Bill Self – Homegrown But Not Home Bound

Self Photo

I’ve known Bill Self since his high school days at Edmond Memorial, when as a sophomore, he almost brought the Bulldogs back against Yukon in the 1979 5A State Championship game.  What struck me about him then was his outgoing personality, unusual for most teenagers, and his thirst for knowledge about the game of basketball.

Self was back in his old stomping grounds last night to pick up the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He reminded me of his personal connection to the late superstar, having played with Wonderful Wayman for two years on the Oklahoma Rams, the outstanding AAU team that was dominant nationally in the 1980s.

“First trip we took, we drove to Las Vegas, in a 12 or 15 passenger van and the air conditioner went out. It took us 27 hours and we were actually stranded on the highway part of the time,” Self said. “I remember sitting in the seat with (future OSU teammate) Joe Atkinson and Wayman behind me, they had no place to put their legs, so they put their legs over my shoulders and I’m thinking how many more hours? I was mad I took a shower that day.”

“I remember the first game I played with Wayman, he scored four points and had two rebounds and I had 27. And after the game, it was like a reception line with the college coaches, you had Tubbs, John Thompson, everybody and not one man spoke to me.  Every one of those coaches could not wait to say ‘Wayman, you were great today, you played great!’  And I thought, really?  And then the next game he had about 50 points so I understood why they were all lined up. But it was fun because he was so good.”

Self was a year ahead of Tisdale and the great Oklahoma class of 1982 that also produced NBA star Mark Price among others.  He was a good but not great player at Oklahoma State, and he was savvy enough to keep building the basketball connections that would take him to head coaching stints at ORU, Tulsa, Illinois and eventually Kansas, where he had spent time as an assistant to Larry Brown. He is now considered one of the top five coaches in the NCAA and has won several national coach of the year awards.

But picking up the Tisdale Humanitarian Award was something special for the Jayhawks coach and an honor that he was surprised to receive.

“First of all, they could have picked a lot of guys more deserving of a humanitarian award than me. But it does mean a lot, because first of all, happening in Oklahoma City and then having Wayman’s name on it,” said Self. “I was by no means in competition with him in anything, but I did play during the same era and I saw how he revolutionized basketball in our state. He more than anybody else. You could say Billy Tubbs and Nolan Richardson had a strong hand in doing that, but Wayman changed the whole climate of everything going on here. And to have a guy do it that was such a personality and maybe as good of an ambassador as anybody as our state has known, at least that I’m aware of, is very cool.”

Self and his wife Cindy, have been involved in numerous events that have raised money and awareness for many charities, making him a worthwhile selection for the award.  I can personally attest to his willingness to get involved. Several years ago, he stepped to help me in a fundraising effort for Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, providing signed memorabilia and making a radio appearance to promote the cause.  Self has never forgotten his roots and still has many close friends in Oklahoma.

Still, he is firmly entrenched at Kansas, one of the storied programs of college basketball.  As much as Oklahoma State fans would love to dream that Self would give that up to return to his alma mater, that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future – and maybe not ever.

 

 

Advertisements

Granville Liggins – All-Time Sooner Great

He may not have realized it at the time, but Granville Liggins was a trailblazer for future athletes at Oklahoma. 

Although OU had welcomed a number of black players since Bud Wilkinson had desegregated the team by bringing in Prentice Gautt in 1956, Liggins became the first black player from OU to gain All-American status, paving the way for the host of African-American athletes who followed him. 

Being a black player in NCAA football in the mid-60s was much different than it is today.

“It was quite scary, actually.  In 1963 and 64, there were only three or four black players on the football team – and only about 100 black students out of about 18,000 on campus,” Liggins recalled.  “We didn’t have many experiences off-campus.  Today, as we speak, the black kids have a helluva lot more fun socializing and doing things away from school than we ever did. The only exciting things that happened to me at OU were on the football field. 

Racism was never a factor on the football field, but it was driven home for Liggins during the off-season in his hometown of Tulsa.

“On my summer job in 1966, I was working at a paper company and one day I went to lunch at a restaurant with some other guys who were white,” Liggins said.  “I was told by the manager of the restaurant that I couldn’t eat my lunch there.  As an 18 or 19-year-old kid, I was stunned.”

