KU Grad, Current Player to Portray Phog and Wilt in Locally Produced Film

July 18, 2012

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Veteran character actor and KU graduate Kip Niven will portray legendary University of Kansas basketball coach Forrest “Phog” Allen in the upcoming film “Jayhawkers.” Niven has appeared in dozens of feature films during his 45-year career, including “In Cold Blood,” “Earthquake,” “Magnum Force” and “The Only Good Indian.”

wesleyphogNiven joins Justin Wesley, a 6-9 junior and current member of the Jayhawks’ men’s basketball team, who will portray KU Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. Actor Blake Robbins (“Oz,” “The Office”) will play KU Coach Dick Harp.

“Coach (Bill Self) came to me midway through (Big 12) conference (play last season) and said they were doing a movie portraying Wilt and asked if I would be interested and I didn’t hesitate at all,” Wesley said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

“Jayhawkers” was written by KU Assistant Professor of Film Kevin Willmott and veteran Lawrence producer Scott Richardson. Willmott, who will also direct, is the filmmaker behind critically acclaimed features “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America” and “The Only Good Indian,” which both premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Jayhawkers” tells the story of how a small group of unlikely allies modernized college sports and changed a small Midwestern town, serving as a parallel to the Civil Rights movement that would transform the entire American society.

“They told me it (the shoot) should take four or five weeks and they told me it may take five or eight takes of the same scene,” Wesley said who explained his only acting experience was a Christmas play in sixth grade. “It will be pretty time consuming but it should be a lot of fun.”

The story follows the flamboyant Forrest “Phog” Allen, renowned as the Father of Basketball Coaching and one of the individuals responsible for making basketball an Olympic sport, as he recruits Wilt Chamberlain, perhaps the greatest player ever to wear the Kansas Jayhawk jersey. The Philadelphia phenom Chamberlain chooses KU over bigger colleges in bigger markets, hoping he can learn from the man who created the modern game.

“I have watched a couple of interviews of Wilt and have seen some highlights of his game,” Wesley said. “I’ve asked some people around about his mannerisms or what he did when he played. I’ve picked up a couple of things but I won’t reveal those yet.”

The movie’s emotional climax comes during the triple-overtime 1957 NCAA National Championship game between the Jayhawks and their bitter rivals from the University of North Carolina. It’s a game decided in the final seconds, and one that some have called the greatest in college basketball history.

Filming begins Aug. 15 in Lawrence.

“Learning more of the history of what happened around that time,” Wesley said of what he hopes to take away from this experience. “It’s an honor to be portraying one of the best players of all time, not only in Kansas history but in basketball history. This is going to be a great experience and a once-in-a-lifetime deal and I’m happy to be doing it.”

For more info, go to www.facebook.com/JayhawkersMovie