Wesley original nomad

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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.