B.H. Born: A True Jayhawk

Earlier today, it was announced that former KU basketball great, B.H. Born, passed away a few days ago. He was 80. The news gave me an immediate flashback to a “Where Are They Now?” article I wrote about Born for the Kansas City Star, I thought, a few years ago. Indeed, it was a “few years ago.” Ten to be exact…well, nine years and 10 months, but who’s counting. So, here’s a reprint of that article that ran on April 4, 2003, as the Jayhawks were preparing to play in the Final Four in New Orleans.

As baseball legend Yogi Berra might say about the Kansas Jayhawks: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Except, instead of going to the 2002 Final Four with player of the year Drew Gooden and then having the likes of Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich step up and lead the team to the 2003 Final Four, a similar scenario played out exactly 50 years ago for Kansas. After winning the national championship in 1952 with player of the year Clyde Lovellette, the 1953 Jayhawks got an incredible year from other players, and made it back to the national championship game.

Specifically in 1953, B.H. Born, a 6-9 junior post player from Medicine Lodge, Kan., gave the Jayhawks a boost. After seeing limited action as a sophomore behind Lovellette, averaging just 1.4 points a game, Born broke out in 1953 and led the Jayhawks in scoring with an 18.9 average.

“Everybody thought I was a flop after my sophomore year. I was an All-American high school player, but (head coach) Doc (“Phog” Allen) didn’t play me much since we had Clyde,” Born said. “So, I spent most of my time during my sophomore year on the bench.”

Today, Born, 70, lives in Peoria, Ill., with his wife of 45 years, Joan. Although he retired from Caterpillar Tractor Company in the late 1990s, Born remains active with the Alzheimer’s Association. Over the last six years, through a breakfast he has chaired, he has helped raise $50,000 for the organization.

Born, who played at Kansas during 1952-54, went to work and play basketball for Caterpillar shortly after graduation. He played in the AAU, where players worked for a company and played basketball for that company’s team.

He played for Caterpillar for five years and worked 43 years for the company in personnel and public affairs.

“I did a lot of hiring of the technical (engineering) people for about 40 years,” he said. “During my last three years, I led the activity programs, heading about 15 different programs that we had. We had a motor sports club, stamp club, square-dance club. You name it, we had a club for it.”

Playing for Caterpillar in 1958, Born was a member of the first U.S. team of any kind to play in the Soviet Union. The American team played six games in three cities, winning each one.

Born’s biggest contribution on the court, however, came at Kansas in 1953.

Although the biggest difference between the 1953 and 2003 Kansas teams is that the 1953 squad lost seven players to graduation, the two seasons are uncannily similar. That team, much like this year’s, wasn’t expected to do a lot despite reaching the Final Four the previous season. And, much like this year’s team, the questions about the team started after an early-season loss. The 1953 Jayhawks lost their second game of the season to Rice.

But in much the same way that Collison, Hinrich and Keith Langford have stepped up this year, Born and the Kelley brothers – Al and Dean (the only returning starter from 1952) – led the 1953 Jayhawks to an undefeated record at home and the conference championship.

“At the start of the year, we felt like we were the underdog,” Born said. “But, we were in shape and we would outrun some of the teams. We won quite a few games that people didn’t expect.”

Another huge similarity: defense.

“Our defense is the reason we won. We pressured at the half-court line,” said Born. “When we played Washington in the semifinals, we had eight points before they shot the ball. We shocked them a little because they thought they were going to roll right through us. We used to push that defense.”

The Jayhawks eventually lost the national championship to Indiana at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. But Born, the only KU starter taller than 6-1, scored 51 points in the Final Four – more points than he scored during the entire 1952 season. He won the MVP award for the tournament, becoming the first player from a losing team to do so.

“Winning the 1952 tournament was the highlight of my time at KU. The other highlight was being the MVP of the tournament in 1953,” he said. “I wasn’t happy about losing the game, obviously, which takes a little away from the honor.”

Although Born would trade his MVP award for the national championship in 1953, the honor possibly has helped him return to other Final Fours.

“I usually put a note on the (Final Four ticket) application that says something like, ‘I was the MVP of the tournament in 1953, and I’d sure like to get back to the tournament.’ Then I include my address and phone number. I don’t know if it helps, but I have been getting tickets, so maybe it does. There’s one advantage to being the MVP, I guess.”

Eventually, I’ll start updating the blog on a regular basis. Eventually. In the meantime, feel free to visit MattFulks.com or “like” AuthorMattFulks on Facebook.

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