Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Wesley original nomad


If I walked along Massachusetts Street and asked passing pedestrians if they had heard of Walt Wesley, I would want to do it on a warm day.

I couldn’t stand on Mass that long in cold weather.

Who was Walt Wesley? He was a slender 6-foot-11 center on some of coach Ted Owens’ quality Kansas University men’s basketball teams of the mid-1960s.

Wesley averaged an impressive 19.3 points a game during his three-year KU career — freshmen weren’t eligible then — and he went on to play 10 seasons in the NBA.

Now that they’ve watered down the requirements for hanging jerseys in the south end of Allen Fieldhouse, I suppose a case could be made for Wesley joining the throng, but that’s not why his name surfaced.

I ran across Wesley while doing research on Drew Gooden.

As you probably know, Gooden has become an NBA vagabond. A first-team All-American and the Big 12 Conference player of the year in 2002, Gooden was the fourth player selected in the ’02 NBA Draft.

“We've got the rookie of the year,” Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West said after the draft. “You can write that.”

Many sportswriters did, but before Gooden’s rookie year was over, the 6-foot-10 former Jayhawk was wearing an Orlando Magic uniform. A season or so later, he was peddled to Cleveland and then on to Chicago, where he started the 2008-09 season, only to be swapped to Sacramento.

After playing one game for Sacramento, the Kings executed an undisclosed buyout of the $7.1 million remaining on Gooden’s contract. A few days later, San Antonio offered him $1.4 million — all the Spurs had left under the salary cap — and he signed.

Have you been keeping track? To save you the math, Gooden has been with six NBA teams in seven seasons. But that’s not a record for a former KU player. Wesley owns that distinction. He was with eight clubs during his 10-year NBA career (1965-1976).

Wesley is one team ahead of Danny Manning, now a member of Bill Self’s staff, but Manning played for his seven clubs during a 15-year career.

At the age of 28, Gooden seems likely to tie Manning and perhaps even reach and surpass Wesley. If he does, he probably wouldn’t mind because Gooden seems to be taking his nomadic life in stride.

“Fortunately, I'm not married, and I don't have any kids,” he told the San Antonio newspaper. “I'm like a vagabond. I can just pick up my stuff and go to the next city.”

Top-five picks in the NBA Draft are supposed to boast All-Star potential. That isn’t always the case, of course. Raef LaFrentz, for example, was the third collegian tapped in 1999 and has been mostly a journeyman, a tag now hanging on Gooden.

It’s no secret why LaFrentz and Gooden failed to live up to their potential. To put it politely, their offensive skills are stronger than their defensive abilities. To put it another way, neither one could guard the Phog Allen statue.

On the bright side, both LaFrentz, who has played for four NBA teams in the last decade, and Gooden have made millions and millions of dollars. It’s just that Gooden has had to spend more of his salary on suitcases.


FlaHawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Walt Wesley was a gentle giant with a soft touch and a great pair of hands. He had an olde time hook shot and a devistating post up bank shot.He work #13 before this number was retired.

He came to KU as a Frosh from Chipola HS in Chipola, FL. He never played against a wite kid in HS due to lingering effects of segregation. Yes, this is the same Chipola, FL that Mario Little spent two years at, although Mario played JUCO ball and not HS ball in this Panhandle of F;orida town.

Machawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Walt Wesley played center and was a scoring machine with a soft unstoppable fadeaway jump shot. He wasn't as athletic as today's players but he could shoot the ball much better especially from mid-range. I believe during part of his career the dunk was illegal so he shot his way to All America status. He had a nice supporting cast which made KU a national power. Fact is, KU should have been the National Champs except they took away Jo Jo White's long jumper from the side that would have beaten Texas Western. Texas Western went on to win it all. I have had a couple of opportunities to meet Walt in person and he truly is a gentle giant. He was always gracious and accommodating.

Michael Bratisax 11 years, 1 month ago

I've seen Gooden play..I'm no NBA scout (or English Major if you want to technical) but I always thought he had the skills. Maybe he should have played in the '80's, when no one played defense.

ralphus 11 years, 1 month ago

FlaHawk is partially correct. Wesley did endure his share of segregation growing up in Florida, but it was in Fort Myers -- not Chipola.

Wesley is a proud alum of Dunbar High in Southwest Florida, and is a fixture in the community here.

Great player, wonderful person.

panalytic 11 years, 1 month ago

Flahawk, Machawk, and Ralphus thanks for all the good historical information, that was fun and interesting to read. It sounded like Wesley is currently a well respected "fixture" of the communtiy he lives in - good to hear.

