Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mayer: Not so fast, Billy Packer


Analyst Billy Packer once labeled Kansas's Christian Moody as the best walk-on in college basketball history. Moody had a dandy game that Billy narrated.

Not close, even for KU, let alone all ball. There have been far better guys, like Allen Kelley of 1952-53-60 fame who parlayed a bread-and-water beginning to stardom. Ouch! KU almost lost both unheralded Al and noted brother Dean to Pittsburg State after Dean's lonesome freshman year here (1949-50). His uncle, Keith Kelley, then a Haskell Institute leader, and coach Phog Allen had to do a real sales job.

Growing up in McCune, Al and Dean were as close as twisted duct tape. Phog saw Dean as a state Class B star and got him a scholarship. But Dean was homesick, felt he was a tiny frog in a big puddle. He was packed to go home and enroll, with buddy Al, the next year at Pitt State.

"Dick Harp (assistant) scouted me and offered a job that would pay for tuition and books, but I wasn't coming without Dean," says Al, now a retired Peoria Caterpillar-Diesel official living in Lawrence. "We worked all summer and managed to get an old car and decided to give it a try, saving money living with our uncle. I finally got a scholarship. But once, neither of us figured we'd be at KU."

The Allen brothers, Mitt and Bobby, were an outstanding Jayhawk sibling combination. The Kelley boys may have been even spiffier, since they were on national title and runner-up teams and starred as Olympic champions. Dean was the only junior starter for the '52 NCAA champs and was one of seven Jayhawks with the Olympic kings. Al, at a mere 6-foot-0, didn't play much as a sophomore, but in 1952-53 he teamed with Dean, 5-11, and 6-9 B.H. Born, 6-2 Hal Patterson and 6-1 Gil Reich. Imagine a team, even then, with a frontline of 6-9, 6-2, 6-0, reaching the national finals and losing by one point.

Dean, who died in 1996 at age 64 from a heart condition, went into the Air Force and wound up as a Cat-Diesel star. Al, as fierce a defender and competitor as you'll ever see, also served Air Force duty. He made the all-victorious '60 Olympic team with the likes of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. He had averaged 12.5 points and steals galore as a KU regular.

Coach Harp used to revel in watching Al cover people. "He'd get that look in his eye, an absolutely lethal glare, then dare you to beat him," Dick often said. "Sometimes he actually scared opponents with his ferocity. We'll never have two finer basketball players and citizens than Al and Dean."

With Reich and Dean gone, the 1954 KU club featured Al Kelley, Patterson and Born with the addition of rookie Dallas Dobbs and Larry Davenport. They were odds-on favorites to take the Big Seven title, particularly after winning the holiday tournament title in Kansas City. But they finished 16-5 overall, and tied at 10-2 in the conference by Colorado.

Only one league team was allowed in NCAA play then and Colorado won a drawing from a hat. Dreams of another NCAA Final Four appearance got dashed when KU was dumped by Missouri in the season finale after carrying an eight-game winning streak into Columbia.

Al Correll, a KU star and captain in the early 1960s, once quipped: "Harp was always talking about the Kelley boys, the Kelley boys, the Kelley boys. I finally looked it up and they WERE that great!"

Al was a brilliant pre-Moody walk-on. Yet don't bother to notify Bill Packer. He's not inclined to let facts override a pithy comment.


GIHAWK 13 years, 2 months ago

Or maybe Billy doesn't know, and shouldn't really know, our basketball history....?

jaybate 13 years, 2 months ago

"Imagine a team, even then, with a frontline of 6-9, 6-2, 6-0, reaching the national finals and losing by one point."--Bill Mayer

Imagine UCLA winning it all in 1964 with no one taller than Topeka Central's Freddie Slaughter at 6'5."

It was around this time, Bill, that I knew something had gone temporarily wrong with Kansas basketball. The cradle of college hoops was losing rings to alphabet SoCal schools with 6'5" centers from Topeka.

leemerrill 13 years, 2 months ago

Since we are talking about best walk ons I would say Scottie Pippen, He was a walk on at a div 2 school in Arkansas. Being a roll player on 5 world championship teams would put him in the list for sure if not at the top.

Kyle Rohde 13 years, 2 months ago

Roll player? First of all, its role player. And second, Scottie Pippen was anything but a role player. He was a superstar and one of the five best players in basketball for about a decade. And maybe the greatest defensive forward of all time. But yes, he does qualify for best walk on ever.

Mayer, interesting column but maybe you could have written a year ago when Billy Packer actually made the comment.

Saad Saifeddine 13 years, 2 months ago

Self's offense has always been and will always be inconsistent and UGLY, we unfortunately just need to get used to the FACT that KU's offense will look that way as long as Self is here. I don't care how many games we win, but "tradition-rich" KU deserves more that just ugly wins. We are used to fun-to-watch basketball, and we will never get that with Self. That being said, firing Self is NOT a solution, simply because there is not a better coach who is available!

Sanity 13 years, 2 months ago

There was also a player by the name of Frazier.

It is the day of a game where fans here know little about the players, offensive system, strengths and weaknesses of RI. So rather than do research to inform the locals of today's events, we have phone calls to Robertson about 97 and 98. We have reference a comment made by pACCer in ignorance, nearly two years ago.

This is kind of like listening to Max during a radio broadcast of a KU game. You learn nothing about what is actually relevant. You hear stories that could be recorded in his living room when nobody was trying to find out what is happening by listening to the radiowaves. X's, Bleeds? Crackdowns? Feels? Seals? Scoring before they catch? Fans, Reversals, Skips? Dives? Flashes? Drops? Staggers? Fade screens? Nope. Bob tells us who has the ball and who shoots. Max discusses 1956.

Some day, reporters will teach us what is relevant, not rehash the old days for a paycheck from the comfort of their easy chairs.

milehighhawk 13 years, 2 months ago

Last season called: it would like it's timely commentary back.

klineisanazi 13 years, 2 months ago

Did Mayer pull this one out of the bottom drawer or what?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.