Former KU star Walt Wesley dies at 79

Former player Walt Wesley talks with media members alongside former coach Ted Owens as part of a 125 years of Kansas basketball celebration on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Walt Wesley, a member of Kansas’ 1965-66 conference championship team and one of the legendary Jayhawks whose jerseys hang in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse, died Thursday morning in Tampa, Florida, KU Athletics announced. He was 79.

A two-time All-American with the Jayhawks, the 6-foot-11 center was a first-round pick and spent a decade playing in the NBA.

Wesley’s No. 13 KU jersey was retired in 2004, and his numerous honors include membership in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame (class of 2014) and Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame (2018).

“Walt Wesley is one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” former KU coach Ted Owens said. “He was so loved by his teammates and his coaches, he was just an extraordinary man. And he came to Kansas and worked so hard to develop into the great player that he was.”

According to KU’s press release, Wesley “had been fighting leukemia the past few years.” The release also notes that Owens said Wesley’s wife Denise was with him at the end, and that Wesley had been able to talk to Owens and KU teammates Riney Lochmann and Al Lopes earlier in the week.

Following his distinguished KU tenure, as a professional, Wesley played his best season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1970-71, when he averaged 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. That year included a 50-point scoring performance against the team that had drafted him, the Cincinnati Royals.

In later years, after a lengthy coaching career (including at KU), Wesley, a native of Fort Myers, Florida, led the S.T.A.R.S. Complex (Success Through Academic and Recreational Support) to aid children in his hometown and was executive director of the local Police Athletic League.

He frequently returned to KU over the years, including for an alumni game in 1998, his jersey retirement in 2004, to be honored alongside Owens and JoJo White during a game in 2011 and for the school’s 125-year basketball reunion in 2023. He was also featured in a ceremonial video as part of KU’s celebration of Black History Month in February 2023, and the Jayhawks wore shooting shirts that day with his name and number.

“To reminisce about the days of old, it’s a grand feeling,” he said last year.

Wesley was the subject of a movement in the “Rock Chalk Suite” jazz compilation authored by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, one of a select few Jayhawks to receive that distinction along with the likes of Phog Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, James Naismith and Lynette Woodard.

“He loved the University of Kansas, loved being a part of Kansas basketball, and he touched all of our lives,” Owens said.

Added current KU coach Bill Self in the release: “No one loved Kansas basketball more than Walt Wesley … Walt would come back to Lawrence often and it was always great to see him. He was such a great ambassador for Kansas basketball. Our thoughts and prayers are with Denise and his family. We lost a KU great and his legacy will live forever in Kansas basketball history.”


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