Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Greatest KU games: No. 4

Wilt put everyone on notice of his skills

Wilt Chamberlain plays in his first game as a Kansas Jayhawk against Northwestern University on 1956. Wilt had 52 points and 31 rebounds in his debut.

Wilt Chamberlain plays in his first game as a Kansas Jayhawk against Northwestern University on 1956. Wilt had 52 points and 31 rebounds in his debut.


Editor’s note: This is the seventh story in the Journal-World’s series of the top 10 games in Kansas University hoops history. Introducing No. 4:

Ten greatest games

As the countdown continues, look back at the ten greatest games here:

5 - KU cools heels

6 - Big second half lifts Roy to first Final Four

7 - Jacque's shot shocks Hoosiers

8 - Rallyin' in Allen

9 - Roy's boys run wild vs. 'Cats

10 - Collison hooks 'Horns

On the day that Wilt Chamberlain turned in arguably the greatest single-game performance in Kansas University basketball history, a photograph of the then-Kansas University sophomore ran in the Journal-World.

In it, Chamberlain, who was to play his first varsity collegiate game later than night against visiting Northwestern, was pictured towering above the rim in the moments before a dunk, and when the photo made its way into the hands of the visiting Northwestern players in the hours before the game, they scoffed it off as trick photography.

“They thought it was a staged type of thing,” says Jerry Waugh, an assistant coach at KU at the time. “And they didn’t believe it.”

Later that night, Dec. 3, 1956, Northwestern and its players found out exactly how real the photo was.

To understate it, Chamberlain did everything that night. He scored 52 points. He grabbed 31 rebounds. He performed feats that, to that point (and maybe this one), had not been done on a college basketball court.

Both his point and rebound totals broke the previous NCAA records in an eventual 87-69 Kansas victory.

The day after

Read Earl Morey's original story from Wilt's amazing night.

Even Chamberlain’s coaches and teammates walked away from the game unsure what they’d just witnessed. They should not have been surprised, of course. They’d seen the way Chamberlain dominated practices. They knew he’d spent his summers playing in the Catskills against some of the top players —collegiate and otherwise — in the country. But it was one thing to do it in a stuffy practice gym and quite another to do it on a grand stage, against a team that had been picked to win the Big 10.

Waugh remembers that, each time Chamberlain dunked, the cables holding up the basket shook ferociously. Chamberlain teammate Ron Loneski remembers a photo taken during the game in which Northwestern defenders were cowering under the basket, trying to protect themselves from the aftermath of an ensuing dunk.

Everyone who saw the game, most likely, came away with an image or two burned into their mind, and those not fortunate enough to have been in attendance for the opener made it a point to get to a game soon after.

“Someone had made a statement that right after Wilt started to play, the revenues in the (Kansas) Turnpike changed dramatically,” Waugh says. “Chamberlain comes on the scene, and all of a sudden, people were anxious to get (over) here. He was the show, and his impact — certainly in that first game — was just, ‘Wow, we need to get up there and see that.’”

Fans hoping to recreate the same magic of that first night, however, usually came away disappointed.

Immediately after the team’s victory over Northwestern, teams began playing the Jayhawks and their standout center differently. Opponents refused to run with Kansas, like Northwestern had, limiting the number of offensive possessions the Jayhawks received per game. And with no shot clock at the time, teams would hold the ball for minutes at a time, further limiting the potential damage.

“Nobody wanted to say he scored 52 against them and had 30 rebounds,” said Monte Johnson, a member of the 1956-57 KU team and an eventual athletic director at KU. “That’s just embarrassing.”

As a result, Chamberlain’s production dipped back down to more reasonable totals. He finished his career with averages of 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds before going on to star in the NBA, where we would eventually be named one of the league’s 50 greatest players of all-time.

“He was an attraction,” said Johnson. “We’ve had so many good players over the years, but you haven’t had many like that. He was an absolute magical person to watch.”


100 10 years, 3 months ago

The best ever. In terms of player comparison, to take nothing away from the other greats, he makes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant & Lebron James look like little puppy dogs snarfing scraps under the table.

Yes they played different positions, but no one dominated contests like Wilt did.

No one.

5yardfuller 10 years, 3 months ago

Here is a short video of this game,

"Both his point and rebound totals broke the previous NCAA records in an eventual 87-69 Kansas victory." This is incorrect, he broke the KU (not NCAA) records for points and rebounds.

Some player quotes from the Chicago Tribune's coverage of this game, Pregame, "I've played against some pretty tall boys in my life and some mighty good ones, and I'm not worried about this one," growled Joe Ruklick. "Chamberlain's in for a shock tonight," snapped another Wildcat.

Postgame, "He's just about the greatest I've ever seen, that's all. I don't know who's going to stop him," admitted Ruklick.

fansincewilt 10 years, 3 months ago

I was a small lad growing up in Wildcat country when Wilt came to Kansas. I never got to see him play but for some reason I became his fan. My family would gather around the radio for the Wildcat and Jayhawk game. I would have been around eight years old. Everyone out west of Topeka all cheered for the Wildcats. I seemed all alone cheering for the Jayhawks but I liked Wilt. I remember dad getting pretty upset that I would cheer for the Jayhawks. Dad never was a basketball fan but where we lived it was politically correct to be a Wildcat. I think they beat Wilt once and I cried. I've not liked them since and my Jayhawk love became cemented. I now live in Jayhawk country.

