Team 1 of the Shocker Invitational, to be played out over the next weeks and months, is led by the great Cleo Littleton.
Littleton is the leading scorer in WSU basketball history with 2,164 points. He was remarkably consistent during his four seasons, from 1951-55, averaging 18.5 points as a freshman, 18.3 as a sophomore, 18.2 as a junior and 21.2 as a senior in 1954-55.
He was the best player on the 1953-54 team that finished 27-4 and lost to Bowling Green in the first round of the NIT in New York City.
The 6-foot-3 Littleton, an East High product who has always lived in Wichita, is an all-time Shocker great.
His teammates in the Shocker Invitational include 6-10 center Sasha Radunovich, who played for Gene Smithson and Eddie Fogler in the 1980s, and the guard tandem of Dwight Praylow, another former Smithson and Fogler player who scored 983 points during his career, and current Shocker point guard Fred VanVleet, a sophomore who seems destined to carve his place in Shocker lore.
But the most interesting player on Team 1 is Bill Lang, who played on Harry Miller-coached teams from 1971-74 and was nicknamed “Wild Bill” for reasons that were obvious to those who played with him.
Lang wasn’t a big scorer – he averaged 6.4, 6.7 and 8.3 points per game during his Wichita State career. He was rarely in the Shockers’ starting lineup. But his presence was always overwhelming because he was “Wild Bill” Lang.
“One of the most hard-working, hard-nosed basketball players I’ve ever played against or with,” said former Wichita State teammate and fellow Chicagoan Art Louvar, who played two seasons with Lang at WSU.
Louvar did not know Lang when they were high schoolers in Chicago. Lang played at Gordon Tech, on the city’s north side, for Dick Versace, who would later coach at Bradley and in the NBA.
“I got to know Bill when I was a sophomore at Wichita State and he was a freshman,” Louvar said. “That was when we worked Al McGuire’s basketball camp together in Chicago. It was me, him and another Shocker, Mike James.”
Louvar remembers a pick-up game after the campers had gone to bed. Always regarded as an outstanding shooter, Louvar and Lang were on opposite teams in this one.
“I’d hit a couple of buckets and on my next shot he actually punched me in the stomach,” Louvar said. “I’d never been punched in the stomach before during a game. I’d been jabbed a few times, but he actually punched me.”
As Louvar would learn, Lang was just that kind of player.
“He had this wild blond hair that he never combed and this sharp elbows,” Louvar said of Lang, who died of cancer in 2009. “He told me one time about being shot with a BB or pellet gun during a high school game in Chicago. Nothing scared Bill, though. He was a tough-nosed competitor and he was just the same off the court. He always wore a long trench coat.”
The 6-foot-5 Lang was described in the team’s media guide as having “a fearless attitude and strong-arm tactics.” Shocker fans always reacted when Lang entered a game and some probably even covered their eyes.
“He was our enforcer,” Louvar said. “He would cheap-shot people, no doubt about it. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. He was just that way.”
But Shocker fans loved him. Lang played all out for every second he was on the floor.
“One time in our place he dove on the floor for a loose ball right in front of our radio announcer, Gus Grebe,” Louvar said. “He hit his head on the floor and cut his eye. Blood was streaming down his face and he was as proud as he could be because he was showing everybody he would do anything to get to that loose ball.”
Lang averaged 4.9, 5.7 and 4.9 rebounds in his career and was an intimidating defensive presence, even when giving away size. He was unique. I’m not sure there has ever been another Shocker player like him. And he definitely brings an edge to Team 1.