Walt Wesley reflects on basketball career and his impact in Fort Myers

Author: Zach Oliveri
Published: Updated:

When you step into Walt Wesley’s living room in Fort Myers, you can see his basketball career on full display. Posterizing dunks are captured in framed photos among his favorite Kansas basketball jerseys.

Initally, sports, especially basketball, wasn’t top of mind for Wesley. That changed when he discovered a love for the game while at Dunbar High School.

“We had some others in the neighborhood that enjoyed playing and when I went out, I experienced some success at it,” Wesley recalled. “When I shot the ball and it went in, that was always good. So you know and going out to the blacktop for pickup games, the fellas pick you up you know you get excited about that. You’re not the one left on the sidelines. You’re not the one last picked.”

When it came to recruiting Wesley in the early 1960’s, the in-state universities didn’t give him a look.

“At the time it was segregated, Florida, Florida State those schools was out of the question. That was not going to happen,” Wesley explained.

Wesley set his sights towards the Midwest. He knew he was going to be a Kansas Jayhawk. Nothing was better for Wesley than playing at the famed Allen Fieldhouse.

“I don’t think there’s any place in the country that can top playing at Allen Fieldhouse,” Wesley said. “You walk in there for a basketball game you get hyped up.”

During my conversation with Walt, he shared what it was like to play away from home. He brought a trip to Arkansas, who was trying to get out of the game.

“We didn’t stay in Arkansas. We stayed in Missouri and bussed in to Arkansas and coming out,” Wesley recalled. “And we had an escort on the court off the court,”

He went on to say, “some of it you expected some of it you didn’t the name calling. You say to yourself I can live with it it’s not the end of the world. If I go out here and do my job, I get to laugh and say look at them.”

With the way Wesley played with the Jayhawks, that happened a lot. He was recognized as a two-time consensus All-American. Wesley was heading to the professional ranks when he was selected with the sixth pick in the 1966 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals, where he got to play with one of the greats, Oscar Robertson.

“He took us one day and said why you shooting out there that don’t make sense,” Wesley said. “Come on in here. Hey its wasted energy. He showed us how to work in that space. And with me being 6’11” they always wanted you down on the block.”

Wesley played 10 seasons in the NBA. After some time coaching, it was time for Wesley to offer a different kind of coaching. This time, for kids in his community of Fort Myers as the director of the S.T.A.R.S Complex. Through that role, Wesley gave the kids a new outlook on athletics and education.

“Don’t let the athletics part of it consume you to the fact that you don’t take advantage of being a student athlete,’ Wesley explained. “If you’re fortunate enough to be a student athlete and get a scholarship, make use of that scholarship.”

When asked about his legacy in Fort Myers, Wesley’s response was simple:

“Walt was someone who cared,” Wesley said. “And he came back and tried to make a difference.”

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