May 21, 2012
This feature appeared in the Monday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Bob Boozer earned an Olympic Gold Medal in 1960, was the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick of the Cincinnati Royals, and scored 12,064 points and controlled 7,119 rebounds during a stellar National Basketball Association career that included an NBA championship.
But the two-time Wildcat All-American frequently said, “My K-State experience… it was No. 1.”
Saturday night the 75-year-old Boozer died in Omaha, Neb., of a brain aneurysm. After an 11-year professional career, Boozer had returned to his home and worked with Northwestern Bell for 28 years, and for the past 14 years had also been a member of the State of Nebraska Board of Parole.
“I’m just totally shocked,” said K-State legend Ernie Barrett, who was an assistant coach for the Wildcats during Boozer’s playing years from 1955-56 through 1958-59. “Bob and I had always stayed in contact because he gave back so much to K-State. It’s just a tragic loss.”
“Bob Boozer is a K-State legend and one of the greatest basketball players to ever wear a K-State uniform,” said Athletics Director John Currie. “I enjoyed getting to know Bob and appreciate all that he did for Kansas State University. He will be missed, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Boozer family as we mourn his loss.”
A product of Omaha Technical High School, Boozer joined the Wildcats almost by default.
He was to attend Iowa, but the Hawkeyes ran out of scholarships. Kansas had shown an interest, but the Jayhawks had just signed a lad by the name of Wilt Chamberlain.
“Tex (Winter) was coaching us then and Howard Shannon and I were assistants,” reflected Barrett. “I remember when we recruited Bob, we asked him to step out in the hallway so we could talk about him. We had one scholarship to give, and we wanted to see if we agreed that the scholarship should go to Bob.”
Laughing, Barrett said, “It might have been the best decision we ever made as a coaching staff.”
Playing three years of varsity basketball, Boozer became K-State’s all-time leading scorer with 1,685 points in just 77 games. The scoring total still ranks No. 5 on the K-State career charts in a day when players are now playing over 120 games in four-year careers.
The 6-foot-8 forward/center also collected 824 rebounds during his playing years, which was a figure that ranked second only to teammate Jack Parr (889), and is a figure that ranks No. 4 on the all-time charts.
A member of the school’s All-Century team, with his No. 30 jersey in the Bramlage rafters and a member of the Kansas State and State of Nebraska Halls of Fame, Boozer helped K-State to 62 victories, a Big 7 title, a Big 8 championship and two NCAA Tournaments, which includes making it to the Final Four in 1958.
Boozer’s 10 games of at least 30 points ranks second only to Michael Beasley’s 13, and his 45 games (out of 77 games played in three years) of at least 20 points still stands as a K-State record. In second place is Jacob Pullen, who had 42 games of at least 20 points in four years in 135 games.
In 1958-59 Boozer averaged 25.6 points per game, which is a record that stood until Beasley authored 26.2 points per game in 2007-08.
All are accomplishments that led Barrett to say, “He was a remarkable player. I think he’s the best big-man in Kansas State history.”
In part, Barrett takes credit for Boozer’s excellence.
“I had come back from my career in the pros and at the time I would call Bob soft. He had to become more physical and more competitive in order to have any type of career,” said the 6-foot-2 Barrett. “We would go one-on-one for an hour after every practice and I would just beat the hell out of him. At times he was ready to fight me, but there came a time that he said those one-on-one games toughened him up and got him ready for the pros.”
After averaging 21.9 points in his Wildcat career, Boozer was the No. 1 selection in the 1959 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals, but he opted not to turn pro at that time.
“I had dreamed of playing in the Olympics. Some people in the NBA thought I was a fool to wait a year to turn pro, but for me it was the right thing to do,” said Boozer. “With the money they’re passing out today it would have been a very difficult decision, but at the time the first draft choice was getting only $15,000 or $16,000. For me, playing on an Olympic team carried more weight.”
Instead, Boozer joined the Peoria Caterpillars of the National Industrial Basketball League, which later became the National AAU Basketball League.
When 1960 rolled around, Boozer tried out, and made, the 1960 Olympic team, which he always referred to as “The First Dream Team.” Among his teammates were Oscar Robertson and the two Jerry’s – West and Lucas.
That team went 8-0 in Olympic play, averaging 101.9 points per game and winning games by an average of 42.4 points per game.
“It was a team like we had a K-State. We were family,” said Boozer. “We had some horses and it was fun to watch the horses run. Like at K-State, we got the ball off the board and we were off to the races.”
Playing against Boozer professionally, NBA great Bob Love said of Boozer, “You didn’t want to play against him because had had those long arms. He didn’t jump very high, but he knew how to use that body on you. He was a great competitor.”
Boozer would play 11 years for the Cincinnati Royals, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks, where he would conclude his career as a teammate of Lew Alcindor and where he would be part of an NBA title in 1971.
All of this earned Boozer a position into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., alongside his 1960 Olympic teammates.
Still he said, “My days at K-State were my No. 1 experience.