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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Ex-Jayhawk White ‘humbled’ by honor

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First it was Paul Pierce. Then it was Jo Jo White.

The two best Kansas University basketball players ever to don Boston Celtics uniforms were in Allen Fieldhouse for jersey-retirement ceremonies within three days of each other.

"Paul just left and he got his number retired before me," White said. "How did that happen?"

White was kidding, of course, but it did take a liberalization of KU jersey-retirement criteria to make both college and pro backcourt standouts eligible this year.

Not that White, now 56 and a member of the Celtics' community relations and marketing department, ever felt he was being snubbed.

"To tell the truth," White said as he signed numerous autographs before Monday's KU-Texas game, "I never even thought about it because I never knew the criteria."

White qualified under two new criteria -- being a two-time All-American (in 1968 and 1969) and membership on a U.S. Olympic team (1968).

White, incidentally, is still one up on Pierce, the current Celtics' standout who was here for Saturday's KU-Arizona game. The No. 10 jersey White wore during his nine years with the Celtics -- he was an All-Star seven times and named the MVP of the 1976 NBA championships -- already has been retired.

Monday night, it was the No. 15 White wore during three varsity seasons with the Jayhawks that was unfurled high in the south rafters of the venerable fieldhouse.

"I am humbled by this recognition," White said to a standing, cheering throng that erupted when he ended his short thank you speech by shouting, "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."

A touted prep in St. Louis, Mo., White had, he said, about 250 college offers before he eventually chose KU.

"It all worked for me," he said. "I knew nothing about Kansas, but my high school coach did. I came here and fell in love. It was the perfect school for me."

Ted Owens, KU's head coach at the time, and top aide Sam Miranda were both on the floor for the ceremony. Owens and Miranda both are retired -- Owens in Tulsa, Okla., and Miranda in Lawrence. Also on hand were White's wife, mother and daughter Meka, a KU student.

Already a member of both the Kansas University and State of Kansas sports halls of fame, White nevertheless remains on the outside looking in at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Mass.

White has been nominated for the prestigious Naismith shrine a couple of times -- originally in 1995 -- but he's still waiting for the call.

"Sooner or later it will happen," White said with a grin. "I just hope I can still see."

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