LaVannes Squires of Wichita East was the first black player on Kansas varsity basketball rosters (1952-53-54) and by 1961, seven of top 10 men on the Jayhawk squad were African-Americans.
After the low-key LaVannes, KU had its first high-impact black star -- 6-2 all-league guard Maurice King of Kansas City, Mo.
Reece was recruited from all-black Coles High in KC, Mo., by then-KU assistant Dick Harp and fabled alum Roy Edwards Jr. King was on the 1953-54 freshman squad that included Gene Elstun and John Parker from Shawnee Mission (now SM North) and Lew Johnson (KC Argentine). All four started for KU with sophomore Wilt Chamberlain during the 1956-57 NCAA runnerup season.
Later, King, now 63 and retired in KC, spent two years in the Army, played pro ball with four clubs, was a junior high counselor and worked up to key executive posts in his more than 25 years with Hallmark Cards. Maurice served on the two search committees and athletic boards that hired basketball coaches Larry Brown and Roy Williams.
"I grew up in a pretty parochial atmosphere in Kansas City, so I really got my eyes opened in college," King said during a recent conversation. "We had our own movies, pool, nice parks . . . through high school. I found anything I wanted to do in my own community. I came to KU and ran into things I wasn't accustomed to. While I didn't like some of them, I knew there were most of them I by myself couldn't change, so I often did what I had to do to get through it."
"Then along came Wilt," King said of the 7-2 Philadelphia phenomenon. "He was such a wonder, with a big city background and a lot of savvy, that all sorts of things began to change -- with the aid of people like Phog Allen, KU chancellor Franklin Murphy and a lot of other good people. Wilt not only changed basketball but a lot of other things. After two years on my own, with a much different background, I began to see a lot of things happening with which I was unfamiliar.
"Playing together when I was a senior and he (Wilt) was a sophomore, after games we would gather to eat at a place called the Dine-A-Mite (owned by the late Roy and Mary Borgen at 23rd and Louisiana)," said King. "Bob Billings, Gene Elstun and some other teammates were aware of it and maybe frequented it often. But I had no knowledge of this place until Wilt came. We would go in there to have a meal and we would have no problems.
" . . . Nobody ever confronted us with anything. Everybody seemed happy we were there, especially the students. That was my first encounter of going into any restaurants in Lawrence other than at the Eldridge Hotel. Then there was a place the team would go before games (The Hawk) for a pre-game meal for toast, tea and honey -- an old Phog Allen ritual."
Continued King: "I know during the Christmas period when the students were gone and we were practicing and even when I was the only black player, we would go to the movie as a team and nobody ever said anything to me about sitting in the segregated section. I sat with the team, Elstun, Parker, Harry Jett . . . But I was well aware of the segregated section because when I went there with my other black friends, that's where we sat.
"Looking back, it was good to have somebody that was as high-profile as Wilt; along with being a great player, he just, through his own innocence and strength of personality, he helped break down some of the barriers. Not many people around this area tended to challenge the presence of Wilt. He helped change the situation for the better."
"Now," added King, "one of the things I'm most proud of as far as being associated with the university, being an alumnus and being involved in all the activities, such as the athletic board . . . I've seen all these things change and I have seen things develop pretty positively from a community standpoint."
While he periodically churned inside over things he didn't like and preferred to change, with or without help from people such as Chamberlain, I admiringly watched King conduct himself with class and dignity both on and off the basketball court.
I am well aware of how many good things he has done on behalf of his alma mater in the years since.
The fact he's done so well and has continued to share his talents on behalf of KU and its successes indicates he feels awfully good about what he gained while under the branches of the Mount Oread Learning Tree.
-- Bill Mayer's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.