The Mississippi Athletic Conference was formed in 1978. Since then, more than half of the league's members have won at least one boys’ state basketball title.
Only one of those programs can say they achieved perfection.
The 1994 Davenport West squad remains the lone boys basketball team in the Quad-Cities metro to go undefeated for an entire season.
Coached by Dave Wessel, who passed away on May 5 after a battle with leukemia at age 81, the Falcons were 24-0 and won a Class 4A state championship.
“Our second-team unit gave us more trouble in practice than a lot of teams we played,” said all-stater Tony Brus, who went on to play at Northern Iowa. “I felt sorry for our juniors and some of our seniors who didn’t play because they would have started at almost any other Davenport school.”
West had a bona fide all-state scorer in Brus. It had athletic guards in twin brothers, Marcus and Marlin Clark, who moved in from Chicago during their middle school years. It had size with 6-foot-5 Tony Ogden and 6-6 Scott Becker.
Wessel molded that talent and athleticism into a cohesive, unselfish team that spent all season ranked No. 1 in the state polls.
“Every team we went up against, the way he prepared us made us believe they were 12-and-oh or had like two all-Americans on their team,” Marlin Clark said. “There wasn’t social media back then. We didn’t find out until the game was over they were like 2-and-10.
“We never went into a game thinking we were better than any other team.”
Players described Wessel as tough but fair.
“If you followed the rules, you would get along with him,” Brus said.
Wessel was a stickler for being punctual.
“If you were not 15 minutes early to practice, you were late,” Marcus Clark said.
His scouting reports were meticulous, often citing the number of specific dribbles an opposing player would typically take to his left or right before pulling up for a jump shot.
Marcus Clark said they were more detailed than any he read in college.
The preparation, coupled with the skill, resulted in an extraordinary season.
West cruised through the MAC. The most anticipated regular-season game came in February when No. 2 Fort Madison, led by future Hawkeye and NBA player Ryan Bowen, came to town.
Also 17-0 at the time, Fort Madison was coached by current West basketball coach Mark Bigler.
“The gym was packed before the sophomore game,” Marcus Clark said. “I think people were actually tailgating in February for it.”
T-shirts were printed before the game that read: “Pound the Hounds” on the front and “Battle for No. 1” on the back. More than 500 fans were turned away at the door since the gym was over capacity.
West dominated with a 67-50 victory.
“It was ridiculous how loud it was in there that night,” Brus said. “You couldn’t hear yourself think.”
The Falcons beat Fort Madison a couple weeks later in the substate final, 64-52, for the group’s first trip to the state tournament.
West thwarted conference rival Bettendorf 67-31 in the state quarterfinals and clobbered West Des Moines Valley 79-57 in the semifinals.
“Everybody knew their roles on that team and it wasn’t an issue who was scoring more or who got the accolades,” Marlin Clark said. “Coach did a good job of keeping us humble and to accept the roles that we had on the team. It made us closer.”
In the title game against Prairie, West’s Marcus Clark — who Wessel called the best perimeter defender he ever coached in 37 years at West — got into foul trouble. The Falcons trailed by three points at halftime.
Brus led a second-half comeback and West punctuated the perfect season with a 60-55 win before 9,500 fans at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
It was Wessel’s second state title at West, his first coming 23 years earlier with an 11-loss team.
“Everything lined up for us in ‘94,” Marcus Clark said. “I don’t think that year was too tough on coach. Outside the lines, we were pretty good friends. Inside the lines, we went at it, and that’s what every coach wants.”
Even after heading to college and embarking on their professional lives, they stayed in touch with Wessel. They returned for reunions, and most of the team members were at last week’s visitation and funeral.
Brus farms between Blue Grass and Walcott. Marlin Clark lives in the St. Louis area and works in real estate. Marcus Clark also is in real estate and resides in suburban Atlanta.
Marlin sat with Wessel for a couple of hours about two weeks before the coach’s passing. He had the opportunity to thank Wessel for the impact he had in his maturation as a person and player.
“I got kicked off the team because of grades my sophomore year,” Marlin said. “He got me to understand the importance of preparation and doing things right when nobody is looking. I think I came back that next semester and had like a 3.2 grade-point average.”
Marcus Clark had his final conversation with Wessel about a week before his death. With their father not consistently in the picture growing up, Wessel was more than just a coach.
“There weren’t a lot of positive role models in our life and you want to attach to something, someone,” Marcus said. “My brother and I had basketball. That’s what kept us out of trouble.
“There are some people who come into your life and make a difference. Some people are bigger than life. No matter what situation you were in, coach Wessel pulled the best out of you. He was the type of guy that was greater than life. That was coach.”