Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: The art of the deal – getting Larry Nosich back to Wichita

Larry Nosich (40) was a reserve senior forward on the 1964-65 Shocker team that won the Midwest Regional to reach the program’s first Final Four.
Larry Nosich (40) was a reserve senior forward on the 1964-65 Shocker team that won the Midwest Regional to reach the program’s first Final Four. File photo

Wichita State is planning a big celebration for the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 Shocker basketball team, for 48 years the only WSU team to make it to the Final Four.

There will be lots of bells and whistles during the weekend of the Feb. 7 Missouri State game.

And every living player from the team will be in attendance. But it took some extra effort – in the way of a personal phone call from Gregg Marshall – to lock down the last guy.

Larry Nosich wasn’t so sure he wanted to travel back to Wichita for this celebration. Not because he’s not a proud Shocker – he has a Shocker decal on the back window of his car to prove that.

It’s just that Nosich is 77, long retired and happy to be at home in Glassport, Pa.

“I was a 24-year-old freshman at Wichita State,” Nosich said. “I worked for U.S. Steel for six years after high school and never played ball when I was in high school. I played recreational ball and knew a couple of guys who knew a couple of guys who played for Wichita and they told me they were looking for ballplayers.”

There was a pipeline between the McKeesport, Pa., area and Wichita in those days; several top Shocker football and basketball players, such as Ron Heller and Jim McNerney, came from there.

Nosich bought a plane ticket for Wichita, met assistant coach Gary Thompson at the airport, hung out with WSU guard Manny Zafiros on campus and soon became a Shocker.

“It wouldn’t happen like that today,” Nosich said.

But back to getting him to Wichita for this reunion.

Wichitan Bob Powers, a freshman on the 1964-65 team, is the organizer. The weekend will include a banquet, attending a practice, introductions during halftime of the Missouri State game and a reception after the game.

Marshall is hands on with the reunion.

“Mr. Powers told me at our last meeting about this that there was only one person not committed to coming back,” Marshall said. “I said we couldn’t have that.”

So Marshall made a phone call. Nosich, though, didn’t believe the person on the other end of the phone was actually the Shockers’ coach and it took a few seconds of convincing.

“I told him he must be pulling my leg,” Nosich said. “He told me that the team is going to Hawaii for a tournament and that his father, who is 78, was going to make that trip. If his dad could do that, then I could do this.”

Marshall said his conversation with Nosich lasted 10 to 15 minutes and he was finally able to break through when Marshall expressed that he probably wouldn’t be around when the time comes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 2012-13 Shockers’ Final Four appearance in Atlanta.

“I told Larry that I was going to enjoy this one coming up in February just like it was my own,” Marshall said. “It’s such a special thing, a landmark.”

Still, Marshall wasn’t sure about Nosich until a few days later, when Powers told him Nosich was in. He was coming back to Wichita.

Nosich was a senior on the 1964-65 team, a forward who provided depth. He played in 61 games during his Wichita State career, but scored only 77 career points.

He was often a backup to WSU All-American Dave Stallworth, who didn’t require much backup.

Nosich said he didn’t play basketball at Glassport High because by the time practice ended on cold, winter nights, the town’s transit system had shut down and he would have had to walk nearly three miles to get home.

“That’s tough,” he said.

So the 6-foot-7 Nosich played on town teams and recreational teams. He put up basketball goals in his neighborhood. He played lots of basketball, just not in the traditional way.

His ability wasn’t a secret, though. And the WSU pipeline from McKeesport, three miles upstream on the Monongahela River and about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, flowed heavily.

“Wichita was an opportunity,” Nosich said. “But man, it was a long ways off. I got out there, though, and then I stayed 4 1/2 years. And we had some outstanding ballplayers in those years.”

Nosich received a degree in education, he said, and looked into becoming a teacher. But he ended up doing what he had done after high school, working for U.S. Steel, although this time in management.

“Worked there 30 more years and I’ve been retired for 18 years,” Nosich said.

He went to the same high school as his wife of 47 years, Marlene, though they didn’t know one another well then.

“My best buddies on those (Shocker) teams were probably Dave Leach, Vernon Smith, John Criss – they’re the ones I hung out with when we were on the road,” Nosich said.

The Final Four season was great, he said, but the 1963-64 team might have been even better. That team lost to Kansas State in the championship game of the Midwest Regional after standout point guard Ernie Moore was declared ineligible by the NCAA before the NCAA Tournament.

“If we would have had Ernie Moore, we would have won the whole thing,” Nosich said.

A season later, Wichita State lost Stallworth and center Nate Bowman at the semester break. Stallworth had used up his eligibility and Bowman was dismissed because of poor academics.

Meanwhile, freshman Warren Armstrong, later Jabali, was having an incredible season on the freshmen team – before freshmen were eligible to play on an NCAA varsity team.

Armstrong averaged 29.1 points and 17.6 rebounds for the Shocker freshmen.

“With those three, we would have been NCAA champions in 1964-65,” Nosich said.

It didn’t work out that way.

With no starter taller than 6-5, the Shockers were beaten badly by UCLA in the national semifinals in Portland, Ore., then lost a one-sided game to Princeton and Bill Bradley in the third-place game.

Nosich said he’s proud to have played on those Wichita State teams and, since the Marshall phone call, has totally changed his mind about coming to the reunion.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “We had a reunion 10 years ago and I saw most of the guys then. I didn’t think we’d probably ever get together again.”

But the gang is getting back together in a couple of months to celebrate a rare feat. Nosich couldn’t miss this.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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