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Boozer to be Enshrined

Editor's Note: Today is the first of a two-part story on Bob Boozer, who, on Friday night, will become only the second Kansas State basketball player/coach to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Former Wildcat coach Jack Gardner was the first Wildcat inductee in 1984.
 
Today, Boozer, a two-time All-American in the late-1950s, revisits his decision to postpone his NBA career to try out for the USA team. Tomorrow, the Omaha, Neb., native will relive his Olympic experience in the games staged in Rome.
 
After a 27-year career with Northwestern Bell in Omaha, Boozer has served on the State of Nebraska Board of Parole for the last 13 years.
 
 
By Mark Janssen
 
 
Bob Boozer had a dream and he followed it.
 
It was a "gamble, for sure," he says, but, so to speak, well worth the roll of the dice.
 
The former Kansas State Wildcat delayed his entry into professional basketball for the right to try out for the 1960 Olympic team. Boozer made that team, and Friday night in Springfield, Mass., that Gold Medal winning team will enter the storied Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
 
TIMES HAVE CHANGED:  Boozer admits, "With the money they're passing out today, it would have been a very difficult decision. But at the time, the No. 1 draft choice was only getting $15,000 or $16,000, and for me, the possibility of making an Olympic team was a single chance of a lifetime to fulfill a dream."
 
After a three-year playing career at K-State, the 6-foot-8 native of Omaha, Neb., was the No. 1 overall selection in the 1959 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals.
 
He had averaged a school record 21.9 points in his 77 games as a Wildcat, which included 62 victories. He was a vital cog in Tex Winter's Purple Machine that won the Big Seven title in his junior year in 1957-58, and the first-ever Big 8 Championship the next year when the Wildcats went 14-0 and reached No. 1 status in the nation.
 
Still, there was more for Boozer to accomplish as an amateur player.
 
"Since I was young, I always dreamed of playing in the Olympics," said Boozer, member of K-State's Hall of Fame, the school's "All Century" team and one of just 10 Wildcats to have his uniform retired. "Some people in the NBA thought I was a fool to wait a year to start my professional career, but for me, it was the right thing to do."
 
Boozer, added, "I knew it was a long shot to make the team, but it was going to be my only opportunity."
 
THE NIBL: Have you ever heard of the NIBL? Probably not.
 
The National Industrial Basketball League was formed in 1947 and later became the National AAU Basketball League.
 
In his year-in-waiting to try out for the 1960 Olympics, Boozer played for the Peoria Cats, in a league that included the Bartlesville Phillips 66ers, Wichita Vickers, Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, Denver-Chicago Truckers and New York Tuck Tapers, to name a few.
 
"You worked for your company for eight hours a day, and then you practiced and played basketball for your corporation," said Boozer. "It was very competitive ... a step above college basketball."
 
Boozer says his Peoria team won the postseason tournament in Denver, and then advanced to an Olympic tournament that included a small-college all-star team, a team of university all-stars (including Jerry West, Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson), an Armed Forces all-star unit and a group from the NIBL.
 
Just hours after the Olympic Tournament, Boozer heard his name as one of 12 called to make up the 1960 United States Olympic team.
 
"Now, that was a thrill," Boozer said. "I had made the sacrifice to not turn pro and without a guarantee that I would make the USA team. So to hear my named called was very rewarding and exciting."
 
1960 OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM: Interesting enough, the 1960 Olympic basketball team had a Big 8 flavor to it with five of the 12 members coming from the league:  Jay Arnette, Texas; Walt Bellamy, Indiana; Bob Boozer, Peoria Caterpillars (K-State); Terry Dischinger, Purdue; Burdette Haldorson, Bartlesville Phillips 66ers (Colorado); Darrall Imoff, California; Allen Kelley, Peoria Caterpillars (Kansas); Lester Lane, Oklahoma; Jerry Lucas, Ohio State; Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati; Adrian Smith, US Armed Forces (Kentucky); Jerry West, West Virginia
 
Head coach: Pete Newell; Assistant coach: Warren Womble
 
THIS YEAR'S HALL OF FAME CLASS: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will introduce a class Friday night that includes eight individuals and two teams. The inductees include Jerry Buss, Cynthia Cooper, Bob Hurley Sr., Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, along with two celebrated teams: the 1960 USA Men's Olympic team and the 1992 USA Basketball "Dream Team." The Class of 2010 also includes three legendary players: Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson and international star Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira, all of whom will be honored posthumously.