Mayer: 'Road' paved at KU

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The new film "Glory Road" revives college basketball's Myth of '66. You know, Texas Western (now UTEP) won the 1966 NCAA title by starting five black players and playing only seven, all minorities, to upset all-white Kentucky. That supposedly shattered the glass ceiling for black athletes and reformed UK's irascible Adolph Rupp, long considered a bigot and racist.

Once again, I'm a small voice in the wilderness considering the massive hype about this alleged breakthrough. But there are large chunks of fact to refute a lot of this baloney. Consider this time chart:

1951-52 - KU with LaVannes Squires and K-State with Gene Wilson broke the Big Seven color line.

1955-56 - San Francisco featuring Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Hal Perry and Gene Brown won two straight NCAA titles.

1955-57 - Maurice King debuted as a 1954-55 sophomore as KU's first impact African-American; King and Wilt Chamberlain starred for the '57 KU team that lost the college crown in triple overtime to all-white North Carolina.

1957-58 - The consensus All-America team had Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob Boozer, Elgin Baylor and Guy Rodgers. Pitt's Don Hennon was the only white guy who came close. By then, didn't somebody have a hint that African-Americans not only were coming but had arrived?

1960-61 - KU's nine top men included seven blacks and a Delaware Indian (Dee Ketchum). The African-Americans were Wayne Hightower, Al Correll, Bill Bridges, Jim Dumas, Nolen Ellison, Butch Ellison and Ralph Heyward. Jerry Gardner was the only white starter; the others of no-color were Carl Deane, Bob Frederick, Marshall Grover, John Matt, Howard Parker, Larry Sterlin, John Williams and Pete Woodward.

1961 and 1962 - Cincinnati won two straight NCAA titles featuring Paul Hogue, Tom Thacker, Tony Yates and George Wilson. Then Cincy almost dumped black-dominated Chicago Loyola in 1963.

1964 - John Wooden and UCLA began their phenomenal title surge (1964-75) with Fred Slaughter, Walt Hazzard and Kenny Washington as difference-makers. Isn't there some indication black guys can play the game?

1966 - KU meets T-Western in the NCAA Regional title game and falls in double overtime even though KU's Jo Jo White hit a winning shot at the end of the first OT. (Official ruled Jo Jo stepped on the sideline, no bucket. KU had been celebrating, didn't regroup in time and minority-laden Western went on to meet the Lexington White Citizens Council for the crown. Talented Kansas likely would have won except for that crummy call.)

Had Kansas won at Lubbock, it would have advanced with three minority guys starting - Walt Wesley, Jo Jo White and Al Lopes - and Bob Wilson as a key reserve. Would that have been inter-racial enough to spawn the "legend" that T-Western created?

Further, if you'd heard the language Western coach Don Haskins employed with his guys during the KU game (and I did along press row), you might not have had the flattering image of him I'm sure "Glory Road" projects.

Then there's the ridiculous, overplayed notion that Kentucky's Adolph Rupp had some glorious epiphany about black athletes, you know, "Lordy be, at last I can walk, I can see!!!"

Get real! If Adolph was so overwhelmed by the Texas Western shelling, how come he didn't have a black guy on a Wildcat roster until about 1970? That's four years of reconstruction. Not.