When Alton’s Redbirds last won an outright Southwestern Conference boys’ basketball championship 35 years ago, John “Main” Smith reigned as their top scorer.
Yet it was teammate Troy Washpun that stirred the point parade for a high-scoring 1979-80 team that went 23-3 and won a regional title. It was the fewest losses for an AHS team since the 1958-59 Redbirds went 26-2.
The lefty point guard helped make those Runnin’ Redbirds hard to guard. He served as their prince of passing.
“I remember a lot about the team,” said Washpun, attending the recent Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis. “We had a fabulous team and it was amazing because we had all the pieces in place.”
Wasphun, the assist king and capable scorer, worked with Smith in one of the finest backcourts in school history. Chuck Williams, Marc Renken, Aaron Parker and Robin Stockard, among others, added their touches to a squad that flew up and down the court.
“We were scoring something like 80 to 90 points a game,” Washpun recalled. “And we were doing it without 3-pointers back then.”
He added, “We shared the basketball and were like a family — all seniors. Everybody could dribble, pass and shoot. That made us tough to defend.”
Smith, third on the AHS career scoring list with 1,393 points, couldn’t be stopped, Washpun said.
“He was a constant and never let us down.”
Neither did Washpun.
Son Wes, a junior at Northern Iowa, is following in his footsteps. Wes, a left-handed point guard, has emerged as a key player for the Panthers, the MVC tournament champions. Wes, 21, was voted the league’s top Sixth Man.
“He’s a gifted player and I’m so proud of him,” Troy said. “The one thing I told him is that you don’t have to score a lot of points for your team to win. There’s more to the game than that. I enjoyed being a play-maker and I think he does, too.”
Wes Washpun said his dad, who played college ball at Wyoming, has had a major impact on him. The Washpuns, including Troy’s wife, Angela, and son, D’Angelo, 13, reside in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“I learned everything from him,” Wes said of his dad. “He has really been a big influence in my life. He taught me to take pride in playing defense and try to get everybody on the team involved in the game. It’s all about getting your team to win.”
And Wes realizes his dad knows his basketball.
“I’ve seen him play in some summer leagues,” Wes said, impressed by what he witnessed. “He keeps the same mentality when he plays because he definitely takes it as all-business.”
Troy, 53, has been working at Proctor and Gamble in Iowa City for 25 years. Nevertheless, whenever he gets the opportunity, he comes back to Alton. The MVC tourney at Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis offered him a chance to return to his roots and visit friends.
“I’ve been back to Alton a few times and it’s still my home. Absolutely,” Washpun said.
A couple of his buddies joined him at the MVC tourney to see Northern Iowa win all three games, including a come-from-behind 69-60 victory over Illinois State in the championship contest.
They can remember those glory days of years ago, when the Redbirds of Smith and Washpun roamed area courts and scorched the nets.
“They were a talented group,” recalled Ken Ramsey, also a standout player at AHS in the 1970s. His son, Jared, is one of the top 10 scorers in school history.
Troy has another season to watch his son progress at Northern Iowa, which was rated No. 11 in the country and owned a 30-3 record prior to the NCAA tournament.
He likes what he sees and is savoring the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, experience, even if Alton will always tug at his heart.
“It’s a good fit for me,” Washpun said of Iowa, also known as the American Heartland.