Shocker Summer: For three years, Cliff Levingston was “Good News”

07/18/2014 9:00 AM

08/06/2014 8:32 AM

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Eagle on March 27, 1982.

Cliff Levingston, the powerful junior from San Diego, told the world that he will no longer be a part of the Wichita State basketball program, that he will make himself available for the National Basketball Association draft, that he will turn professional.

Levingston certainly earned the nickname “Good News” during his three-year career as a member of the Shockers.

He was good news in more ways than one. Levingston was friendly, outgoing and massively enthusiastic. He smiled through agony as well as ecstasy. But his public persona could not hide a flaming desire to perform.

And perform he did. Levingston led the Shockers in rebounding all three of his seasons, and led in scoring his freshman and sophomore years. He probably would have set a WSU career rebounding record that never would have been broken had he decided to play as a senior; as it is, he is still the third best rebounder in the school’s history. And the fifth most prolific scorer.

But now the Shockers are down to one Bookend. That’s probably the only thing about Levingston that won’t be missed. That second nickname.

Almost from the moment Levingston and Wichitan Antoine Carr stepped on the university campus, they were dubbed “The Bookends” or “The Bookend Forwards.”

It was a decent try at a collective moniker, but it was miles from reality. Levingston and Carr came to Wichita State at the same time and are reasonably close to one another in size, but that’s about it.

On court, Levingston is outwardly laughing his way through life. Carr is sometimes a mask of frustration, frowning, brows furrowed.

Much of the last three years, they didn’t even play the same position. Levingston turned in a lot of time at center, first because Ozell Jones wasn’t quite ready for college ball, then because Jones was declared ineligible for last year’s NCAA playoffs, finally because Greg Dreiling had to learn the college game.

Levingston came to town about as slick a product as a freshman could be. He was confident and mature, and his three years here, save for a slight slump last season, were marked by consistent excellence.

Carr traveled the two miles down Hillside from Heights High School to Wichita State long on promise but short on polish. His three years as a Shocker have been full of learning and growning, some of it painful, and he is only just now on the verge of tapping his enormous natural ability, natural ability that goes well beyond Levingston’s.

Levingston has always been a blue-collar worker, using muscle and desire as much as talent. Carr is becoming a versatile showman, a blend of grace and strength and skill and touch.

Levingston does his day’s work on the paint, as McGuire would put it. At 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, he fights and hustles to get good position for a short shot, an offensive reposition, a block or a loose ball. Beyond his world-class jumping ability and some speed and quickness, his basketball talents are not prodigious.

Carr, at 6-9, 220 pounds, is uptown and silk shirts. He can shoot from so far out that he can’t be guarded; he can swoop to the basket on a drive and leap so high so fast that he can’t be guarded.

Levingston reminds you of Cheese Johnson, the former Shocker forward who finished his career in 1979. Both were fierce competitors and hard workers who used inside moves and strength to pick up a lot of points around the basket. Neither could shoot a lick from outside. Johnson was a much better ball-handler than Levingston, but couldn’t quite make it in the NBA, anyway. But Levingston has two things that Johnson didn’t have and that the pros are bound to like: he is three inches taller (maybe more) and at least 30 pounds heavier.

Levingston knows he’s no shoo-in for the NBA All-Star team.

“I’m not happy with my play this season,” he said. “But I know I’m capable of playing better… It’s all hard work anyway, and I plan to work my tail off this summer to become a professional athlete.”

Levingston will need to work his tail off, even though his agent, Lance Luchnick of Houston, thinks he’ll be among the top 15 collegians drafted. Levingston and Luchnick want a multiyear contract for at least $200,000 per.

Well, he may not be drafted that high, and he probably won’t get paid that kind of dough from the opening tipoff of his pro career, but he has the desire and skill to be a solid member of the NBA, if not a dominant one.

Levingston said he talked the decision over with Carr via long distance during WSU’s recent spring vacation. Levingston was at home in San Diego, visiting his mother and seeking counsel from her and his high school coach.

“A.C. said he had mixed emotions (about Levingston’s decision)... He said he hadn’t made up his mind (about entering the draft).”

Maybe Carr is still thinking about it, but there is absolutely no indication that he will depart the Shockers for the pros. If he continues to improve next season the way he did last, Carr may just end up to be a million-dollar baby and a very, very high first-round draft pick in 1983.

Yes, “Good News” is gone. But Carr most likely will be back.

That’s good news of its own for college basketball and Wichita State fans...just as long as they don’t start calling him “The Lonesome Bookend.”

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