1991 Bruins Men’s Basketball Team
The Bartlesville Bruins basketball teams of the Steve Hesser era are nothing short of legendary. The 1990-1991 team was the city of Bartlesville’s team, with fans making the trek to away venues to ensure that all out of town games were still “home games” for the Bruins. Actual home games were a nightmare for the visiting teams, having to play in the deafening, sold out, original Bruin fieldhouse. The Bru Cru and home fans would force the fire marshall to cut off entry by the middle of the JV games due to past-capacity crowds.
The Bruins came into that season picked in the bottom 10 of 60 class 5A programs and were an undersized, but tough team, that took on the persona of their head coach, Steve Hesser. The seniors set the tone for the team, led Mike Ellison, Tommy DeSalme, Aaron Bucher and Ricky John. The Bruins only lost one game during the regular season and a lot of the wins were not pretty but in Bruin Time – the phrase used at critical points where the team just knew that they were going to make plays to win – they gutted out victories.
The Bruins suffered their second loss of the season to Union in the area championship but defeated Sapulpa the following night to make the state tournament. Per the usual, the Bruins fans took over the Mabee Center in Tulsa, where the state tournament was held, to ensure that the team had a home atmosphere to compete in. They defeated Edmond Memorial in the first round and Putnam City North in the semi-finals, both in resounding fashion.
This put the Bruins in the state championship game vs Norman High in a rematch of an earlier Bruin victory in the home Phillips 66 tournament. That night, in the middle of the season, the Bruins snapped a multi-season undefeated streak for the #1 ranked Norman Tigers. So the foe from the south had revenge on their minds when they met the Bruins in the Championship game for the State Title.
Bartlesville dominated the first two quarters and went into half up 30-21. In the third quarter, Norman implemented a rarely utilized zone defense against the Bruins and got within one point until Mike Ellison was fouled on a successful three-point attempt and made the ensuing free throw and Bartlesville never trailed from that point on…Bruin Time. The Bruins capped their 27-2 season with a final score of 59-47 to earn their second state championship in three years.
Steve Hesser, Ray Shaffer, Rick Johnson and Rodney Vernon coached the 1991 state champion team, which consisted of Aaron Bucher, Marcel Chambers, Tommy DeSalme, Mike Ellison, Gerard Harris, Jerome Harris, Ricky John, Jon Knoll, Billy LeFlore, Donald Nash, Raymond Roberts, Mark Robinson, James Silas, Matt Stie, Kevin Wasemiller, Tim Wasemiller and manager Brian Benton. These players and coaches remain close to this day and look back on that season with fond memories.