The 1952 Kansas national championship basketball team gathered Friday night at Bill Hougland’s house, the back of which overlooks the 17th green at Lawrence Country Club.
Nobody was talking golf. Everybody was talking about how much they enjoy this season’s overachieving KU basketball team. And when they discussed the qualities of their own team of 60 years ago, they mentioned intense defense, working the ball inside and an unselfish approach to the game.
The more they chatted, the more it became apparent not much has changed with Kansas basketball in the past 60 years.
“I don’t know about that,” said Bob “Trigger” Kenney, the team’s best outside shooter and the nation’s free-throw percentage leader that year. “We had over a 40-inch vertical leap. That was all of us combined.”
Kenney lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., and is in town for today’s game against Oklahoma State, a 3 p.m. tipoff in Allen Fieldhouse. Six players from the ’52 squad will be honored at halftime.
Clyde Lovellette, who dropped 33 points and 17 rebounds on St. John’s in the national title game, came in from North Manchester, Ind. Reserve Bill Heitholt made the trip from Commerce, Texas. Lawrence residents Hougland and Bill Lienhard, the starting forwards, and Al Kelley, a reserve guard, also will take center court at halftime. Health issues prevent Charlie Hoag from participating.
The Jayhawks will wear retro uniforms, although not short shorts. Cheerleaders will fashion longer skirts and bobby sox.
The 1952 and 2012 teams share more than fashion similarities.
“Very impressive,” Heitholt said of this year’s team. “They play intense defense. That’s what we were known for too.”
Also, both squads feature a superstar — Lovellette then, Thomas Robinson now.
“I love the way Robinson plays,” Kenney said. “He’s my favorite guy, and he was last year. The guy is a tough rebounder. And he’s certainly a hustler. I think he’s one of the best players in the country, if not the best. And Clyde was a great player. Not many people, I suppose, know that now. Clyde was a great shooter. He made damn near everything he shot. Three-time All-American, the premier player in his era. He led the nation in scoring and damn near everything else.”
As in ’52, Kansas does a good job feeding the ball inside, though not always to the satisfaction of coach Bill Self standing courtside or Lovellette watching from his living room.
“I saw a lot of times they could have gotten it inside and they didn’t,” Lovellette said. “I say, ‘Why don’t you get it in?’ Of course they don’t hear me in that television.”
Self gave the ’52 players a tour of the facilities Friday afternoon, and Lovellette, who had given his letter jackets to his brothers, was presented with a brand-new one, just the beginning of a weekend with a distinct family reunion feel to it.