Steve Brown 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm old but this is before my KU time.

I do recall the bleachers were set up this way during our school days, for you youngsters notice how the student section could stand the whole game even top row of bleachers and not block view of the upper level 'grown ups'. Our fav. location was to stand whole game top row of lower level bleachers directly behind Ted Owens, we used to be mad at the 'adults' who didn't stand and who didn't wave wheat for 5 fouls.

Like Wilt, the Big Dipper, said on his last visit to AFH:

Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!

Dyrk Dugan 10 years, 3 months ago

"Both his point and rebound totals broke the previous NCAA records in an eventual 87-69 Kansas victory." This is incorrect, he broke the KU (not NCAA) records for points and rebounds.

5yard, i wouldn't jump the gun on the NCAA record quote. of course, he doesn't have the record for most points or rebounds in an NCAA game...but for a DEBUT game, he had both of them. he still has the rebounds, and the points were broken by Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

He still holds the record for most points in a KU game...and he broke his own mark for rebounds in his Jr. year.

a truly one of a kind basketball player, a phenomenal athlete. he was very good at track and field...although he really didn't concentrate on it. i have no doubt, he would have been an All American quarter miler or high jumper, if he wanted to.

Only his desire was his limit...because physically, he was about as strong and athletic as anybody has been, on any athletic field/court.

it was truly wonderful when he came back in 1998...and spoke to the crowd and was honored....i waited in line for his autograph....and he signed every darn book, or program or whatever people had.

It's great to have his legacy as part of KU athletics.

Tony Bandle 10 years, 3 months ago

Truly, the greatest college basketball player of all-time, and a little known fact, maybe the greatest volleyball player of all time. Wilt was an amazing athlete: - scored 100 points in one game - decided what statistic to focus on during the season and take the lead..he did this with points, with rebounds, with scoring average and, one year, with assists...mind blowing.

One on one, Michael. Magic, LaBron, Bird, etc. would have all have their breakfast AND lunch served to them by Wilt.

Everyone makes a big deal about Russell dominating Wilt. Bill was surrounded by Hall of Famers, Wilt except for a couple of seasons, as surrounded by Ham and Eggers, yet his teams were competitive every year.

If Wilt had been on the Celtics, they would have won 20 consecutive titles!!

KirkwoodHawk 10 years, 3 months ago

Lighthawk, we did the same thing. Preferred last row behind bench so could stand the whole game and not block the view of the adults in the first row of the upper deck.
Bonus: KU Cheerleaders warmed up on inside track right behind our bleachers.
Negative bonus: pep band just up to our left. 4 seasons of Copa Cabanna blaring in my left ear.

BCRavenJHawkfan 10 years, 3 months ago

Oakville, Roger that on Wilt as a volleyball player. I got to see him play volleyball after he retired from the NBA. He had a whole other level to spiking the ball.

Let's also not forget that several rules in basketball were changed because of him. I am pretty sure the dunk was out at the college level for a period of time because of him. The lane or 3 second area was widened because of him. And some think the NBA moved to 6 fouls from 5 because of him, that is to keep him in the game. Granted, there is no direct proof for each of these, but the rumors at the time were pretty strong.

Dyrk Dugan 10 years, 3 months ago

and Wilt never fouled out of an NBA game...1000 plus games...never fouled out. another rembarkable stat.

How many guys will average 40 a game again? (he did it twice...including 36 plus per, his first five years in the leauge.)

AVERAGED almost 23 rebounds a game....(first three years he had 25 plus per)...just mind boggling.

no one ever again will be like him.

buchaba 10 years, 3 months ago

One stat that they left out (which may be his most remarkable) was that he allegedly slept with over 1,000 women.

Scatterhawk 10 years, 3 months ago

Actually, you're selling him short by about 19,000.

Quoth wikipedia:

"In 1991, Chamberlain wrote his second autobiography, A View from Above. There, the lifelong bachelor claimed he had sex with 20,000 women. For this to be true, he would have had to have had sex with 1.14 women per day from the age of 15 up until the day of his death, a rate of almost eight women a week"

Lance Hobson 10 years, 3 months ago

But he claimed that before he died so that rate had to be higher. Very impressive.

Mike Kendall 10 years, 3 months ago

This was before my time, as I was born in '59. I had heard stories from my dad and what I read in sports history books. Very fascinating! Adds to the lore of KU basketball and why Allen Fieldhouse is on sacred ground. Rock Chalk!

wannabe 10 years, 3 months ago

My favorite stat: He once year averaved more than 48 min per game in the pros. He played the entire game of most games and overtimes.

hawksince51 10 years, 3 months ago

I was a freshman during Wilt's junior year. KSU had a great, balanced team and we split in the conference. But they won it because of our several losses while Wilt was out with his "groin" injury. The persistent rumor was that it was actually an STD which certainly was within the realm of possibility given his claim in his infamous book. Wilt may well have been the greatest NBA player of all time but IMHO he was nowhere near that in the college game. He shoulders much of the blame for that due to his lack of shooting ability (except for the dunk and finger roll), and terrible free throw shooting; but his teammates, his coach, and the absence of a shot-clock were also significant factors. And because of the NCAA violations surrounding Wilt, we were put on a 2-year basketball probation following his departure. In many ways his days at KU were more of a tragedy than a triumph. I always assumed that was why he chose not to show his face in Lawrence for nearly 40 years after 1958.

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