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Know Your KU History: Wayne Hightower

If you’re going to follow someone’s career path, it might as well be Wilt Chamberlain’s.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about pressure. Wayne Hightower’s basketball career must have been steeped in it. Wayne Hightower went to the same high school as Wilt Chamberlain, Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. He then proceeded to follow Wilt Chamberlain at the University of Kansas, where he starred for KU for two years. Then, for good measure, Hightower was drafted by the Warriors just as Chamberlain was.

Oh, and he was pretty good too.

To compare Wayne Hightower to Wilt Chamberlain is unfair on just about every level, so let’s look at Hightower as his own entity, not as someone who was siphoned through the exact same career path as a player who is widely regarded as one of the best two players to ever lace up his Converses.

Hightower arrived in Lawrence in 1958 and got started as a sophomore in the 1959-60 season. That year, Wayne scored and rebounded the ball with the best of them. At six feet, eight inches tall, he could dominate the game from many spots on the floor. Hightower averaged 21.8 points and 10.1 rebounds in his first season in Lawrence. That scoring average was enough to be the highest scorer in the Big Eight. He was named to the first team All-Big Eight for his efforts.

His junior season in Lawrence wasn’t bad either. In 25 games, Hightower averaged 20.7 points and 11.6 boards. He was again named to the All-Big Eight team. This was his last season in Lawrence, but it is also where his career path diverged from Chamberlain’s.

Citing a need for money, Hightower left Kansas early and pursued a career in Europe with Real Madrid. He played one season in the Spanish capital, leading Real to the Spanish Primera Division crown and a place in the European final against Soviet powerhouse Dinimo Tblisi. Hightower’s Madrid lost, but his stock continued to rise as he was then drafted fifth overall into the NBA with the San Francisco Warriors.

His path crossed Wilt’s again in the bay area and in the 1963-64 season, the Kansas duo took the Warriors all the way to the NBA Finals before dropping the series to the Boston Celtics in five games.

Statistically speaking, that 63-64 season was Hightower’s best while in the NBA. He averaged 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. He played a total of five seasons in the NBA with the Warriors, Baltimore Bullets, and Detroit Pistons before taking his talents to the ABA.

In his five seasons in the ABA, Hightower played for the Denver Rockets, Los Angeles/Utah Stars, Texas Chaparrals, and Carolina Cougars. His finest season came in 1969-70 when he played for the Los Angeles Stars. That season, he averaged 18.1 points and 9.4 rebounds for game. He retired from basketball following the 1972 season.

Hightower retired to his native Philadelphia and was active in his local church. He died in April of 2002 from a heart attack.