If you don't find deep significance in the Kansas-Colorado basketball game here Feb. 2, you might as well buy tickets to another venue and adopt some other team. This occasion will be huge. Enjoy!
Bad blood seems to be rising steadily in various veins where the modern KU-CU rivalry is concerned, more out in Boulder, Colo., than here. Buffalo coach Ricardo Patton, rightly or wrongly, has his nose out of joint about something or other regarding recruiting. The Buffs are tired of being defeated so by the Jayhawks. Some have been lipping off.
Then don't overlook that this is a Big 12 Conference game Kansas must win to get closer to those regular-season championship rings not one current player has.
But then it's a 50th reunion weekend for the KU Crew of '52, the school's first official NCAA title team. What Jayhawk wants to suffer defeat with a lot of that gang looking on including six former Olympic stars and the winningest college coach of all time.
But there is another vital sidelight to the KU-CU history. It was the Buffaloes who did KU a massive favor during that marvelous 1952 season.
Clyde Lovellette and Co. opened '52 with a 13-0 record before back-to-back whippings at Kansas State and Oklahoma State (not yet a league member).
If KU was No. 1 in the nation in 1952, K-State might have been No. 2. KSU had a leg up on Kansas in the Big Seven race from which only one team would go to the NCAAs. K-State coach Jack Gardner let his Wildcats butcher Bebe Lee's Buffaloes at Manhattan. Instant revenge motive.
The night before high-flying K-State was to play at Boulder, coach Lee took his squad up to a ski lodge for a retreat and commitment session. Result: Stunning CU upset.
That set the stage for a Kansas-Kansas State clash in old Hoch Auditorium on March 7; KU won 78-61. But the Jayhawks were only tied with KSU for the lead and a possible NCAA berth. They still had to play you guessed it Colorado, on March 10 at Boulder. The Buffs, who had begun to enjoy their spoilsport role, said they'd be geared up.
They were, but Kansas won the league crown and the NCAA niche with a 72-55 victory. So Colorado figured prominently in that championship season. While some may consider CU villainesque now, it was downright heroic 50 years ago. If it upsets KU on Feb. 2, what a kick in the head!
But back to those '52 guys who'll be honored, when CU visits.
The victorious '52 Olympians still alive are Lovellette, Bill Lienhard, Bill Hougland, Charlie Hoag and Bob Kenney. Lost in recent times were Dean Kelley and John Keller. The sixth Olympic gold medalist is Allen Kelley, Dean's younger brother, who starred on America's 1960 team in Rome. Hougland also was with the winning '56 U.S. team as a Phillips 66er AAU star.
What can you say about Dean Smith, the 1951-53 reserve guard via Emporia-Topeka who left KU with a 1.9 scoring average? Heck, all he could do was coach not good, just the best ever from a winning standpoint. It's often overlooked that he was also a good baseball catcher (KU letterman) and was a fine high school footballer.
Smith and Roy Williams have proved with their volumes of achievements in sports and citizenship that you needn't be a college or professional sensation to tutor well and be a glittering role model.
Consider those Kansas stars of 1952 and where they might fit in today's professional market.
Lovellette played 12 years with Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Boston and wears NBA title rings. But who else?
The 6-foot-5 Hougland might have made it with his great defensive skills since he was so outstanding with Phillips in the days when the good AAU clubs were better than most of the NBA teams. Hoag could have cut it with his speed and agility had he not had a knee wrecked in football. But if Charlie had been hale and hearty, he'd been drafted by an NFL club like his "hometown" Bears (Oak Park, Ill. product).
Kenney and Lienhard could shoot the ball but were undersized. Dean Kelley had great skills but it would have been tough, and Keller was a fine role-player for Kansas, but no NBA prospect.
But two guys who'll be here Feb. 2 made as great a one-year leap to stardom as just about anybody KU has ever had B.H. Born and Al Kelley.
As a '52 sophomore, the rangy 6-9 Born was often the butt of Lovellette pranks. Bert who later starred in AAU ball (with the Kelleys) with Peoria's Caterpiller-Diesels often jokes that he and Clyde averaged 30 points between them in '52, Lovellette with 28.5 and Born at 1.6. I've never admired any Jayhawk more than I admire Born for his courage, dedication and refusal to accept defeat.
Next season, Bert becomes the hub of a KU team that makes the NCAA title game and falls by a point to Indiana. He averages 19 points, rules the backboards and is the first player on a non-winning team ever to be chosen MVP for the Final Four.
Al Kelley boosted his scoring average from 0.2 as a '52 soph to a hefty 12.9 as a junior. He played defense like a Tasmanian Devil and had more steals than an Acapulco pickpocket. You know any two guys who got better faster?
Yep, tradition will drip from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters on Feb. 2 and this 2002 team has a lot to live up to.