Jeff Wilkins 1977 No. 2

Illinois State center Jeff Wilkins pulls down a rebound in a 1977 upset of No. 4-ranked UNLV at Horton Field House. The Redbirds from the Gene Smithson MTXE era of 1975-78 were among the most successful in ISU history and will be honored at halftime of Saturday's game against Northern Iowa. 

Today, archiving is done electronically. Joe Galvin’s parents didn’t have that luxury when he was playing basketball at Bloomington High School and Illinois State in the 1970s.

They clipped photos and stories from the pages of The Pantagraph … not occasionally, but religiously.

“I literally have every article ever published when I was in school,” Galvin said.

He also has something else.

“I happen to have my complete MTXE uniform,” Galvin said.

MTXE stands for Mental Toughness Xtra Effort. That was the mantra of Gene Smithson in his three seasons as Illinois State head coach, letters that became synonymous with winning.

They appeared on the jerseys and shorts of ISU’s uniforms and represented a thrilling time in Redbird basketball. Smithson’s 66-18 record from 1975-78 included two NIT appearances (when that meant something) and the highest Division I national ranking in program history (No. 13 in 1978).

Saturday, the era will be celebrated during ISU’s annual Retro Night game against Northern Iowa. Smithson and a number of his former players are scheduled to be on hand and be honored at halftime of the 5 p.m. game at Redbird Arena.

Among them will be the 7-foot Galvin, presumably not in his MTXE uniform. Though in his heart, he’s never taken it off.

“It was a special time in my life for sure,” he said. “This is a chance to reconnect with those guys and with Coach Smithson. I haven’t seen some of them for over 35 years. It’s great that Coach Smithson is going to get that recognition and get a chance to see the fellas.”

The current Redbirds will wear throwback I-State uniforms with red and white striped shorts from the early 1970s. The MTXE version came in after Smithson, a Will Robinson assistant, took over as head coach.

“I just had one year of the striped uniform … thank God,” joked Derrick Mayes, star guard from 1975-79.

Mayes will join Smithson and Galvin on Saturday. Others who have indicated to ISU they will attend are former players Jeff Wilkins, Randy Henry, Roger Powell, Randy Smithson and Roy Herold, as well as the families of the late Ron Jones and Del Yarbrough. Yarbrough’s son, Milik, is a junior starter and leading scorer on this year’s Redbird team.

“It will be very satisfying and very emotional for me,” said Mayes, who in June moved from Kentucky back to his native Elgin. “The only one I’ve really seen on a regular basis is Jeff Wilkins. We’re pretty close.

“A lot of those guys, once we got out of school and went our own ways, I haven’t seen them since 1979. I’m excited. This is way, way, way, way overdue. We had some of the best teams in Illinois State history. But you know what … better late than never.”

Smithson left ISU following the 24-4 season of 1977-78 for Wichita State, where his 155-81 record in eight seasons was highlighted by a trip to the Elite Eight in 1981. Among his star players were eventual NBA standouts Xavier McDaniel, Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston.

NCAA probation and a postseason ban led to Smithson’s exit from Wichita State in 1986, but he has since been inducted into the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

His time at ISU included a win over No. 4-ranked UNLV at Horton Field House in February 1977 and a victory over Larry Bird and No. 4 Indiana State at Horton the following year.

The five starters on the 1977-78 team — Mayes, Jones, Yarbrough, Galvin and Billy Lewis — are all in ISU’s 1,000-point club and were NBA draft picks.

“That ’78 team … that was 40 years ago, man. Forty years!” Galvin said. “That period was just a really special time. It will be great to celebrate that history of Illinois State basketball.”

Indeed.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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