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Archive for Friday, March 9, 2007

Mayer: ‘Rope’ not frayed by age

March 9, 2007

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He's in his upper 80s, still wears his Jayhawk letter jacket with extreme pride and represents virtually all the good things Kansas University and its basketball heritage embody.

If you don't know much about Howard Engleman, you should, because his dossier as an athlete and citizen glitters. He's the sole surviving starter from KU's first NCAA finalist, and it was great to see him again last Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse, where his jersey hangs in tribute. Nobody enjoyed the victory over Texas more than Rope, so nicknamed as a player because of his blond, curly locks.

Where do you start with this product of Arkansas City, which also produced football's Jack Mitchell? He's walking history as a KU icon.

Rope was the second Jayhawk to earn consensus All-America honors, in 1941. Fred Pralle was first, in '38. Engleman led KU in scoring in '39 and '41, and his 16.1-point average in '41 was the highest in school history. He was an all-tournament selection in 1940 when he, co-captains Dick Harp and Don Ebling, John Kline, Bobby Allen and Ralph Miller played Indiana for the NCAA title game in Kansas City.

But that was only the beginning of his major contributions to KU. He served in the Navy in World War II and was terribly burned when a Japanese kamikaze plane hit his ship in the Pacific. Took him a long time to overcome, yet he returned to play high-level AAU ball. Entered law school, coached the KU freshmen for Phog Allen and had an 8-6 record as head coach filling in for Phog after Doc needed an illness furlough in 1947.

Oh, yes, Rope was also a sterling student chosen Honor Man of the Year. As a lawyer in Salina, Howard has kept in close touch with his alma mater and done scads of notable things on its behalf. His jersey was hung on the fieldhouse wall March 1, 2003. In accepting the honor, he displayed a penchant as a standup comedian - not only bright but blessed with a tremendous sense of humor.

Let's trace some roots for the unenlightened regarding KU basketball as another March Madness approaches. Phog Allen got the NCAA Tournament started in 1939, had his team in the Final Four in '40 while presiding over the first national coaches meeting in Kansas City. Howard Engleman was a major force in that 1939-41 period and is one of the rare living icons.

Little wonder he was introduced last Saturday and could be seen relishing the attention in his letter jacket. KU's 1,900-victory, 50-conference-title impact on college basketball surrenders to nobody. Phog always said he judged All-Americans by what they accomplished AFTER they finished at KU. He lived to see Rope Engleman excel a vast range of endeavors and never hesitated to pay tribute. Just consider for a second how many truly great people like Rope that KU and its basketball have turned loose in our midst.

¢ Monte Johnson, former athletic director, answered my query about NCAA Tournament prices. He recalled his astonishment as a member of the '57 Final Four team when he learned people were paying $50 a ducat to see KU and North Carolina go at it. Wasn't sure of the face value, but "at the time, I was just a poor Kansas City kid trying to make ends meet, and I didn't even have $50 in my bank account. I was stunned that people would pay so dearly to see a college game."

¢ In all the furor about Texas's Kevin Durant being the most talented guy ever to play basketball in Allen Fieldhouse, let's not overlook Wilt Chamberlain. I'd still go with a 2007 Uncle Dippy, one-on-one, against Durant.

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