Kansas University basketball fans increasingly have embraced the school’s brilliant history. By now some are even conversant with the marvelous records and players of the 1930s before there was an NCAA Tournament to stir the pot and create bracket mania.
Kansas State needs to get the same thing going because it also can boast tremendous court achievements. The emergence of Frank Martin’s swashbuckling 2010 Wildcats at the Big 12 and national levels, with prospects good for a continued run of success, should stir more Purple Pride and send fans to the archives. For example, it’s surprising so many current KSU followers are unaware of the brilliance of the Wildcats just before and right after 1950.
Not too long ago the K-State alumni magazine featured the late Rick Harman from Hoisington as recipient of a major award and covered a lot of his career as a Republican politico and noted restaurateur. Not one word about the all-league and All-America basketball status during Rick’s 1947-50 court eminence.
The Cats labor in the shadow of KU’s 180-90 series advantage and those constant parades into NCAA activity. KU has won three NCAA titles, KSU none, but K-State had Final Four presences in 1948, 1958 and 1964, falling in the national semifinals three times and losing to Kentucky for the national crown in 1951.
KSU logged a 25-4 record in 1951 and beat Kansas’s junior-laden Clyde Lovellette crew twice in the days when only one conference team went to the Big Dance. Then in 1951-52, KU and KSU split in the regular season but Colorado helped KU grab the league title and NCAA (and Olympic) glory.
I’ve always contended that while KU was the national champ, that 1952 K-State team was the nation’s second best. KSU’s roster included Dick Knostman, Jack Carby, Hoot Gibson, Jim Iverson, Dick Peck, Jesse Prisock, Bob Rousey, Gene Stauffer and Don Upson. The year before against Kentucky, K-State blended Ed Head, Jack Stone, All-American Ernie Barrett, Lew Hitch and Dan Schuyler with that same group. In 1951 and 1952, Kansas and Kansas State could easily claim the best 1-2 punch in college ball.
Kentucky’s Bill Spivey had 22 points and 21 rebounds to derail K-State in ’51— before the fixing scandals tainted UK, again. Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey didn’t hurt the cause and Kentucky was clearly better. Otherwise, K-State was as good as anybody.
Tex Winter led KSU to the national semifinals in 1958 before Elgin Baylor (23 points, 22 boards) and Seattle whipped the Cats. Then in 1964 in Kansas City in the national semis, UCLA whipped KSU to start its incredible array of titles.
But it was in that 1951 and 1952 period when Kansas and Kansas State had sensational teams that easily could have dominated the tournament at least up to the title game. Yet only one could continue after the league season. What fun it would be to turn back the clock, install today’s format that let seven Big 12 teams see action and watch KU and K-State perform in a 64-team field.
Kansas State now has the momentum, the leadership and the recruiting allure to give Kansas all it can handle. It’s been a joy watching the Cats in the 2010 tourney. Yet KSU fans also need to recall, study and enjoy a long list of glories from the past. There are numerous victories and fantastic players enriching that history.