Christine Metz Howard
KU News Service

Willmott film 'Jayhawkers' explores Chamberlain era

Thu, 02/06/2014

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Film and Media Studies Professor Kevin Willmott’s latest film, “Jayhawkers,” examines the intersection of three legendary KU figures – Wilt Chamberlain, Phog Allen and Chancellor Frank Murphy.  

Just a year after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, the much-sought-after Chamberlain came to KU to play under Allen, a pioneer in basketball coaching. The arrival of Chamberlain at KU not only marked a shift toward the practice of high stakes recruiting in college basketball, but a change in the treatment of African-Americans in Lawrence. Chamberlain was a celebrity before his arrival at KU, Willmott said, and that shaped how he was treated in a city that had segregated restaurants and theaters.

“It really was an amazing triangle effect of these three men,” Willmott said. “Murphy tells Wilt to be himself, and Wilt is himself. He  goes where he wants to go, he dates whom he wants to date, and his is a very modern figure in that sense. Celebrities tend to do what they want to do. And, he uses the power of celebrity to break things open.”

The film premieres at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at the Lied Center. Additional screenings will be at 11 a.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, and 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16. The 11 a.m. Saturday showing will have video descriptions for the visually impaired. Tickets can be purchased at the Lied Center box office. Crown Toyota Automotive, Douglas County Bank and Student Union Activities are sponsoring the Lied Center screenings.

Willmott, whose two previous films, “C.S.A. Confederate States of America” and ‘The Only Good Indian,” have shown at the Sundance Film Festival, became interested in the story of Chamberlain’s time in Lawrence shortly after the legendary basketball player’s death in 1999.

A Philadelphia native, Chamberlain played for KU from 1955 to 1958, averaging 29.9 points a game and 18.3 rebounds. He led KU to one Big Seven championship and an appearance in the 1957 NCAA National Championship Game against the University of North Carolina, which is considered one of the greatest games in tournament history.

In 1958 at the end of his junior year, Chamberlain left KU to launch his professional career with the Harlem Globetrotters and went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA. He didn’t return to KU until 1998, when his jersey, No. 13, was retired in Allen Fieldhouse.

“The question always was why didn’t Wilt come back?” Willmott said. “And, that was really the hook that got me from the very beginning. What was going on here that he didn’t come back? And, the answer is pretty complicated, and it is a pretty amazing answer.”

Playing Chamberlain is KU men’s basketball forward Justin Wesley. Although Wesley didn’t come to the role with any acting experience, Willmott said the Fort Worth, Texas, senior had a shared experience of coming from a large urban area to a smaller town and playing for a legendary program and coach.

The other two lead roles are played by KU graduates. Kip Niven, whose 45-year career includes “Magnum Force” and “Return to Lonesome Dove,’” portrays Allen. Jay Karnes, who is known for his work in “The Shield” and “Burn Notice,” plays Murphy.

Shot in black and white, the film’s style draws inspiration from the work of Rich Clarkson, a KU alumnus who captured some of the most iconic photos taken of Chamberlain while he was a Jayhawk. The soundtrack pulls from jazz musician Nathan Davis, another KU alumnus who was in school during Chamberlain’s time at the university and who is featured in the film.

Although the film has strong KU ties, Willmott argues it comes with national significance.

“It was really the introduction of the major black athlete,” Willmott said.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: #KULibraries #KUWorks…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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