January 21, 2014
By Mark Janssen
Jeff Simons loves this story about Kansas State's 1964 Final Four team that was recognized this past Saturday at the half of the Wildcats' game with West Virginia.
"I remember a newspaper story on how Kansas scoured the countryside looking for basketball talent from major cities, while Kansas State got its players from small towns," said Simons, a 6-foot-4 small-forward on the team that went 22-7, won the Big Eight title with a 12-2 record and twice defeated the big-city Jayhawks.
Simons was from the northeast Kansas community of Eudora, population 1,500. Max Moss was from northwest Kansas - Hoxie - population 1,500. Roger Suttner was from Ridgway, Ill., in southeast Illinois, population 1,200. Willie Murrell was from the plains of Taft, Okla., population 400. And, from the metropolitan area of Parsons in southeast Kansas, population 8,000-plus, was Sammy Robinson.
That's five starters - three from Kansas and one each from the smallest of dots on the map in Oklahoma and Illinois - that came from communities with a total population of less than 15,000.
"And several of our non-starters were also from small towns," said Simons, who now lives just outside Memphis, Tenn. "As players, we took a lot of pride in that, and especially when we played Kansas."
For the record, the 1963-64 team defeated KU twice, 58-55 and 70-46, plus it swept the Missouri Tigers in three games to go along with a stunning 94-86 victory over Dave Stallworth and No. 5 Wichita State in the NCAA Midwest Regional staged on the Shockers' home floor.
Growing up near Lawrence, Simons likes to keep this quiet, but he grew up wanting to be a Jayhawk.
"I sold popcorn in Allen Fieldhouse back when Wilt (Chamberlain) played, and I made sure to listen to all their games on the radio," said Simons. "But truth of the matter is, Kansas State was the only scholarship offer that I had. (Laughing) I quickly became a Kansas State fan."
While Ted Owens didn't recruit Simons, and he understood why. He was 6-foot-4 but only 150 pounds. In his words, "I wasn't a very massive guy. I was all-state, but not really a super-star. I was a player that Tex could take and develop in his system."
After playing on the freshman team in 1960-61 and redshirting the next year, Simons averaged 3.5 points as a sophomore, 8.6 as a junior in the storied 1963-64 season and 11.3 points in his senior year. He played in 50 Wildcat victories and had a hand in Big Eight titles as a sophomore and a junior with a two-year Big Eight Conference record of 23-5.
Many of those wins came in Ahearn Field House, where Simons says, "It was so loud you absolutely couldn't hear yourself think. The support was just fantastic. It was a crowd that just willed us to wins."
Another favorite memory of K-State's basketball home was how Coach Winter explained things during games.
"Most coaches used a clipboard that they could write on," Simons said with a reflective laugh. "Tex would use chalk on the purple outline of the court in Ahearn. He would X and O what he wanted to do in chalk and then at the end of the timeout Porky (Morgan, trainer) would wipe it off with a towel."
After K-State, Simons went on to an 18-year coaching career at the high school, junior college and four-year level that took him to Bonner Springs High School, Kansas City and Johnson County community colleges, and, Silom Springs, Ark., in the NAIA ranks.
Simons then went into the ministry, where he started a 10-year run of making 55 trips into South and Central America, plus the Caribbean with an evangelic basketball team.
"We put on basketball clinics plus shared the good news of the Bible," said Simons. "That has been a very rewarding experience. They enjoy us coming. They accept our teaching of basketball and are a receptive audience for the religion part of our trip."