Sunday, July 1, 2012


Wesley gets chance to play Wilt

Current Kansas University forward Justin Wesley (4) will play KU legend Wilt Chamberlain (13) in an upcoming movie by  Lawrence filmmaker and KU faculty member Kevin Willmott.

Current Kansas University forward Justin Wesley (4) will play KU legend Wilt Chamberlain (13) in an upcoming movie by Lawrence filmmaker and KU faculty member Kevin Willmott.


It’s only natural that when watching a college basketball player, the mind drifts to a name from that school’s past he recalls. When Kansas University forward/center Justin Wesley goes to the free-throw line, Wilt Chamberlain comes to mind.

Wesley now is linked in a much more meaningful way to the greatest athlete in KU history. Provocative Lawrence filmmaker and KU faculty member Kevin Willmott has cast Wesley in the role of Wilt in a project that originally was going to be a biography, but since has grown into a more focused look at, in part, Wilt’s cultural impact on Lawrence and KU.

“We made it more about chancellor Franklin Murphy and Phog Allen and all the things that happened around the story of bringing Wilt in to KU,” Willmott said. “In some ways it makes it easier for Justin to play him because it’s not a bio pic about Wilt. When you call a movie ‘Ray,’ they expect you to do a damn good impression of Ray Charles. This is about a very interesting moment in KU history and Lawrence history, when the early parts of civil rights moments were directly connected to a lot of changes happening in sports.”

Willmott’s film will highlight how Wilt’s presence and chancellor Murphy’s grand plan played a big role in eroding segregation in Lawrence. Having a current KU athlete play Wilt makes nice frosting on what should be a tasty cake.

During a gap in Julian Wright’s professional basketball career, Willmott had considered having him play Chamberlain, but that possibility died when Wright resumed his career in the NBA Developmental League.

It was after that, Willmott said, that KU basketball coach Bill Self suggested Wesley. Independent of that, Scot Pollard also suggested Wesley. Pollard is contributing to the project by offering insights on the 1950’s style of play and the “big-man persona,” Willmott said. “One of the things the movie deals with is what it’s like to be a big guy in the 1950’s when people weren’t used to seeing exceptionally tall people.”

Screen Actors Guild members will get paid $100 a day for the low-budget film and after checking with KU and NCAA compliance people, it was determined Wesley could partake as long as he works for the same wage.

“He resembles Wilt in body type and facially and with a few camera tricks we can make him look a little taller,” Willmott said. “Justin is an articulate young man and he’s got a calm vibe about him. So much of when you’re casting someone who is not an actor, it’s about being yourself as this person in this situation. The problem is people want to start acting. ‘Don’t do that!’ (The role) is more about leaving home, coming to a new place, playing basketball, nothing Justin doesn’t understand.”

Wesley is scheduled to begin about two weeks of work when the team returns from its European trip in mid-August.


actorman 9 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like a tremendous idea for a film that's long overdue. Can't wait to see it.

Michael Pannacciulli 9 years, 10 months ago

...and Wesley really does look like The Stilt!

Warren 9 years, 10 months ago

I consider Wilt to be one of the best basketball players of all time, hands down. But I don't think he was "the greatest athlete in KU history."

Clarence Haynes 9 years, 10 months ago

They say that Wilt was a pretty good high jumper and long jumper. During his California days, he showed that he was a pretty good volleyball player as well. Both Wilt and Gale were incredible athletes!

Matt Kenton 9 years, 10 months ago

Maybe Keegan meant 'KU athlete to achieve the greatest level of achievement in history.'

KUbsee69 9 years, 10 months ago

Wilt WAS the greatest athlete in KU history. He was one of the greatest all-time athletes period. He participated in multiple sports ... was extremely strong. They even tried to get Wilt & Ali in the ring, but could never make it happen.

nuleafjhawk 9 years, 10 months ago


I respectfully suggest you do some research on Wilt. He was a PHENOMENAL athlete. He could do just about anything.

imzcount 9 years, 10 months ago

Even IF he wasn't the best, I think you would have to say he was "the most famous athlete in KU history"

Michael Pannacciulli 9 years, 10 months ago

Maybe this movie will change your mind. What he went threw as a black man in Lawrence (and in the Big 8) and what he accomplished as a player while here on the court should only be can split hairs all day, but he, rightfully sits high atop any list.

ccarp 9 years, 10 months ago

There have been a lot of greats at KU, but to my knowledge Wilt is the greatest. Wilt can be argued to be the best basketball player all time. Not only most points in an NBA game and the highest point average in a season, but my understanding is that the key was widened to the lane, the shooter can't cross the free thrown line,and goal tending is illegal all because Wilt dominated the game. He also was a stud in track and field, triple jump specifically comes to mind. I agree there are many greats in KU history and I won't argue that there are others who should be considered in the conversation, but Wilt is my vote for greatest Jayhawk.

REHawk 9 years, 10 months ago

Wilt was one heck of a good volleyball player, too. Mid to late career, he played volleyball lots in the offseason to maintain his timing.

Marcia Parsons 9 years, 10 months ago

They also made dunking illegal for a while until there got to be others who could do it, too.

vd 9 years, 10 months ago

Read the headline, thought some oldtimer named Wesley had died.

Warren 9 years, 10 months ago

ccarp, I won't ever argue that Wilt wasn't the best Basketball player of all time, mainly because of the reasons you give. There were rule changes to basketball that were made to stop him. When people said he was a ball hog, the next season he lead the league in assists. He didn't dominate Track and Field or Volleyball though. He didn't play for the Football team. He didn't win an Olympic gold medal. James Bausch did.

ccarp 9 years, 10 months ago

I certainly can't argue with that! :-) Amazing the history of KU athletics. Here's to the greats to come.

Brendan Connolly 9 years, 10 months ago

He didn't dominate track and field? He ran a sub 11 second 100m and threw a shot 56 feet, triple jumped over 50 feet and won the big eight high jump 3 years in a row.

mikehawk 9 years, 10 months ago

Anyone who was ever around The Big Dipper and saw him play would easily argue Wilt was the "the greatest athlete to every play at KU," and one of the greatest athletes ever produced by this country. It can be argued whether an athlete's skills translate from their era to the present. Make no mistake, Wilt Chamberlain would be the #1 incoming freshman each and every year since he came to KU, with very few exceptions. Very cool his cultural impact in Lawrence and in Kansas at the time is being examined and considered in this film.

jaybate 9 years, 10 months ago

Justin has to be hoping the director decides to portray Wilt's romantic life honestly and lines up a cast of thousands. :-)

jaybate 9 years, 10 months ago

The picture of Wilt above makes clear that while he was slender at KU, especially in the legs, he was powerfully muscled in the shoulders from the beginning.

jaybate 9 years, 10 months ago

Does anyone know if he ever came close to grabbing 100 rebounds in a game?

jaybate 9 years, 10 months ago

Most rebounds in an NBA game:

55 Wilt Chamberlain, PHW vs. BOS 24Nov60

Note: he apparently set the record against Bill Russell, probably the second greatest rebounder in NBA history up to that time.

Randy Bombardier 9 years, 10 months ago

Wilt was the best. I have a lot of love for Jim Ryun, Cromwell, Sayers, Riggo, but nobody had the impact that Chamberlain had at this level or the next. There is a youtube out there with Wilt talking about challenging Ali to a bout. I think it could be argued that Wilt is the best American athlete ever. He is hands-down the best basketball player ever.

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