▪ Welcome to Friday. Welcome to musings. I’m going to focus a lot of this to the 1964-65 Wichita State basketball team, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Final Four appearance this weekend. All living members of the team – plus the son of Jamie Thompson and widows of coaches Gary Thompson, Ron Heller and Verlyn Anderson – are in town. There will be a banquet tonight at the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview this evening and the team will be introduced during halftime of Saturday night’s Wichita State-Missouri State game at Koch Arena.
▪ It’s been a wonderful experience getting to talk to the players from the Shockers’ first Final Four team over the past several weeks. I spent some time Friday at the Drury Broadview, where the players are spending the weekend, visiting with Mohamed Sharif (formerly Kelly Pete), Dave Leach, Larry Nosich, Manny Zaforis and Gerald Davis. Other players were en route to Wichita.
▪ My perspective on this is unique. I was a huge Shocker fan in my youth. My father and I went to games starting in the 1961-62 season thanks to my aunt, who was a WSU professor – in those days in was the University of Wichita – and gave us her two season tickets. What a gift. My dad took me to games. If memory serves, there were freshmen games that started at 5:15 in the days when freshmen weren’t eligible for the varsity. So we’d catch as much of the freshmen games as we could and the varsity games started at 8.
▪ On the way to games, we often stopped at either Griff’s or Sandy’s, two fast-food hamburger spots that have been long gone from Wichita. The Griff’s was near Parkland and the Sandy’s was near 13th and Oliver.
▪ We sat in Section R of the Roundhouse in those days, Row 23. They were great seats and I made a lot of noise. I was rabid, mind you. The Shockers were a big part of my world and being at those great games as part of a packed house was an incredible experience for an impressionable kid. That 1964-65 team opened the season with home games against Long Beach State, Texas Western and back-to-back games with BYU on a Friday-Saturday. The Missouri Valley Conference was referred to as the Valley of Death because of the strength of its teams: WSU, Drake, North Texas State, Bradley, St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Tulsa.
▪ Wichita State’s 1964-65 season didn’t begin until Dec. 5. That’s strange to see since college basketball starts now in early November. The Shockers that season played in the Quaker City Tournament in Philadelphia and had a home-and-home with Loyola (Chicago), just two seasons after the Ramblers won the national championship.
▪ My favorite player was, of course, All-America forward Dave Stallworth, who left the team at the semester break because he had used up his college eligibility. I was also a big Leach fan. He was such a steady, solid player.
▪ As I write these stories about the 1964-65 Wichita State basketball team, I often wonder who might be writing 48 years from now about the 2012-13 Shockers that reached the Final Four in Atlanta. Is there a little kid out there going to Shocker games who will get that opportunity? I consider myself fortunate to be able to talk to and write about players I was so enamored with as a kid. When I played basketball in my backyard, I pretended I was these guys. I wanted to be Stallworth, Pete, Leach, Jamie Thompson, Vernon Smith, Nate Bowman, John Criss. They were my heroes.
▪ When I left the hotel this morning, I called a lifelong friend to tell him who I had been talking to. I knew he would understand my excitement and the irony of it all. I wish I could tell my father.
▪ OK, on to some other things. Nothing about Joseph Randle’s situation sounds good at the moment. The story will play out over time, but nothing sounds good.
▪ The Grammy Awards are coming up Sunday and they might be my favorite awards show. Heck, forget “might.” They are. I love the music and I love the performances.
▪ Would it shock anyone at this point if Tiger Woods retired? He’s one of the most prideful athletes I’ve ever seen and he’s being embarrassed on the golf course lately. There is no doubt of Woods’ perseverance and pride. He undoubtedly wants to become the world’s best golfer again. But it’s just not there. It looks like Woods’ body is breaking down on him. At one point does pride give in to acknowledgment? How long can Woods keep fighting?
▪ The older I get, the more I enjoy sunny, warm winter days. We’re going to enjoy highs in the 70s this weekend. How awesome is that?
▪ Wichita State’s basketball team is in a funk. What’s with having to hang on to beat Bradley? I think Northern Iowa sent the Shockers a message with last week’s 16-point win in Cedar Falls and I think that loss carried over to the Bradley games. Wichita State is struggling to score and to find scoring options. The Shockers should handle Missouri State on Saturday night, but there is danger looming – especially with the Feb. 14 road game at Illinois State.
▪ How safe is Rick Barnes as Texas’ basketball coach? The Longhorns, you’ll remember, were the team many thought would knock Kansas off its Big 12 high horse this season and stop the Jayhawks’ run of 10 consecutive conference regular-season titles. Instead, Texas is riding a four-game losing streak as it prepares to play Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan. The Longhorns are sitting in eighth place at 3-6 in the Big 12, ahead of only TCU and Texas Tech.
▪ Have a great, warm weekend everyone. Thanks for reading, as always.