Januar 15, 2014
By Mark Janssen
Roger Suttner was a Kansas State first.
Weighing an unhefty 195 pounds, Suttner looked like little more than a stick when he became the first seven-footer in Wildcat basketball history when he arrived in 1959-60 as a freshman.
"I tried to put on weight, but by the time we got into the season I'd go from 215 to 195. With Tex's (coach Winter) practices, it was hard to put on a lot of weight," said Suttner. "I'm around 265 now, but don't want to be."
And while truly being a big man on campus, Suttner said, "It didn't seem that way. I'm sure I stood out, but people knew all of us as basketball players. We were just a part of campus life. If there was a hero on campus it would have been Willie (Murrell, K-State's All-American)."
Suttner is being modest. Every Wildcat basketball player was a hero in 1963-64 as K-State was coming off a Big 8 title earned in 1963, and repeated the accomplishment in 1964. The 'Cats went 12-2 in the Big 8, 22-7 overall, defeated Kansas twice, 58-55 and 70-46.
"Oh, we used to beat the hell out of Kansas," said Suttner, who on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum will be part of the 1964 cast of Kansas State players celebrating the 50th Anniversary of playing in the NCAA Final Four in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium.
Oh yes, the Wildcats also defeated Texas-El Paso and No. 5 Wichita State at the NCAA Midwest Regional staged in Wichita, before ending the season in Kansas City at the Final Four with losses to No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Michigan.
"I'm to blame for that," said Suttner, who scored six points versus UCLA and 20 against Michigan a week following being named to the NCAA Midwest All-Regional team. "I had the flu and just didn't play well."
BECOMING A WILDCAT
Suttner grew up in the southeast corner of Illinois in a tiny community of Ridgway, where he lives today only about 300 yards from his childhood home.
"The school was about 130 students with 30 or 35 in my graduating class," reflected Suttner. "I didn't play any basketball until the eighth grade, but I was around 7-foot tall at the age of 15. Seldom did we play anyone over 6-6, so they just parked me under the basket and lobbed it into me."
Ex-Wildcat Clarence Brannum lived in northern Illinois at the time and thought enough of Suttner that he orchestrated a plane to fly the family to K-State to meet coach Tex Winter.
"I liked the fella (Winter) from the start, but he was hard on you," said Suttner, who also considered Purdue and Illinois. "I remember out at Colorado one time he grabbed me at halftime and said, 'You might as well be out there selling tickets, because you're not doing anything else.' He wasn't overly impressed with me that day."
After a year on the freshman team when he was coached by Ernie Barrett, and then a redshirt season, Suttner played the next three years - 1961-62 through 1963-64 - posting a career average of 8.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
"The first year I'm sure I didn't impress anyone, but with Tex, you were always improving," said Suttner. "I could turn and shoot it inside, but I was a lot better defensive player than on offense. My height created a little bit of havoc in there altering shots."
Suttner would be a fifth-round draft choice of the San Francisco Warriors, who happened to have a tall lad by the name of Wilt Chamberlain on the roster.
"It was apparent early that I was only going to be a practice player," laughed Suttner, who said he was offered a contract of "$8,000 to $10,000, if I made the team."
Instead, Suttner put his secondary education major to work as a teacher at nearby Chapman (KS) High School for six years and then returned home. He worked as an equipment operator in the coal mines before opening his own trucking business hauling coal in his 40-foot dump truck.
K-STATE'S CAST OF ALL-TIME 7-FOOTERS
It's interesting that of the half-dozen 7-footers in Kansas State history, only three were ever full-time starters - Nick Pino, Jordan Henriquez and Roger Suttner.
Not only that, but of the nine others who measured 6-11, only Shawn Rhodes became a multi-year regular.
7-3 Jason Bennett, 2006-07
7-1 Joe Leonard, 1997-98 - 2000-01
7-1 Nick Pino, 1965-66 - 1967-68
7-0 Jordan Henriquez, 2009-10 - 2012-13
7-0 Dax Jones, 1996-97
7-0 Roger Suttner, 1961-62 - 1963-64
9 OTHERS MEASURED 6-11
Mike Barber, 1967-68 - 1969-70; Jerry Black, 1975-76 - 1977-78; Gerald Eaker, 1995-96 - 1996-97; Dan Hickert, 1976-77 - 1977-78; Tyler Hughes, 2003-04 - 2005-06; Jerry Jung, 1952-53 - 1954-55; Alex Potuzak, 2010-11; Greg Prudhoe, 1977-78 - 1981-82; Shawn Rhodes, 1995-96 - 1998-99