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Bob Lutz: 1965 Shockers were almost legends

  • Published Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 6:13 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

Kelly Pete and Jamie Thompson went to Wichita East together and helped the Blue Aces win a state basketball championship in 1962.

They hadn’t met before they arrived at East, even though they had grown up close to one another – Pete on North Piatt and Thompson across the street from MacDonald Park Golf Course.

Thompson was into many sports and good at most. He played baseball and basketball on the streets and playgrounds near his house and taught himself to golf with buddies Grier Jones, Johnny Stevens, Steve Foulston and Monty Kaser at Mac Park, where they would often play sunrise to sunset.

Pete, a year older than Thompson, devoted himself to basketball, though he was built like a football player. He controlled games with his physical presence, a 6-foot-2 block of ice, sturdy and cool.

“We became friends,’’ said Pete, who later changed his name to Mohamed Sharif to honor his Muslim faith. “I wouldn’t say we hung out together, but Jamie and I definitely became friends.’’

Because of basketball, they developed a sixth sense for one another. So when Thompson joined Pete at the University of Wichita, they were perfect complements to All-American Dave Stallworth and 6-10 center Nate Bowman, as well as forwards Dave Leach and Vernon Smith and guard John Criss.

Pete was a stone-cold defender who could also create different ways to score. He wasn’t a shooter, but he knew how to get points.

Meanwhile, it was a surprise to everyone when the 6-4 Thompson missed a shot.

“Kelly stuck out athletically from everybody else,’’ said Leach, who averaged 12.3 points as a senior in 1964-65. “It was kind of a head-and-shoulders thing. And Jamie was just a sly old fox. He knew how to get himself open. They knew each other very well as players. They were unselfish and got the ball to the open guy all the time.’’

Pete and Thompson, turns out, were the stars of the only previous Final Four team in Wichita State history in 1965, even though they weren’t.

Here’s an explanation:

When the promising ’64-65 season began, the Shockers were loaded. Stallworth and Bowman were seniors and the team belonged to them. Stallworth was one of the two or three best players in the country and Bowman was a horse on the boards while averaging 12 points.

But after 14 games, Bowman was dismissed from the team after being ruled academically ineligible. Two games later, at the semester break, Stallworth’s eligibility ran out and he, too, had to depart. Those were much different times for college basketball. A team today would never lose its All-American in the middle of January.

The Shockers were 13-3 after Stallworth’s last game. Their losses were to Michigan, St. Joseph’s (Pa.) and Loyola of Chicago, in overtime. All were on the road and all were close games A team that had been on the cusp of a Final Four in 1964 before a devastating regional championship loss to Kansas State at what is now Koch Arena looked to on the march again.

The 1963-64 team lost standout guard Ernie Moore at the semester break, which for two seasons in a row broke up really good Shocker teams.

WSU went 8-4 without Stallworth and Bowman. Sophomore Melvin Reed, only 6-5, was the team’s tallest starter after replacing Bowman at center. The Shockers did win the Missouri Valley Conference championship, which qualified them for NCAA Tournament. In the Midwest Regional, played in Manhattan, WSU knocked off SMU and Oklahoma State to reach the Final Four in Portland.

“Even after we lost Dave and Nate, we knew we had enough because of our technical training,’’ said Sharif, who imports and exports art in Santa Fe, N.M. “We didn’t have a tremendous amount of talent, but we understood the concept of the game.’’

The Final Four didn’t go well for the Shockers. They lost in the national semifinals to UCLA, 108-89. And they were beaten the next night in the third-place game, 118-82, by Princeton as Bill Bradley erupted for 58 points, then an NCAA Tournament record and still the second-most points scored in an NCAA game.

UCLA, led by Gail Goodrich, Edgar Lacey, Fred Goss and Keith Erickson, built a 65-38 halftime lead over WSU.

It was more of the same against Princeton, which led by 14 points at the half and then put up 65 in the second half.

Sharif and Thompson, though, combined for 92 points in the tournament. They made 31 of 57 shots. Thompson averaged 27 points; Pete 19 points and seven rebounds.

Thompson, who worked in a variety of occupations after he left Wichita State, died in January 2006. He was 60.

“As good a guy as you could ever find,’’ Thompson’s childhood friend, Grier Jones, said. “I don’t think I ever knew anybody who would ever say anything bad about him. Jamie had that goal in his backyard and he was deadly. But he wasn’t very confrontational. If there was ever a skirmish or a problem, he was always the one trying to stop it.’’

Sharif and Thompson were different players. One relied on overpowering opponents, the other on out-smarting them.

“Physically, Kelly could do it all,’’ former teammate Vernon Smith said. “He was an unbelievable defensive player. He was a pretty serious guy, kind of on the shy side. But he wasn’t intimidated by anybody.’’

Thompson had to use his wiles more than Sharif. So he studied positioning, both to get his shots off and to rebound. He had a knack for knowing how a ball was going to deflect off the rim after a missed shot and more often than not was in the right place to retrieve.

“Jamie didn’t have a lot of speed or a lot of vertical jumping ability,’’ Sharif said. “But he was such a great shooter and a real intellectual ballplayer. He knew how to use his body. Very smart.’’

As they played more and more together, Sharif and Thompson were able to, it appeared, reach one another’s mind.

The five Shockers who started against UCLA in the national semifinals were all from Kansas. Leach (McPherson), Smith (Newton) and Criss (Wichita Southeast) – along with Sharif and Thompson — took all but 22 of the Shockers’ 141 shots in the Final Four.

“We were confident that we could beat UCLA but we just got out of rhythm in that game and got blown out,’’ Sharif said. “Not having our big guys hurt us, but UCLA wasn’t that big, either.’’

Losing Bowman, then Stallworth, was a shock the system for Wichita State. Both went on to play in the NBA, but were playing AAU basketball around the area at the time the Shockers were in Portland.

“Listen my friend, with Dave and Nate we had the best team in the country that year,’’ Sharif said. “Nobody in the country would have touched us.’’

Without them, though, the Shockers didn’t have enough. But Sharif and Thompson, both of whom are in the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, pulled them as far as they could.

Check Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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