WilburNether 11 years, 1 month ago

Number 13 is not retired. Wilt's jersey is. Jeff Boschee wore #13.

wrong_arm1969 11 years, 1 month ago

We played Louisville during that era. There were some fantastic games between Walt and Wesley Unseld, center for Louisville. Walt was just a wonderful person to have at KU.

jaybate 11 years, 1 month ago

Wuck Choodling seems to have a bag of cement, where most have a heart.

Woodling lacks much talent and tends to project this onto a lot of persons he writes about.

Anyone who hangs on in the NBA for any length of time is doing great. In the pros, talent has to have consistency to play night in and night out. But there are many other jobs on a pro team other than playing night in and night out. Each position has a back up who has a job to provide practice for the guy ahead of him, and occassionally fill some minutes. Clearly, team after team realizes that their bigs would be improved if Drew Gooden, who lacks the consistency a regular needs, were on the team for at least a year or two, to push some starters in practice. Gooden and LaFrentz (especially LaFrentz) have been the professional equivalents of Matt the Red Head on this year's KU basketball team. All teams need journeyman backups to work with their starters. Gooden and LaFrentz have nothing at all to apologize for playing in this capacity.

Woodling, frankly, has filled this role most of his career at the LJW.

Fact: Gooden has already made far more bones than Woodling has made in his entire one-stop LJW career. And no knock on the LJW, but a one-stop at the LJW does not imply greatness on the part of a journalist. It implies a journeyman and there is nothing wrong with being a journeyman.

FWIW, Gooden's problem has never been defense. It has been lack of discipline in all aspects of his game that has lead to erratic performances--up one night and down the next. He also has never been able to make consistently good choices on the floor. He has great talent, but has never had the mental capacity to hone it to consistency. Some persons are like this; it does not make them chumps. It is just their particular cross to bear. Wilt couldn't shoot free throws. Gooden can't make good choices on the floor consistently. Woodling can't write columns good enough to move up in the world of journalism. Now, he's even struggling writing columns with enough heart to be good filler. But we can respect Chuck for hanging on in the business, just as we can respect Gooden and LaFrentz for doing the same in their businesses.

Woodling is consistent. He is consistently mediocre...if that. And look what it has gotten entire career writing junk like this on a small town newspaper.

Woodling owes Gooden, and LaFrentz, apologies. He needs to tell them, "Way to roll your sleeves up and keep doing you jobs, even when it isn't star work. I'm in the same boat in my profession and there is nothing to be ashamed of about it."

But he won't.

jaybate 11 years, 1 month ago

Re Walt Wesley

He had the sweetest baseline turn around of any center I ever saw.

And as slender as he was, he had to have been made of the right stuff to have survived in the L as long as he did.

gthejayhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Jaybate, Once again your critique is spot on!!!

jaybate 11 years, 1 month ago

New York tabloids are pussies compared to London; that is where they are really murder.

New York journalists are tough, but fair. There are just too many of them for any superstar to handle for very long. They have to be fair, because practically everyone there knows someone they could hand 50 $100 spots and see to it that the reporter went for a swim in an acid bath in Jersey. Capice?

For what its worth, Jimmy Breslin knew how to write, when he was sticking his thumb in your eye on politics. Most of the good tabloid sports writers are long gone of course. So are most of the really good beat reporters. But the Big Jonathan will always be able to drag in a few.

So as that most famous of Kansas New Yorkers, Damon Runyan, might have said, "Shut your trap, or I'm going to call Big Julie away from the crap game and ax him to take you fishin' under Lake Michigan." .

ralphus 11 years, 1 month ago

Hmmm, so let me get this straight. Woodling sucks because:

a) he hasn't made as much money as Drew Gooden.


b) he decided to settle down, work and raise a family in Lawrence, as opposed to testing his mettle against the New York "Pussies" and the London "Murderers".

Interesting hypothesis. Pathetic and shallow, but interesting.

But I guess we'd all better watch out and not criticize him too much. Otherwise, he'll pay somebody to give us an acid bath in Jersey.

Sigh. Looks like someone's Sopranos DVD finally arrived from Netflix.

hawksince51 11 years, 1 month ago

That was a great team with much more emphasis on KS talent. Riney became the no. 6 man when JoJo became eligible the 2nd semester. I recall the Big E Houston team beating us in the regionals at Lawrence when Walt was a junior but do not believe we ever got far enough to play against Alcindor. In those days, the regionals were just that.
Walt's senior year was the tragedy of a bad call when we played TX Western in the regionals--I will go to my grave knowing that JoJo did not step on the out of bounds line!!
I have to add that I agree with Woodling's comments about Gooden. I always thought it was strange that he was such a good O-rebounder, and mediocre D player.

Eliott Reeder 11 years, 1 month ago

I believe its "Big Jule", not "Big Julie". And also... watch out for Seldom Seen Charlie and Harry the Horse.

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