Feb. 6, 2002
Saturday evening, Gerry Barker and his wife, Lois, picked up my wife and me for a trip to Lawrence to have dinner with the 1952 Kansas basketball team, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its national championship season. The 87-year-old Barker drove like there was nothing to it.
I wasn’t worried. He had plenty of advice, back seat and front, and I know he’s physically sound because in golf he has shot his age 125 times, and is still doing it. I can’t shoot my age, but I can shoot our combined age with a little to spare, and on a good day can shoot my temperature and my 1948 IQ.
Enough of that. The dinner was in the “Boots” Adams Alumni Center, named for the KU grad and former CEO of Phillips Petroleum, whose money was vital to the project. That’s not surprising to me, because I know he’s generous.
After Bud Wilkinson lost his race for the U.S. Senate in Oklahoma in 1964, despite my help and a lot of Adams’ money, Adams made one of his corporate planes available to Bud. He tossed in his palatial vacation home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with staff, golf privileges and a couple of boats, and six of us spent a week there.
The weekend reunion was a family affair for KU’s 1952 players, and most of them brought their spouses, their children and their spouses, and some grandchildren. So, the room was full, and among the stars there were two superstars – Dean Smith and Clyde Lovellette.
Both are in the National Basketball Hall of Fame, Smith as a coach and Lovellette as a player. Smith is a celebrity as the winningest coach in major college hoop history. Lovellette, who came to KU from Indiana because of his asthma (don’t snicker, that’s what KU said) was an all-American, and led the nation in scoring.
Everything said at a cocktail party is profound. I said to Smith that Barbara, who was beside me, was in his class at Topeka High, and he said to her that he must have picked on her when she was very young. They got into some Trojan talk, and I said his lifetime friend, Bill Bunten, was more recognizable in the class yearbook than he was, and he said it had always been that way. Pretty profound.
Kansas coach Roy Williams was there, gathering valuable basketball tips. A woman said to me, “The thing I don’t like about Roy is that he doesn’t get up off the bench enough.” I didn’t tell her that was the first time anyone ever said that about a basketball coach.
I didn’t tell Williams about it either. I asked him if he remembered Topekan Mary Lou Kiene, who once was so engrossed in the telecast of a KU game she missed the meeting of a club that was to be devoted to naming her Woman of the Year. Williams remembered, and also remembered the note he sent her, which she treasures (To be frank, she’s a KU nut.)
Charlie Hoag, one of the 52ers, grabbed Williams in a bear hug and said, “We want you to be just like us – national champs.” Williams smiled like he’s working on it. Just a couple of hours before, his Jayhawks had sent Colorado’s Buffaloes down the chute at Allen Slaughterhouse.
The reunion reminds us that every year there are teams that, mostly by accident, have the right players and the right coaches, and find the elusive blend of the talents and personalities that moves them up to the final notch. It happened in KU in ’52.
In ’02, Bill Hoagland, a 52er and resident of Lawrence, now is the most valuable player on the team. He made the reunion special, and will be expected to do it again, because it appears these old champs haven’t worn out their welcome yet.