Walt Wesley Steps Out of the Phog

Carolyn Hastings, Cleveland Cavaliers News, March 31, 2008

Walt Wesley, the man who set the infamous 1966 Jo Jo White pick which made the movie Glory Road possible, quietly shepherds at-risk youth through tough times. Wesley, a Police Athletic League (PAL) executive in Fort Myers, Florida, offers a balanced perspective, stressing education:

It’s great to have aspirations of being a pro athlete, but you have to bring more to the table than being able to play the game. Not all of us that have aspirations are going to succeed, but there are other parts of the game you can succeed in, and an educational background will help.

His surroundings aren’t ideal; Gulfshore Life described the PAL facilities as “a windowless portable building in a city park off Marsh Avenue.” I can only imagine Walt’s response. “Let me tell you a story,” he might begin, “a tale of two cultures and one love.”

In the 1960’s, if you were black and of high school age, you attended Fort Myer’s Dunbar High, Lee County’s all-black high school. White kids went to Fort Myers High School; segregation was a way of life. Colleges in Florida were not accepting applications from black athletes.

It’s not that we weren’t capable, or good enough academically.

We just weren’t recruited. There was a segregated system, and it was tough. Fortunately, I was recruited by several schools out of the midwest and that’s where I chose to go. (Source: News-Press)

The University of Kansas, not just any midwest school, and Walt Wesley, not just any high school basketball player, clasped hands and set records. This black Crimson and Blue star would twice be named All American; averaging 19.3 points per game, Walt is still one of the top 25 leading scorers in KU basketball history.

And that is how Walt Wesley found himself the unintentional catalyst for a world famous movie. The 1966 Midwest Regional Finals are coming to a close in Lubbock, Texas with a nail biter between the #4 ranked Kansas Jayhawks and the #2 ranked Texas Western (now known as The University of Texas at El Paso or UTEP) Miners. Walt sets a pick; Jo Jo White grabs the ball, flinging a ridiculous 30-footer as the buzzer sounds. Swish. Kansas is Final Four bound. And then - the whistle.

Referee Rudy Marich points to the floor on bended knee. Everyone squints to see the bug. No, not a bug? Out of bounds? Jo Jo White stepped out of bounds?

“To this day, I don’t think he stepped out,” says Walt. “Like a lot of other controversial calls, once it’s made, it stays. What made it even more difficult is that this team won the national championship.”

Ted Owens likes to tell it this way:

If you ask anybody in Lawrence, Kan., no, he never stepped out. I ran into Don Haskins [Texas Western coach] at an airport a few months after that and he said Jo Jo was out by a good yard.