Friday, January 14, 2011

Former player Howard Engleman truly was KU basketball great



Kansas University basketball great Howard Engleman addresses the crowd with jokes and stories during halftime March 1, 2003. Engleman, whose jersey was retired, played in for KU from 1939 to 1941.

No Kansas University student athlete ever met Phog Allen’s ultimate standard for excellence better than Howard Engleman, the multi-faceted former basketball All-American who died Wednesday at age 91.

Allen, the Jayhawk coaching immortal, often was asked to name his top players. His answer always was that he preferred to wait 15 or 20 years to find out what level of outstanding citizenry someone had reached. Then Allen would point out that there were so many from his stable thoroughbreds that there could be no final choice.

As for Engleman, Phog was always quick to declare that Howard was “among the very finest I’ve coached.” Quite a tribute considering the first official basketball game Howard saw in his native Arkansas City was one he played in.

In addition to earning All-America honors as a 1940-41 senior, Engleman was KU’s ’41 scholastic honor man of the year. He was badly wounded while serving in the Navy in World War II. He later starred in AAU basketball despite his wounds, and earned a law degree while coaching the Jayhawk freshmen and, for a while, the varsity. From there he became one of the most devoted alumni supporters in KU history, serving as national president of the KU Alumni Association in 1953-54.

Along with all his legal professional achievements and KU activities, “Rope” Engleman was an outstanding golfer. That nickname resulted from his extremely curly, even wiry, blond hair.

He first was a standout on the 1940 Kansas team that reached the NCAA basketball finals in Kansas City. Then came a then-unheard-of scoring average of 16.1 points a game in 1941. Up to then, no Jayhawk ever had averaged better than 12.2 points.

He was horribly burned when a Japanese kamikaze plane hit his ship in the Pacific, and it took him a long time to recover. Yet he was able to wear special shoulder gear to let him enter AAU play and, as expected, starred in that realm.

As Jayhawk freshman coach (“I really needed that $300 a month for law school,” he often joked), he was called upon to finish the 1946-47 season as head coach after Phog Allen encountered health problems. Rope’s team won eight of its last 11 games.

Appropriately, his jersey was hung on the Allen Fieldhouse wall on March 1, 2003, along with all the other superstars. Proudly wearing his letter jacket, Engleman in his acceptance reminded adoring fans that he also was blessed with a tremendous sense of humor — with a standup-comedian grasp of an audience.

Engleman once read a Journal-World story about the “smallest basketball crowd in KU history” against Hawaii Loa on Oahu in 1990. He politely begged to differ.

“I was at Missouri in old Brewer Fieldhouse when taking Phog’s place in 1947. There had been a flu epidemic in Columbia but instead of delaying the game they decided to play it with no spectators allowed,” Engleman recalled. “The only people there were the teams, officials and MU football players to see nobody got in.

“We won the game (48-38) and I remember Otto Schnellbacher getting fouled. He stepped to the line, and an MU footballer (against whom two-sport star Schnellbacher had competed on the gridiron) yelled, ‘Hey, Schnelly! Is that your nose or a banana you’re eating?’ Otto gave him the finger, spitefully made both free throws and we won. But Otto wasn’t out of line because there were no women in the hall. What precious memories,” noted the socially correct Engleman.

With his superb intellect, Engleman was noted as a “thinking man’s basketball player.”

“Howard was supremely alert,” said the late Dick Harp, a teammate on the 1940 NCAA title team. “He was always thinking about the next play, and what might happen after that. He was as outstanding as any player I ever knew.” Harp later was head coach at Kansas, and Engleman was a staunch backer.

Engleman was never one to consider himself the stalwart others did and admitted he fell short on the court in some activities. “I wasn’t too good on defense and Phog and the others had to hide me now and then. I didn’t play as much at others in the big 1940 games because of my defense. I didn’t work as hard on it as I should have and deserved my time on the bench.”

Yet it was his shot that defeated Southern Cal in the national semifinals and propelled KU to the championship game, which Indiana won. Engleman was always quick to credit Bobby Allen, Phog’s son and Engleman’s KU teammate, with the pinpoint passes that helped him score as much as he did.

He often reflected on how “out of it” some athletes were in his heyday because there was no television coverage. “We had no idea Indiana was as good as it was and how they could fast-break. They had great players running out their ears and began running with the ball. We got a little lazy (and lost by 18 points),” he recalled. “Indiana threw long passes and fast-broke us to death. We had no way of knowing how good they really were.”

