Sunday, December 19, 2004

No. 13 suits Wesley

Former standout has jersey retired


Cold chills shot down Walt Wesley's spine when he was assigned jersey No. 13 his sophomore season at Kansas University.

"You don't want to mess with that," the 59-year-old former KU center said with a grin, aware it would be difficult to follow in the footsteps of 7-footer Wilt Chamberlain.

Yet Wesley accepted the number back in 1964 -- he wore 44 for KU's freshman team -- and Saturday night watched proudly as banner No. 13 was hung in the south rafters of Allen Fieldhouse in the same vicinity as Chamberlain's identical No. 13.

"Without a doubt, it's one of my greatest thrills. As an athlete, this is the type of thing you dream about," added the 22nd leading scorer in KU history.

Wesley was able to make a name for himself at KU, though comparisons with Chamberlain were inevitable.

His coach, Ted Owens, who stood with his arm around Wesley during a session with the media before the KU-South Carolina game, remembers the times when Wesley really emerged.

"Walter wasn't nearly as developed as Wilt when he came here," said Owens, who directed the Wesley-led Jayhawks to a Big Eight title and 23-4 overall mark in 1965-66, Wesley's senior year.

"He was an enormous worker who grew and grew. At K-State his sophomore year, he scored 28. His junior year, he had the big game against Loyola (42 points, eighth-best mark in KU history). He played against St. John's and scored 38 in Manhattan, and the New York papers called him, 'The New Wilt.'''

Wesley is one of five Jayhawks to have his jersey retired this season. KU has elected to honor the "Forgotten Five" of Wesley, Bill Bridges, Darnell Valentine, Dave Robisch and Bud Stallworth.

"I didn't think it would happen, but this man kept assuring me it would," Wesley said, hugging Owens. "And Bernie Morgan called and said it would happen."

Morgan is the KU fan who persuaded athletic director Lew Perkins to honor the five.

"I'm not a big jersey-retirement guy," Owens said, "because a lot of our greatest players were not big stat guys. If we are going to retire jerseys of great players, these five certainly measure up to standards of greatness. Today we honor not only Walt, but his teammates. Without teammates, he wouldn't be here today."

Teammates Delvy Lewis, Al Lopes and Ron Franz were on hand Saturday, along with Owens. Also attending were Wesley's wife, two sons and a daughter.

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