The name Johnny Orr has become synonymous with collegiate basketball success. During his tenure at Iowa State, Orr’s teams recorded five 20-win seasons, six NCAA tournament berths, and had seven players drafted by the National Basketball Association (NBA). Orr witnessed a 95-percent increase in attendance, as sold-out crowds at Hilton Coliseum became the rule.
To put Orr’s accomplishments in perspective, one must turn the page back to his arrival. In Orr’s first season, attendance increased nearly 3,000 fans per game. In his fourth season (1983-84), ISU finished 16-13 and earned a bid to the NIT, the first time in 40 years that Iowa State was invited to play in post-season play. The 1984-85 campaign saw the Cyclones improve to 21-13 mark and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
His 1985-86 squad shattered several records, including most wins in a season, and reached the NCAA “Sweet 16”. The Cyclones played in the Big Eight Tournament’s championship game following an undefeated home season in which ISU averaged a capacity 14,020 fans per game. Orr was treated to one of the highlights of his coaching career when his underdog Cyclones beat Big Ten Conference champ Michigan, his former school, in the NCAA Midwest Regional on national television.
The 1987-88 Cyclones raced to a 16-2 start and were ranked as high as 10th nationally. ISU again earned a berth in the NCAA tournament and won 20 games for the third time in four seasons. Standout Jeff Grayer finished his career with 2,502 points and was a second team All-America choice by the Associated Press. The team set 11 school marks, including averaging a record 14,238 fans per game. Orr’s teams went on to NCAA Tournament berths in 1989, 1992 and 1993.