Howard Engleman was the last living starter from that 1940 NCAA roster. The other four were John Kline, Dick Harp, Bobby Allen and Ralph Miller, who all became highly accomplished in their own right.

Phog Allen was always quick to include them all in his pantheon of great athletes-citizens whom he considered All-Americans in the strictest sense. They and Howard Engleman left high standards for the Jayhawks in the past 70 years or so to approximate at least if not exceed.


Ken Sedgwick 11 years, 7 months ago

I have been a rabid KU hoops fan for 15+ years. I am ashamed to say there is so much history such as this I do not know. Kansas basketball history is it`s legacy. Many universities around the counry have rich traditions, but none run so deep so long.

Gary Wirsig 11 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Mayer, welcome back. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't seen anything from you in a long time. Thank you for your unique perspective and love for KU sports.

kcglowboy 11 years, 7 months ago

Nice remembrance, Mr. Mayer. As maverickhawk suggests, we are all so proud of our history, but for many younger fans, KU basketball history only goes back to 1988 (or for diehards, 1983, the beginning of the Larry Brown era). Thank goodness we have a wealth of "institutional memory" available to us, including a writer who still has access to the LJW. And while we mourn the passing of Howard Engleman, what a treat it was to read not only Mr. Mayer's remembrance, but also Keegan's column on former coach Ted Owens, who continues to have a tremendous love for KU despite the way that we parted company with him.

Kenneth Johnson 11 years, 7 months ago

Great job, Bill. You did an excellent job of describing his importance to KU while a student and therafter.

I would only add that Engleman was the student president during his senior year and was the Jayhawk's No. 1 singles tennis player.

And, he spent much of his life working as an attorney in Salina.

Ken Johnson (KU MS '70)

Joe Ross 11 years, 7 months ago

I think this site is diminished a great deal without Mayer's articles. The richness of KU history flows from his pen. Stories like this should be shared much more often.

Ludwig Supraphonic 11 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for a terrific read. KU's hoops Hx is one area where I'm glad to be old. My earliest memories of KU games are from midwest regionals in Manhattan and at a pretty new Allen. I was a grad student at KU 81-86 and saw the end of the Owen's era when you could walk right in and sit behind the KU bench. Fortunately I also got to see high points of his tenure with Jo Jo and Darnell. Great to see Danny at Lawrence HS and as Coach Owens mentioned; he did leave Larry a nucleus to build on. I have lived in NC and SC for over 20 years now and have attended numerous ACC games. Cameron is yuppie heaven. Roy's place is an airplane hanger, with the charm of an outlet mall. Thank God for the internet and cable TV. My Son is considering colleges. I believe if I can get him to AFH this year, he can make a well-informed decision. He has several offers, including Duke. My father played tackle at KSU and wasn't thrilled at my "Snob Hill" choice. I think I know how he felt. The main difference is, I made the right choice. Having Dookie on my shirt is an unpleasant thought.

Chris Shaw 11 years, 7 months ago

Well said Hornhawk. I've been in the Carolinas for almost 7 years now. You near Charlotte?

ccarp 11 years, 7 months ago

"Is that a banana your eating or your nose?" reply with the bird! LOL! That's classic! I've heard many good rivalry stories but that is one of the best!

Wayne Seymour 11 years, 7 months ago

This article was outstanding and was great reading. I remember that team, but just by reading, was only 10 then, the first KU team that I saw was in 1946 (hope that is right), it had Charlie Black, Ray Evans, Otto Schnell, Owen Peck, (right now can"t remember the other). That was a great team too, undefeated in the Big Six.......I am 79 now and have followed KU basketball all my life

KU_FanSince75 11 years, 7 months ago

Well, this was before my time, but it was a great read! This is why I am a fan of KU basketball, especially----because of all the legacy and history. When the Kansas Basketball Reunion Weekend took place at AFH (100 years of basketball), there were a ton of articles that were great reads. This article is right up there with the ones I read before. Thanks, Mr. Mayer, for sharing! Rock Chalk forever!

John Mueller 11 years, 7 months ago

Great read. Thanks so much for your contributions to help us all know the people who made Kansas basketball what it is today.

To use one of Coach Selfs favorite words, Howard Engleman was a stud.

He was way before my time, but I am thankful to know about his contributions to Kansas basketball. They were clearly significant as a player, coach and alumni.

Godspeed, Mr. Engleman.

I am a man of faith, but it doesn't take too much faith to know, there is only one fieldhouse in heaven, and it's name is Allen.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU!

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