When we look at the success of Murray State athletics today, there are a few key individuals to whom much credit is owed.
Bennie Purcell is certainly near the top of the list.
Purcell left his hometown of Mount Vernon, Ill., in 1948 to become a part of the then “Thoroughbred” basketball team.
Purcell was the leading scorer for the 1951 team that went 21-6 and won the first of what is now 38 OVC championships.
In many ways, Purcell began the storied tradition of winning at Murray State.
A two-time OVC Player of the Year recipient, Purcell took the OVC’s newest team to unprecedented heights.
After winning the first conference championship in 1951, Purcell came back for his senior season and led his team all the way to the NAIA championship game.
The Thoroughbreds lost to Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), but Purcell was named player of the tournament and also became just the fifth Thoroughbred to be named an All-American.
To this day, Purcell is one of just 13 Murray State men’s basketball players to have earned All-American status.
Purcell did not miss a single game during his four years and finished his career with what was then a school record 1,108 points.
After his career as a Murray State player, Purcell played professionally for the Washington Generals – a regular opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters.
He returned to Murray State in 1963 to teach and become an assistant basketball coach.
In 1966, Purcell became the head tennis coach, and his team immediately won the conference championship that same year.
His men’s tennis teams dominated the competition throughout the 1980s, winning conference championships each year. His teams racked up 11 conference championships in Purcell’s 22 years as head coach.
Purcell was inducted into the Murray State Hall of Fame in 1969 and his number 21 hangs from the rafters of the CFSB Center today.
Additionally, the Murray State tennis courts are named after him.
Between his historic career as a basketball player and his equally impressive tenure as a tennis coach, Purcell is truly one of the architects of the Murray State athletic program today.
Column by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer