Talk about being outnumbered.
Downstairs on Saturday afternoon in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, I was with Lions assistant basketball coaches and former Kansas teammates Jeff Boschee and Nick Bradford and former Jayhawks coach Ted Owens when members of Bradford’s family joined us.
As Nick introduced his family to Owens, Boschee looked at me, knowing I’m a life-long Missouri Tigers fan, and smiled as he asked, “Jim, you feeling a little uncomfortable?”
Owens, who turns 85 this July, came to Joplin with his friends Mr. and Mrs. Chris Lincoln. Chris, sports director at KTUL-TV in Tulsa, was a Missouri Tigers broadcaster when he worked in Columbia in the 1970s, and he never dreamed 40 years ago that he would one day be a friend and chauffeur for a Kansas coach.
The purpose of the trip to Missouri Southern was two-fold: Ted sold and signed copies of his autobiography released late last year, “At the Hang-Up,” and he wanted to congratulate Robert Corn on his 25-year career with the Lions.
Ted’s last coaching job was at Metro Christian High School in Tulsa from 1990-95, where he was basketball coach and a fundraiser.
“It was a fun time,” he said. “At first, I was reluctant to do it, but once I started doing it, I loved every minute of it. The kids were responsive, and we had a great experience.”
During his tenure at Metro Christian, one area high school coach made the comment, “I always thought if I ever coached against Ted Owens, I’d be making a lot more money.”
Owens, who grew up on a small farm in southwest Oklahoma, is best known for his 19 years of coaching the Jayhawks from 1964-83. He compiled a 348-182 record, won a total of 15 Big 8 Conference regular-season or tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 1971 and 1974. He was fired after consecutive 13-win seasons in 1982 and 1983.
“Just being a part of a great tradition that started with Dr. (James) Naismith all the way through Dr. (Phog) Allen and the great coaches who have followed, I have the fondest memories of that place,” he said. “It’s a place that absolutely loves the game and appreciates the game. And they are pretty fair. They appreciate good plays on the part of the opponents. It was a terrific experience.”
The Jayhawks almost reached the 1966 Final Four, but in the regional final, an official’s call at the end of the first overtime extended the game. Texas Western went on to beat KU 81-80 in double overtime during its historic national championship march.
KU All-American guard Jo White hit a long shot at the end of the first OT to apparently win the game, but an official ruled White stepped on the sideline before the shot. Owens is one of many in Jayhawk Nation who still believe White never stepped out of bounds.
“We don’t think that his heel ever hit the line,” Owens said. “He pivoted, and his heel was up above the plane. Nowadays you have so many video cameras ... you could tell easily whether he did or did not. It would appear that his heel probably never hit the line. We don’t think that the official saw it. We think the official’s vision was on the basket, and then Jo landed out of bounds. But it cost us a chance to win the national championship.”
Gene Iba, former Pittsburg State coach and the cousin of then Texas Western assistant Moe Iba, has told me he’s seen the game film, and White did step on the line.
“Well naturally, the Ibas and Don Haskins (Texas Western coach), there will be a built-in different opinion,” Owens said with a smile. “We were all the way across the court, so we had a bad angle. Jo Jo swears he didn’t step out of bounds, but of course, he’d be the last guy to know whether he did or not. It makes for interesting conversation.”
Jim Henry is the sports editor of the Globe. He can be contacted at email@example.com.