Category Archives: NCAA

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 or “like” AuthorMattFulks on Facebook.


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Behind the Stats: Hancock’s “Blue Moth” lessons resonate around holidays

There are certain books that leave an indelible impression. Their words grab you, page by page, and make you part of the story. Once finished, you never forget.

I think about one of those books this time of the year. I first read the book around Thanksgiving in 2005. As odd as it seems, the book is about a blue moth.

A blue moth, really? Sure, it sounds innocent enough. Harmless. Not tough enough to be a hero such as one of the Avengers, but certainly a loveable underdog in a Saturday morning cartoon. Except in Bill Hancock’s life.

The blue moth is unsafe. Malicious. Tainted. The blue moth is the best way for Hancock to describe and deal with the grief of losing a son.

Dave Matthews sang about it in one of his solo songs: “You should never have to bury your own babies.”

Bill and Nicki Hancock did just that more than a decade ago. Their son, Will, was the media relations contact for the Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team. He was on the plane on January 27, 2001, that crashed in Colorado, claiming his life as well as nine others from the OSU basketball family. Will was 31 years old.

“(The grief) doesn’t get easier, but you learn to live with it,” Bill Hancock told me when I originally wrote this column in 2005. “That’s an important distinction for me. You think this overwhelming grief and helplessness will be with you constantly but I now know that the blue moth will come two or three times a day, whenever it wants to, and then go away.”

If you didn’t know about the accident when talking with Bill Hancock, you’d likely have no idea a tragedy has befallen such a wonderful person. Think of your favorite teacher or coach or uncle and you have Bill Hancock.

Hancock, who is executive director of the NCAA’s new football playoff after serving as the first Bowl Championship Series administrator … after serving as the organization’s long-time director of the Men’s Basketball Tournament, is one of the most respected men in media circles. He’s proof that life isn’t fair sometimes.

Especially this time of the year; a time of family and giving thanks. For anyone who’s suffered a loss, the holidays in particular are tough. Always. But Will Hancock loved this time of year so much. He was a big kid inside. He genuinely enjoyed sitting with the family on Thanksgiving Day. And then participating in their annual touch football game on Friday.

“The holidays are really difficult because of the memories and because I know Will ought to be with us at the Thanksgiving table,” Bill says. “We have (three) terrific grandchildren, so the thrust for me now is making sure the holidays are memorable for them for the good times and not that their granddad’s curled up in tears in the chair.”

The blue moth and one of those grandchildren, Andie, Will’s daughter who was 72 days old on that wretched January night, are the focus of Bill’s first book, “Riding with the Blue Moth.” Understandably, Hancock says his number one wish in life is that he wouldn’t have had a reason to write this book. But anyone who reads it can’t help but be better for it.

The book chronicles a 36-day cross-country bike ride that Hancock took several months after the crash.

Early in the book, Bill writes about how he had planned on taking the bike ride before the crash. In fact, Bill and Nicki Hancock spent much of that unseasonably warm January 27th day near their Kansas City home shopping for a vehicle, a SAG vehicle, if you will. Bill had a dream of riding his bike across America.

In July of that year, with Nicki as his “support and guidance,” Bill set off on the adventure. At the time it wasn’t for therapy or release. It was to ride. And to be with his wife.

We were going on an adventure,” he writes in the book. “Nothing more.

The ride helped his soul, though.

“In hindsight, it became much more than an adventure,” he says, “but I didn’t understand that at the time. From my vantage point, it was a healing time for me but even more importantly I have learned things that have helped other people.”

The biggest outlet for that help has come in the form of “Riding with the Blue Moth.” The book is Charles Kuralt, Jimmy Stewart and John Denver rolled into one, with a little Levi Leipheimer sprinkled on top. It’s a poignant look at dealing with grief, a father’s love for his oldest son, and an intriguing look at America passing by at 12 miles per hour on two wheels.

The book is a constant roller coaster. One page will bring tears to your eyes as Hancock describes witnessing a father yelling at his young son at a service station in New Mexico.

I wanted to grab him by the chest hairs and tell him, ‘You idiot! Do you realize that child is your greatest treasure? You have the luxury of hugging your son, telling him that you love him and buying a hot fudge sundae for him. That is your privilege, not your right. Do not take it for granted!

A few pages later, you’ll be laughing when Hancock writes about the next morning’s ride, which came on the heels of an overnight rain shower.

An army of frogs had trained in the flooded ditches and several made the mistake of conducting maneuvers on the highway.

“Riding with the Blue Moth” oozes with life lessons. That might be Hancock’s disputing that he’s an athlete for riding his 2,746 miles, stating: “I was just putting one foot in front of the other.

Or his encounter with Steve, who ran a roadside peach stand in Georgia. Steve, whom Hancock nicknamed the “Peach Angel,” gave Hancock a free peach and then they chatted for awhile.

“His message was what you’ve got is what you’ve got,” Hancock says. “I still get chills thinking about the 15 minutes that I spent with him that morning. It was the singular most important moment of the trip, and one of the most important in my life.

“Another lesson from that is when Steve went out there that day, he didn’t know he was going to meet a biker. He was just going out to do his daily chores. That could happen to us. We might be going out for our daily chores and run in to somebody and change his or her life.”

After each day’s ride, Hancock offers words of wisdom to Will’s daughter, Andie. They’re words that apply to all of us.

And what lesson did Hancock discover about people from those 36 days?

“I learned that people are compassionate and warm and interested,” he said. “Every time I started a conversation with someone, they wanted to know where I was going and what I thought I would experience. They gave me water and food. They cared.

“It confirmed that people, especially Americans, are wonderful. I told only one person that I worked at the NCAA, and I didn’t tell anyone about the accident. To them, I was just a guy on a bike.”

During the ride in the summer of 2001, Hancock also learned about the blue moth of grief. How to understand it. How to live with it. And how he has wonderful SAG assistance all around. That’s especially helpful to know during the holidays.

“Oh, gosh, we still have so much to be thankful for,” he said. “Primarily that we can live on this planet with these wonderful people. You can’t imagine the tsunami of warmth that we’ve received. Three things that have carried us through: faith, family, friends. … I’m thankful that I have the three F’s.”

A few times during “Riding with the Blue Moth,” you’ll read about how many lives Will Hancock touched during his short time on this earth. Now, his spirit, through Bill Hancock, is touching even more.

As soon as you’re done reading this article, do something for me: thank your family. Tell them how much you love them. And hug them. Not one of those half-hearted, nice-to-see-you-again-today kind of hugs. Rather, give them a George Bailey “It’s a Wonderful Life” mugging-the-kids-after-getting-a-second-chance kind of hug.

And then say a prayer of thanks for Bill Hancock and his family. For raising a wonderful son. For loving him the way he does. And for giving us a life-changing book.

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