bulldogs sprinted to an early 10-0 lead. Brownell never panicked; in fact, he didn’t even call a time-out during those early struggles.
The Raiders eventually worked their way back into the game and Wood dropped in a 3-point goal with 1:06 remaining, breaking a tie and putting the Raiders on top, 55–52.
Butler scored off an inbounds pass to pull within 55–54 with 31.3 seconds to go. Duggins split a pair of free throws with 29.1 seconds remaining to widen the gap to 56–54. Butler’s Brandon Crone also split a pair with 11.6 seconds left, making the score 56–55.
Graham then faced the test of his life.
He was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and sent to the free throw line with 11.6 seconds still to play. Graham was a 66 percent free throw shooter during the season.
Graham’s first free throw was perfect. So was his second, and Wright State led 58–55. After Butler missed a 3-point attempt, Graham sank two more clinching free throws with 1.3 seconds to play.
Wright State won, 60–55, and students stormed the court to celebrate a Horizon League championship. Wood finished the game with 27 points and was named tournament MVP.
“It was an amazing experience,” Brown recalled. “I remember everybody on the floor. I remember somebody picking me up, twirling me around in the air. But, when I came to Wright State, I had planned on going to the Big Dance anyway.”
Both teams earned invitations to the NCAA tournament. Wright State fell to Pittsburgh in the first round, while Butler surprised Old Dominion and Maryland before losing to Florida.
“It was like a quarterback who wins the Super Bowl, then retires,” Wood said. “There is no better feeling than to walk away from your college career with a championship. Wright State was so great to me—the professors, the students, the athletic department. They gave me an opportunity. So to give back a championship to that school … it meant more to me than words can really explain.”
Video of the entire tournament championship game can be found on YouTube.