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DeWitz: 'Hustling Heart' of the Wildcats
October 10, 2013
By Mark Janssen
It's been 55 years, but the voice of Roy DeWitz today still cracks with emotion when he recalls, "A writer called me the 'hustling heart' of the Kansas State Wildcats."
Taking a moment to collect himself, DeWitz regained strength in his voice to complete his thought: "To me, that was one of the greatest compliments I've ever received."
Yet another compliment will take place on Friday when DeWitz will be inducted into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame.
"Wow," said the 77-year-old DeWitz. "I've received some honors in the past, but to be considered one of the greats of Kansas State Athletics just caps my athletic career. It's very, very humbling to be listed alongside of guys like Ernie Barrett, Bob Boozer and Jack Parr. It's just fantastic."
DeWITZ THE WILDCAT: DeWitz was that "other player" at K-State when Boozer, Parr and Wally Frank were garnering the headlines from 1955-56 through 1957-58. They were years when K-State won a pair of Big Seven titles and played in two NCAA tournaments back in the day when only conference champions received postseason invitations.
That included his senior season when he captained the Wildcat team that went 22-5, was ranked No. 1 in the nation for three weeks at the end of the regular season, won the NCAA Midwest Regional and advanced to the Final Four where K-State lost to Seattle and No. 5 Temple.
"That was a devastating experience," reflected DeWitz on the final two losses of the season. "There's no doubt in my mind that we were the best team there, but we kind of bombed. We had what we called a 'starting six' who could play with anyone in the country."
That group included a front line of 6-foot-9 Jack Parr, 6-foot-8 Bob Boozer, 6-foot-8 Wally Frank, plus perimeter types in Hayden Abbott, Don Matuszak and DeWitz that helped revolutionize Tex Winter's Triple Post or Triangle Offense.
Of his sophomore season in 1955-56 when the Cats went 17-8 and 9-3 in winning the Big Seven title, DeWitz said, "We were the savior team. Tex had won just 11 games in each of his first two seasons and there were signs about 'Spring and summer have come and gone, now Winter must go.' Later it became 'Winter is eternal at K-State.'
"Tex believed in high-percentage basketball. There was no three-point line, so why shoot from 25 feet when you had Boozer, Parr and Frank inside? We worked as a team to get a high-percentage shot."
Laughing, DeWitz said, "Tex never told the guards not to shoot, but by God if you did shoot, you better make it or you'd be sitting by him."
A career nine-points-per-game scorer, DeWitz reflected on a game against Colorado where he didn't take a single shot "...but we won." And another game at Missouri where he was 2-for-2 in the first half, but missed an early second-half shot "...and Tex tapped me on the shoulder to tell me I was shooting too much."
What DeWitz thrived on was being a defender with a nasty disposition going one-on-one with the likes of Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati, or Guy Rodgers of Temple, or Gary Thompson of Iowa State, or Norm Stewart of Missouri.
DeWitz prepared for such challenges by going against former K-State All-American Ernie Barrett, who returned after his career with the Boston Celtics to be a Wildcat assistant coach.
"Ernie was so strong - 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds of muscle, and such a great shooter," said DeWitz. "Throughout college I never played against a better guard than Ernie. He was who you wanted to be."
Of his life as a Wildcat, DeWitz, who also played shortstop for Ray Wauthier's baseball team, said, "We played in the Taj Mahal of basketball at that time (in Ahearn Field House), and we were the heroes of the campus. Not many K-State teams were winning at that time, so people really thought we were special."
BEFORE AND SINCE K-STATE: DeWitz grew up carrying the nickname of "Pee Wee" as he stood just 4-foot-9 as a high school freshman and graduated at 5-foot-10 and 135 pounds.
"I grew up just 90 miles from Wisconsin, but those coaches didn't think I was big enough or strong enough to play in the Big Ten," said DeWitz. "Tex was in the area recruiting another player and the coach from East Rockford recommended me."
He remembers assistant coach Howard Shannon showing him the film of the 1951 K-State team that reached the Final Four, and then they told me about Ahearn being the fifth-largest basketball arena in the country.
"To me it sounded great," DeWitz said.
That is, until he got on campus.
"I remember my first day on the court. At the other end were Barrett, Lew Hitch, Roger Craft and Jack Parr, and here I was a freshman that was going to scrimmage those guys," laughed DeWitz, who had sprouted to 6-foot-2 since his high school graduation. "I remember wondering, 'What have I gotten myself into?' But I held my own and it was my start of being developed by Tex Winter."
His development was to such a level that he was a second-round draft choice (No. 19 overall selection) of the Detroit Pistons following his play in East-West All-Star games in Kansas City and New York City.
Instead of accepting a bonus check for $750 and a first-year NBA salary of $6,250, DeWitz had already been hired out of college as basketball coach at Manhattan High School.
"I told Manhattan High about my pro opportunity and they said they would let me out of my $4,250 contract, but that they would make sure I was blackballed in the state of Kansas and that I would never get another job in the state," said DeWitz. "I'm not sure if that was right, but it shocked me into reality. I left that meeting as the Manhattan High basketball coach."
DeWitz coached MHS for six years and reached three Class AA state tournaments using the Triple Post offense.
"The offense was easier to coach at the high school level because all college players want to do is be the star," said DeWitz.
DeWitz would go on to coach at K-State as Winter's assistant in 1964 and 1965 before becoming head coach at Augustana College in South Dakota, and later an assistant at Missouri under Norm Stewart before returning to his home in Illinois and entering the insurance business.
At the age of 77, DeWitz is still working with his full-line insurance company where he lives just outside of Houston, Texas.