Even as the 1950s made their way into the 1960s, African-Americans were still not being recruited by some of the nation’s elite college basketball programs. That's why Walter Wesley was still available for Kansas when the Jayhawks came looking in 1962.
Wesley was named a consensus second-team All-American his senior season.
Wesley’s coach at Kansas was Ted Owens. He told the Kansas City Star last February he was on a recruiting trip when he uncovered Wesley. Owens asked the secretary of the Florida High School Negro Athletic Association if there were any players worth recruiting. Wesley was the answer.
“There is a young man at Fort Myers Dunbar named Walter Wesley. He’s 6-11 and he’s not very developed right now. He can run. He’s strong,” the secretary said, according to Owens.
The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame says coach Owens made Wesley sink 150 jump shots before he could leave practice. It paid off. Wesley led the Jayhawks in scoring in 1965 and 1966, averaging 23.5 and 20.7 points per game, respectively.
Some 50 years later, Wesley’s jersey is retired, hanging from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.
Wesley only played 68 games at Kansas, yet scored 1,315 points. Wesley sits at number 29 on the all-time Kansas scoring list. When he left Kansas, he was third behind Clyde Lovellette and Wilt Chamberlain.
Up until 1972, freshmen were ineligible to play on a school’s “varsity” basketball roster. Wesley was also ruled ineligible for the second semester of his sophomore season.
Wesley’s single highest scoring for performance for Kansas came in his junior year against Loyola. He scored 42 points.
“They saw I was having a good night and pushed to get me the ball," Wesley told the Lawrence Journal-World in 2004. "We stayed within the context of what we were trying to do. It was a great honor. Not many players score 40 in a game.”
Only 11 times have Jayhawks scored 42 points or more in a single game.
Following his time at Kansas, Wesley was drafted number six overall in the 1966 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals.
According to Basketball-Reference, Wesley scored 5,002 points in his professional career for eight different teams.
Wesley also holds the record for most points scored in a half by a Cleveland Cavalier. He scored 50 against the Cincinnati Royals, his original NBA team.
“I enjoyed it. It was another milestone,” Wesley told the Journal-World.
After his final stop with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975, the man nicknamed, “Wonderful Walt,” returned to Kansas as an assistant coach. Wesley also coached at Western Michigan and Army.
Wesley said that his jersey retirement ceremony was a lot like stepping back out onto the Allen Fieldhouse floor.
“It's deja vu. I get a little feel of excitement just thinking about it. I have such great and fond memories of being there and playing in Allen Fieldhouse,” Wesley told the Journal-World.
Look up to the ceiling at Allen Fieldhouse and you’ll see Wesley’s number 13. It hangs one jersey removed from Wilt Chamberlin’s number 13, who played for Kansas six years prior.
Wesley told the Journal-World that to having his jersey retired was one of his best achievements.
“It is quite an honor, especially at the University of Kansas,” he said.
— Edited by Paola Alor