From Muscatine to Iowa: Murray Wier, Joe Wieskamp Share Similar Paths
IOWA CIY, Iowa – I asked Joe Wieskamp how much he knew about Murray Wier.
“Not a lot,” admitted Iowa’s sophomore guard.
Have you read much about him?
“I have not,” Wieskamp continued. “But now that you said something, I’ll definitely look into him.”
My first reaction was surprise. Like Wieskamp, Wier was an all-state star at Muscatine High School who made the 40-mile trek to play Big Ten basketball for the University of Iowa.
Both were standout scorers. Wieskamp left Muscatine as the state of Iowa’s career scoring leader with 2,376 points. Wier, who transferred from Grandview to Muscatine for his senior season, was the leading vote getter for the Iowa Daily Press Association all-state team as a senior.
Wier had immediate success with the Hawkeyes, like Wieskamp did. Two careers, similar paths.
But the more I thought about it, Wieskamp’s lack of knowledge about a player who laced them up in the 1940s is not a surprise. Especially in today’s age of social media, where talking about yesterday is a lost art.
So this seemed like the perfect time to do Wieskamp’s homework for him and look back at some of Murray Wier’s exploits. He was one of the greatest Hawkeyes of all time.
Wier made the 15-mile move from Grandview to Muscatine because he wanted to test himself against better competition as a senior.
A 5-foot-8 forward, Wier collected 71 first-place votes in balloting for that IDPA team after his senior season. According to the Muscatine Journal of March 31, 1944, “Muscatine’s human thunderbolt, Murray Wier, polled more votes than any one player in the state.” That, the newspaper reported, was a testimony to the performance of “this young tornado.”
While Wieskamp dents defenses with a perimeter jump shot and drives to the hoop, Wier took an untraditional approach. It had everything to do with his size, or lack of it.
His scoring arsenal included off-balance drives and hook shots that made him look like a human pretzel.
“I had two brothers who were a lot taller than me,” Wier said in February of 2002 after being named to Iowa’s All-Century team. “We’d play in the back yard, and to get a shot over them I had to throw the ball. That’s really how it started. It looked goofier than hell, but it was so natural to me.”
That single season at Muscatine also earned Wier a scholarship offer from Iowa Coach Pops Harrison.
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Wier made an immediate impact on the Hawkeye program. Freshmen were eligible for varsity competition in 1944-45 because of World War II. Wier joined a loaded team that included Dick Ives and the Wilkinson brothers, Clayton and Herb. That team won the Big Ten title with an 11-1 record and went 17-1 overall. Wier averaged 7.8 points off the bench.
He started his final three seasons.
He ended up scoring 958 career points for the Hawkeyes, long before a three-point shot arrived, and always seemed to have the ball in his hands at crunch time.
As a sophomore, he made a hook shot at the buzzer to force overtime against visiting Minnesota. The Hawkeyes went on to win the game, 63-61.
“The huge crowd went completely mad when the extra session ended, fans rushed the court, Wier was hoisted on the shoulders of his deliriously happy mates and with his face and ears the color of a summer sunset, he was toted off the court to the showers as befits the hero of a storybook finish,” wrote Walter Van Zyle of the Muscatine Journal.
After scoring 27 points in in a home victory against Purdue his senior season, Bert McGrane of the Des Moines Register wrote, “The little redhead fairly melted the rims as he darted and fired his deadly barrage, filling the hoops with 10 field goals and seven free throws for a 27-point total.”
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Wier’s biggest game came in a 70-61 victory over Illinois later that season, when he scored a career-best 34 points. He took a school-record 33 shots, making 15. That was half of Iowa’s field-goal attempts for the game. Wier was carried off the court after the game.
“That game is one of my best memories,” Wier said in 2002.
The Illini had the man regarded to be the best defender in the Big Ten, Jack Burmaster. One of Wier’s teammates, Tom Parker, was a high school teammate of Burmaster and stopped at the hotel to see him the night before the game.
Wier asked Parker what Burmaster thought of the game.
“He said “Burmaster is really worried.’ ” Wier recalled. “I thought, “Oh oh, if he’s worried and we’re in Iowa City, watch out.’ After about 5 minutes I could do anything with him I wanted. I remember looking at his face. He was bewildered. It was one of those games where everything went right.”
The NCAA first started recognizing scoring leaders in 1947-48, when Wier was a senior. Murray became the nation’s first official scoring leader, averaging 21 points a game. That came on an average of 23.3 shots per game.
Wier also set a single-season Big Ten scoring record of 272 points that season, and was named a first-team all-American. He was listed 5-10, but he was closer to 5-8 and weighed all of 150 pounds. The Associated Press called him “the smallest man in big-time college basketball.”
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Speaking at an Iowa City Quarterback Club dinner honoring members of the 1947-48 basketball team, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that Harrison reserved special praise for Wier.
“There will never be another Murray Wier,” Harrison said. “When they made Murray Wier they threw away the model. As long as basketball is played in Iowa, Murray Wier will be the standard of comparison. A fellow will be either as good as Murray Wier, or not as good as Murray Wier.”
Wier went on to play in the NBA, for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and Waterloo Hawks. His second coach at Tri-Cities was Red Auerbach, who would go on to guide the Boston Celtics to nine NBA titles.
In April of 1978, Muscatine held “Murray Wier Day.” Some 5,000 attended as Wier was presented a 1948 convertible, a $500 war bond, a $300 engraved pen set and was presented the Big Ten MVP award from the Chicago Tribune.
When his basketball-playing days ended, Wier landed in Waterloo, where he was a coach and administrator for 38 years at East Waterloo High School and guided the Trojans to the 1974 state basketball title. He passed away in April of 2016 at 89 years of age.
Wieskamp hasn’t decided on a career path after his playing days are over. But like Wier, basketball might be involved.
“I think the possibilities are endless,” he said. “I could definitely see myself involved with basketball, whether that be coaching or being on the business side of a team.”
Wieskamp scored a career-high 30 points against Nebraska on Feb. 8. Had he not spent the last 10 minutes of the bench of the blowout, odds are good he would have passed Wier’s 34-point performance against Illinois 72 seasons earlier.
And like Wier, Wieskamp is dealing with the expectations that come with being a home-state product.
“There’s two ways you can go about it,” Wieskamp said. “You’re an Iowa guy, so you’re going to have that support automatically from the fans. Or you can look at it the other way and think, “Oh, man, I have all these expectations on me and I’ve got to go out and perform.’ I just go into a game trying to keep an even keel. Never two high or too low.”
Just like Murray Wier.