“And as I sat outside and ate, I wondered to myself  “if this was OU and Notre Dame playing on a Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma, would those same people who refused to let me eat in their restaurant be cheering for me?”  Of course they would.  It hurt, but I just moved on.”

It had always been Liggins’ dream to play at OU for Bud Wilkinson.  He grew up idolizing lineman Ed McQuarters, another Tulsa Washington grad who starred for the Sooners in the early ‘60s.  Liggins listened to the OU games on the radio and watched Wilkinson ‘move those little pieces around on the chalk board’ on the weekly Sooner Football television show.  He never got to play for Wilkinson, as the legendary coach resigned to run for the U.S. Senate shortly after Liggins had committed to the Sooners.

And even though he went on to be a two-time All-American for the Sooners in football, Liggins’ greatest moment in Oklahoma athletics may not have even occurred on the gridiron. 

Granville LigginsAs a junior, Liggins was pressed into service by the OU wrestling team, which was in desperate need of a heavyweight.  The 5-11, 212 lb. Liggins had been a star grappler in high school, but at this level, he often had to go against opponents that were 50 to 100 pounds heavier.

“The Big Eight Championships were in the old field house at OU, “ Liggins remembered.  “I wrestled some guy about 6-6 and 280 lbs.  And somehow I beat him.  Everybody went crazy and I was hoisted around the field house and everybody was chanting ‘Granny, Granny, Granny’.  It still sends tingles up my spine to think about it.”

Liggins went on to become an All-American in wrestling as well, losing in the NCAA Championships to future NFL star Curley Culp, a 300-pounder.

Despite his small stature, Liggins was a demon for the Sooners at middle guard, taking on larger opponents and outmaneuvering them with his speed and quickness.  That was a trademark of Sooner teams of that era.

“We had the lightest defensive line in college football.  I think we averaged about 210 lbs. across the front but the one thing about OU is that we were fast from sideline to sideline.  They couldn’t run around us.”

But many teams still tried, including old Sooner nemesis Notre Dame.  Liggins calls the meeting against the Fighting Irish in 1966 as the biggest game of his career.

“They had Terry Hanratty, Alan Page, and Nick Eddy and their offensive line averaged about 250,” Liggins said.  “For two or three quarters, they tried to run around the end, but finally (Notre Dame coach) Parseghian got wise and they go the bright idea to run right at us and just wore us out.”

The other Oklahoma game that stands out in Liggins mind was the 1968 Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.  It was a bittersweet moment for the senior, as he suffered a knee in jury in the third quarter and had to miss the Hula Bowl All-Star game.

That might have affected his NFL draft status as well, as he only went in the 10th round to the Detroit Lions despite finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.  Their offer was not enough to suit Liggins, but another one was.  It came from the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders and it would change his life.

“I didn’t know where the hell Canada was then.  All I knew is that it was up north”, laughed Liggins. “My size was an issue with the NFL, but in the CFL, the bigger field gave me a chance to use my speed.”

“I had a ten-year run in Canada, when most pro careers average five to five and a half years. The best thing that ever happened to me was coming to Canada.  It’s a great place to live. I was truly blessed.”

Liggins played on Calgary’s Grey Cup championship team in 1971, defeating the Toronto Argonauts.  Ironically, Liggins was traded to the Argos in 1973 and recently, he was named as one of top five greatest players in Toronto history.  Staying in Canada, Liggins still makes his home in Oakville, Ontario.

Even though he now considers himself a Canadian, after spending more than half of his life north of the border, Liggins holds fondness for Oklahoma and the Sooners.  His mother lives in Oklahoma City and he still wears his “O” Club ring and the Orange Bowl/Big 8 Championship watch he got after his senior year alongside his Grey Cup Championship ring.

Liggins said he almost fell on the floor when told that he had been selected as one of OU’s greatest players.

“I’m amazed that people in Oklahoma still remember my name.  That is very humbling”, admitted Liggins.  “My years at OU, that was a great ride.  Every year I pull for those guys, but I don’t have the opportunity to get back there very often.”

“I was just fortunate.  Very few people get to do what they want to do.  I wanted to play football at OU.  I wanted to be an All-American.  I wanted to play in the NFL, but wound up in the CFL, which was a blessing for me.  When I retired from football at 32, my life was complete.  Everything since then has been a bonus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: