Hannibal natives Mark Sanders and Kent Hackamack are inductees into the Truman Athletics Hall of Fame with the 1978-79 Bulldogs basketball team.
Championship teams focus more on the success of the collective whole than the individual performance of each player.
The Northeast Missouri (Truman) State University 1978-79 men's basketball team was the epitome of that.
Former Hannibal High School standouts Mark Sanders and Kent Hackamack were Bulldogs that season when the deep and talented squad finished with a 20-8 record and won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association before falling in the regionals of the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Sanders and Hackamack, along with their teammates, are being recognized this weekend with induction into the Truman Athletics Hall of Fame.
Nearly 40 years after playing together, the high-flying Bulldogs are remembered for averaging 86.4 points per game in an era that featured no 3-point line. Their scoring output was a school record until last season.
Head coach Willard Sim's team scored a school-record 128 points to open the season with a victory over Kansas Wesleyan and finished first in program history in steals and assists in a single campaign.
“We had 10 players, and if you look at our stats, of the 28 games, 10 of us played in all those games,” said Sanders, who was a senior and selected as an all-conference honorable mention. “That was back before you platooned people in. We pressed a 1-2-2 press the whole game.”
Terry Bussard of Olney, Illinois, was the engine that made Northeast Missouri State go. The team captain was named the conference's most valuable player. As a floor general, he finished his career in ownership of several career school records and remains the all-time leader with 582 assists.
Ved Green of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was a first-team conference selection for the Bulldogs. Also on the team was Craig King of Shelbina, Larry Lunsford of Macon, and David Winslow, brother of former National Football League tight end Kellen Winslow.
“We were all good shooters and could play well,” said Hackamack, a sophomore that season who also excelled in track and field. He was the MIAA champion in the high jump and long jump as a senior. “We were all athletic. We pressed and sped up the game. It's hard to do that with just five good players, but by having 10 guys, we basically had two really good teams and were able to really push.”
Ben Pitney was a third Hannibal connection to Truman's successful season. After coaching at Hannibal-LaGrange University from 1966-71, Pitney transitioned to be an assistant at Truman for the next 23 years.
Steve Looten of Hannibal also served as Truman's team manager during the 1978-79 season.
The Bulldogs avenged a pair of previous losses to Lincoln (Jefferson City) with a 77-71 win in the final game of the regular season to win the MIAA championship.
“We were able to beat them, which was quite the accomplishment,” Hackamack said.
Sanders remained in the game after his playing career as a coach and currently teaches and coaches at Central Lafourche High School in Mathews, Louisiana. The former Hannibal-LaGrange University and Hannibal High School coach moved south with his family in 2013.
Sanders mentioned the Truman records that still stand from 1978-79 are a testament to how special the team was.
“Of all the teams that you play or coach or hang around, the numbers speak for themselves,” Sanders said. “We still have the numbers since 1979, and we did some pretty good things back in that day. We thought we could beat anybody at any time with the players we had.”
Hackamack launched a career in accounting after his playing days were done. He now resides in Columbia.
He mentioned he has remained in contact with many of his former Truman teammates over the years and was looking forward to enter the Hall of Fame as a unit. The Bulldogs' success on the basketball court translated into other areas of their lives, he added.
“We have stayed in touch over the years, which is nice,” Hackamack said. “All those guys have been successful in their own right with their families and careers.”
Sanders said the players and coaches on the team will forever be bonded together.
“When you practice with somebody day in and day out, you're in the locker room, on the bus with them, on the bench with them, on the floor, diving and scrapping, winning and losing, you just develop a relationship that you don't have any place else,” he said. “Whether you're black or white, small or tall, guard or post, it doesn't make any difference. It's a bond that gels us together.”