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Archive for Saturday, August 15, 1998

August 15, 1998

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Phog Allen's granddaughter has read it and heard it a lot of times, but that doesn't make her any more accepting of two misconceptions. Judy Allen Morris of Lawrence always bristles when it happens. Fly-by-night television commentators and other non-area media who show up for an in-and-out dash to Lawrence periodically get it wrong. They may remark that Wilt Chamberlain broke the color line at Kansas University and that the Jayhawks play in Allen Fieldhouse, the House That Wilt Built.

Wilt Chamberlain, who returned for his jersey retirement last January, definitely had a hand in needed civil rights changes in and around Lawrence. And he certainly drew large crowds to the fieldhouse in the three years he was here (one year freshman, two years varsity). But Judy's storied granddad was also a major force in integration of the KU program.

Too, the fact the fieldhouse bears Allen's name pretty well shows that the fabled arena was established before the Chamberlain impact. Allen Fieldhouse was dedicated March 1, 1955, after a long struggle to get enough post-World War II steel. Wilt came onto the campus as a freshman later, in the fall of 1955.

``Point and counterpoint,'' says Mrs. Morris. ``That case needs to be closed.''

She then hastens to add that the first black student listed as playing basketball at KU was Lavannes Squires, a Wichita East High School graduate who made his debut in the early 1950s.

The first outstanding black player at Kansas was Kansas City, Mo., product Maurice King. The 6-4 King later played with the Boston Celtics, Kansas City Steers and Chicago Zephyrs after a two-year Army stint. His letter-winning years at Kansas were 1955, 1956 and 1957, and he was an All-Big Eight Conference guard selection as a junior and senior.

King, 63, is now retired in Kansas City after a long career as an executive with Hallmark Cards. He started on the 1956-'57 Kansas national finalist team that featured sophomore Chamberlain, seniors Gene Elstun and John Parker and sophomore Ron Loneski, with senior Lew Johnson and sophomore Bob Billings the sixth and seventh men.

It was King's late defensive heroics and scoring flurry that almost gave Kansas a victory in the 54-53 triple overtime championship game won by North Carolina in 1957.

Intensely proud of her grandfather, his KU record and the many contributions he made to society in and out of basketball, Judy Morris is quick to respond to inaccuracies.

``I don't want anyone to forget that Phog was recruiting minority kids long before most of the other schools in the country were doing so,'' says Judy. ``Wilt had the big reputation, and deserved it. But Scooter and Reece are just as famous in their own way from the standpoint of integrating the program here. I don't want anyone to overlook them or the things Phog did in the field of race relations. He was ahead of the game there the same as he was in so many other categories.''

It was granddaughter Morris, in fact, who suggested and promoted the ominous sign that hangs on the north wall of the fieldhouse: ``Pay heed all who enter: Beware of the Phog.''

Then there's the matter of who built ``the house.''

``A lot of great people really worked to get that fieldhouse built, and nobody gave it more effort than my grandfather,'' says Morris. ``I and the rest of the family don't want his heritage and his efforts to be cheapened by some quick-quip guy who thinks he has to put a Wilt label on the place and get attention ... like The House That Ruth Built at New York's Yankee Stadium.

``The fieldhouse was up and running the spring before Wilt set foot on the campus as a freshman and my main regret is that Phog had only one full season to coach in there.''

Allen was retired by state mandate at age 70 after the 1955-56 season (Wilt's freshman year). His term of contempt for the rule that prevented him from coaching Chamberlain as a sophomore in 1956-57 was ``statutory senility.''

Judy Morris and other members of the Allen family recently completed a successful fund drive to erect a huge statue of Phog Allen at the northeast entrance of the arena that bears his name.

-- Bill Mayer's phone number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is mayer@ljworld.com.

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