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News release prepared by: Mark Janssen, K-State athletics

Friday, Aug. 13, 2010


MANHATTAN -- Bob Boozer had a dream and he followed it.

The former Kansas State Wildcat delayed his entry into professional basketball for the right to try out for the 1960 Olympic basketball team. Boozer made that team, and tonight in Springfield, Mass., that Gold Medal-winning team will enter the storied Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Times have changes, Boozer said.

"With the money they're passing out today, it would have been a very difficult decision. But at the time, the No. 1 draft choice was only getting $15,000 or $16,000, and for me, the possibility of making an Olympic team was a single chance of a lifetime to fulfill a dream."

After a three-year playing career at K-State, the 6-foot-8 native of Omaha, Neb., was the No. 1 overall selection in the 1959 NBA draft by the Cincinnati Royals.

Boozer had averaged a school record 21.9 points in his 77 games as a Wildcat, which included 62 victories. He was a vital cog in Tex Winter's "Purple Machine" that won the Big Seven title in his junior year, 1957-58, and the first-ever Big 8 Championship the next year when the Wildcats went 14-0 and reached No. 1 status in the nation.

Still, there was more for Boozer to accomplish as an amateur player.

"Since I was young, I always dreamed of playing in the Olympics," said Boozer, member of K-State's Hall of Fame, the university's "All Century" team and one of just 10 Wildcats to have his uniform retired. "Some people in the NBA thought I was a fool to wait a year to start my professional career, but for me, it was the right thing to do.

"I knew it was a long shot to make the team, but it was going to be my only opportunity," he said.

You may have never heard of the NIBL. The National Industrial Basketball League was formed in 1947 and later became the National AAU Basketball League.

In his year-in-waiting to try out for the 1960 Olympics, Boozer played for the Peoria Cats in a league that included the Bartlesville Phillips 66ers, Wichita Vickers, Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, Denver-Chicago Truckers and New York Tuck Tapers, to name a few.

"You worked for your company for eight hours a day, and then you practiced and played basketball for your corporation," said Boozer. "It was very competitive -- a step above college basketball."

Boozer said his Peoria team won the postseason tournament in Denver, and then advanced to an Olympic tournament that included a small college all-star team; a team of university all-stars, including Jerry West, Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson; an armed forces all-star unit; and a group from the NIBL.

Just hours after the tournament, Boozer heard his name as one of 12 called to make up the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

"Now, that was a thrill," he said. "I had made the sacrifice to not turn pro, and without a guarantee that I would make the USA team. So to hear my named called was very rewarding and exciting."

The 12 members of the team were Jay Arnette, Texas; Walt Bellamy, Indiana; Bob Boozer, Peoria Caterpillars and K-State; Terry Dischinger, Purdue; Burdette Haldorson, Bartlesville Phillips 66ers and Colorado; Darrall Imoff, California; Allen Kelley, Peoria Caterpillars and Kansas; Lester Lane, Oklahoma; Jerry Lucas, Ohio State; Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati; Adrian Smith, U.S. armed forces  and Kentucky; and Jerry West, West Virginia. The head coach was Pete Newell; assistant coach was Warren Womble.

This year's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class includes eight individuals and two teams: Jerry Buss, Cynthia Cooper, Bob Hurley Sr., Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, members of the 1960 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team and the 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, also known as the "Dream Team." The hall's class also includes three legendary players: Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson and international star Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira, who are being honored posthumously.

Featuring Oscar Robertson and the two Jerrys -- West and Lucas -- the 1960 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team might have been the first "Dream Team" before the famed 1992 unit with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

"We were recognized as a strong team. For its time, one certainly to be compared to the 'Dream Teams' of today," said Boozer, now 73 and living in Omaha. "We were a team recognized as one that should win the gold and we did. We definitely think we were the first 'Dream Team.'"

The USA did win gold, going 8-0, averaging 101.9 points and winning games by a 42.4-point average. It was a greater margin of victory than the 1992 gang had on their way to a golden finish.

"It was like a team we had at K-State. We were a family," said Boozer. "We were special. 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."

While it was natural that Robertson, Lucas and West received the headlines, Boozer said it was a team without egos.

"We had a group of starters, but we substituted five-for-five and that second group really got after you," said Boozer, who was one of the reserves and averaged 8.6 point in Olympic competition. "We had teams play with us in the first half, but our strength was the second half when we just wore teams down. We were overpowering."

The USA scored at least 104 points in five of its eight games, which included a 112-81 victory over host Italy in the semifinals before a 90-63 thumping of Brazil for the gold medal.

To this day, Boozer calls his days at K-State the best experience of his life.

"To win the gold medal, to represent your country, to hear the star spangled banner -- that ranks ahead of anything I did professionally, which includes winning the NBA championship when I was with Milwaukee. But that K-State experience -- it was No. 1," he said.

Boozer said he's stayed in touch with Robertson more so than any other of his Olympic teammates. Frequently, he says, stories are re-re-re-re-told of the K-State vs. Cincinnati games.

The first was in 1958 in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Lawrence where the Wildcats won 83-80 in double-overtime.

"Robertson still says he was cheated," Boozer laughs. "I forget if it was regulation or overtime, but we led by two with only a few seconds left when he was fouled. Well, he made the first one, but when the ref threw him the ball, he put it on the floor and started to walk to the other end of the floor shaking his hands trying to get them loose.

"At the same time, the referee was making the 10-count. His teammates started hollering at him to come shoot, but by the time he got back to the ball, the count was at eight, so he had to hurry his shot and he missed it," Boozer said. "He missed it, and I guarantee you it was all purple and white around the rim for the rebound and we beat them.

"To this day, and he's serious about it, he thinks Cincinnati was robbed."

The next year the "Big O" and the Bearcats got sweet revenge with an 85-75 victory over the then 25-1 and No. 1 ranked Wildcats, ending their season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.