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Know Your KU History: Walt Wesley

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It’s time to get to know one of KU’s best NBA products that you’ve never heard of.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, let’s mention this: Walt Wesley holds the record for most points scored in a single half of one game for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yep. LeBron James scored 56 points in a single game in 2005, but his scoring was so balanced that Wesley still holds the record for a half. Wesley scored 34 points in the second half of the game on February 19, 1971 against the Cincinnati Royals. The KU product finished with 50 in that one, and James is the only Cav to have ever surpassed Wesley’s as he toiled away for the expansion Cavs. In that game, the Florida native made 20 field goals (still a Cavaliers record) and added ten free throws. Not bad.

It was in those two years that he spent with the Cleveland Cavaliers that Wesley had his most productive seasons in professional basketball. In the 1970-71 season, Walt averaged 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest. The following year, he averaged 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds and he never averaged double figures again in points or as high as 6.3 rebounds per game at any other point in his ten-year NBA career.

The 6’11" product was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Royals with the sixth pick in the 1966 NBA draft. Since his start in Cincy and his dominance in Cleveland, Wesley had stops in Phoenix, Washington, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and with the Los Angeles Lakers. Over his entire career, he averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.

But let’s step back from his NBA career and take a look at how it all started for Wesley. He grew up in Fort Myers, Florida and attended the local all black high school, Dunbar. Segregation was strong in the south and Wesley got out and decided that Kansas was the place to play collegiately.

During his time on Mount Oread, Wesley had his share of ups and downs. During his sophomore campaign of 1963-64 (his first season of eligibility), Wesley was declared ineligible for the second semester. In the first 13 games of the season, Walt put up pretty nice numbers: 10.5 points and 5.9 boards per game. KU slumped to a 13-12 record and a third place finish in conference at 8-6.

Wesley rebounded by having an outstanding junior season for Kansas. He averaged 23.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game that season. In the 64-65 season, Wesley scored 28 points in a win at Kansas State, 38 in New York City against St. John’s, and a career high 42 against Loyola University. That 42 still stands as the eighth best total ever by a Kansas player. KU went 17-8 that season but finished second in the league and failed to make the NCAA tournament.

The 1965-66 season was another magical season for Wesley from a personal standpoint, but this time, the team made strides as well. This was the team that made a deep NCAA tournament run, a run that ended because JoJo White’s foot was deemed to be on the out of bounds line when he made a crucial late basket against Texas Western. Despite that memorable game, Wesley had many others that season as he averaged 20.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in his senior season. He made the first team All-Big 8 and was named to the All-American team.

He currently sits at number 28 on KU’s all-time scoring list with 1,315 points, but here’s the impressive part: Walt Wesley only played in 68 games. Only Wilt Chamberlain is above Walt on the all time list with fewer games played. In fact only six players above Wesley played in less than 100 games: Chamberlain (#23/43 games), Clyde Lovellette (#4/80 games), Bud Stallworth (#20/82 games), Dave Robisch (#9/83 games), and Drew Gooden (#18/98 games). That’s some pretty good company.