EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of stories telling the stories of the 2014 inductees into the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Hall of Fame.
By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 22, 2014) – Playing two sports in college can be a challenge even for the most disciplined of student-athletes, but somehow Eric Wiens made it look easy while at Oklahoma Christian.
Blessed with springs for legs and a competitive motor that never seemed to slow, Wiens pulled off a rare double in the mid-1990s, earning NAIA All-America status in two unrelated sports. Wiens, who helped OC win its first-ever game in the NAIA basketball tournament, then later set a school record in the pentathlon, will be one of six inductees into the OC Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday.
Wiens wasn’t a basketball player who dabbled in track and field, or an athlete who happened to play basketball. He approached both sports with equal fervor.
“He was a natural athlete,” OC track and field coach Randy Heath said. “He had great spring and he enjoyed (track). He enjoyed coming out to practice. Sometimes those two-sport athletes like that, they like competing in the meets but don’t want to practice. Eric was one that really enjoyed coming out and practicing and being with the team.”
Wiens starred in basketball for his father at Oologah High School in northeastern Oklahoma – making The Oklahoman’s elite Super 5 All-State list – and received some recruiting interest from Oklahoma’s NCAA Division I schools. But most of them were going through coaching changes and Wiens enjoyed his visit to OC when he attended a basketball game in the Eagles’ Nest.
“I really liked those guys,” he said. “They were nice and easygoing and down to earth. It just seemed like a group of guys I could fit in well with, plus coach (Dan) Hays is a great basketball coach.”
Also, at OC, he would have the opportunity to continue competing in track and field – an important consideration, since he had jumped 7 feet and won four Class 2A state titles while competing in the high jump for Oologah. Wiens said Heath “really helped me out” by allowing him to join the track team after each basketball season ended.
In the 1991-92 OC basketball media guide, the 6-foot-4 Wiens was dubbed as “one of the best athletes Oklahoma Christian has ever recruited.” If there was pressure to perform, Wiens knew he had a good support system.
“It was difficult to balance both sports,” Wiens said. “But it was my teammates who got me through everything. I had good teammates. The battle is staying motivated. That’s the big key. Everybody that I ran track with and played basketball with were motivated to do the best we could.”
In basketball, Wiens improved each season, averaging 6.4 points per game as a freshman, 12.6 as a sophomore and 13.6 as a junior in 1993-94, a season in which OC reached the inaugural Sooner Athletic Conference tournament title game and made its first NAIA tournament appearance in 12 years. The Eagles – with a lineup that included Wiens, Greg Brown and All-Americans Cory Cole and Fred Garcia – fell 78-73 to eventual national runner-up Life (Ga.) in the first round in Tulsa.
“That was a great feeling, to make it to the national tournament,” Wiens said. “Coach Hays and (then-assistant coach) Curtis (Janz) had put together a good group of guys. We had the talent to be there. It was just getting the right chemistry and it just worked out.”
In 1994-95, Wiens opted to take a season away from track to focus solely on basketball. He averaged a career-high 21.2 points per game – scoring a then-school-record 783 points – while earning second-team All-America honors. The Eagles went 28-9, again reaching the SAC tournament title game and advancing to the NAIA tournament.
Wiens, who scored 40 points and added nine rebounds and six assists in OC’s 99-97 double-overtime win over Wayland Baptist (Texas) in the first round of the SAC tournament, surprisingly wasn’t named as the SAC player of the year, but did receive first-team all-conference honors and was named as the SAC’s defensive player of the year.
OC recorded the program’s first national-tournament win, beating Southern-New Orleans (La.) 87-70, before losing to eventual champion Birmingham-Southern (Ala.) 76-54 in the second round. Wiens finished his career with 1,728 points and still ranks ninth on OC’s career scoring list. For many years, he held OC’s single-game field-goal percentage record, finishing 11 of 12 (91.6 percent) in a January 1995 win over York (Neb.).
“Not only was he bouncy, but he was strong,” Hays said. “He had huge hands. He didn’t need to bring another hand on the ball. He was picking it up off the dribble kind of like Julius Erving did. He had a combination of all of these natural gifts and then he just got more and more skilled every year and ended up being a just a tremendous small forward.”
As good as he was in basketball, Wiens was just as talented in track and field, but because the basketball and indoor track seasons overlapped, he was able to compete only outdoors for three years. After his hoops career ended, he ran a full season of track during the 1995-96 school year and the extra work paid off.
At the NAIA Indoor Championships in Lincoln, Neb., Wiens set a still-standing school record of 3,617 points in the pentathlon, then cleared 6 feet, 9 inches in the high jump. He finished fifth in both events, thus earning All-America status in both. In doing so, he became the first OC athlete to become an All-American in two unrelated sports. Only one other OC athlete, Sam Winterbotham (tennis/soccer), since has matched that accomplishment.
Wiens later competed in the decathlon and high jump at the NAIA Outdoor Championships. Earlier during the outdoor season, he just missed matching OC’s high jump record by a quarter-inch, recording a top mark of 6 feet, 11¾ inches.
“Track is a fun sports, because you can excel in it as an individual and it can also be a team sport,” Wiens said. “I can’t tell you how many times we were out there and we’d be running on the track and we’d be dying. Greg Dixon or Wayne Strohman or David Lynn would say something totally stupid as you ran by and you’d start laughing in the middle of the workout. Just little stuff like that made it easy. It didn’t seem like work. We were just out there enjoying what we were doing.”
After graduating in 1996, Wiens followed his father into coaching and teaching. He spent five seasons as his dad’s assistant at Oologah, then seven years as an assistant basketball coach at Claremore High School before realizing he didn’t want to coach basketball any more. He’s still at Claremore, working as a biology teacher and serving as the Zebras’ cross country and track coach.
“It’s a very enjoyable thing,” Wiens said. “I tell people that I knew I wasn’t going to be a millionaire getting into coaching and teaching, but it’s a very enjoyable job.”
And – oh yeah – he can still dunk a basketball.
“The kids always ask me, ‘Can you still dunk it.’ I can, a little,” he said, laughing. “I’ll show them.”