Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Bill Hougland
Bill Hougland moved from El Dorado, Kan., to a small farming town of Beloit, Kan., during his junior year of high school. He played both football and basketball, but also worked on a farm outside of town. Hougland’s job responsibilities on the farm included bailing hay, driving tractors and harvesting crops. This blue-collar work ethic translated to his athletic career and helped his basketball talents became recognized by college coaches across the country.
Standing 6-foot-4, Hougland remembers being recruited to play basketball by a handful of colleges throughout the Midwest including: Colorado, Kansas State and the University of Kansas, amongst others. Hougland chose to play basketball at Kansas because he was recruited by Coach Forrest “Phog” Allen. The pedigree Allen had at the time was not the only reason he chose play for the Jayhawks. Hougland explained how he developed a better feel for where he belonged after the legendary coach left a great impression on him and his family during the recruiting process.
“Kansas State had a well-known basketball coach, too, but ‘Doc’ was Doc Allen and everybody knew Doc Allen all over the state,” Hougland explained. “He came to Beloit and sat down with me, my mother and my dad. Doc Allen was a strong, strong person, and he really cared for his players and their parents.”
As all freshmen did during that time, Hougland and his fellow freshmen teammates were only allowed to practice during their first year with the Jayhawks. He went through that entire first season working hard with high-profile teammates such as Bill Lienhard, Bob Kenney and Clyde Lovelette, learning the game of basketball from Coach Allen. This was the year Hougland truly started to build relationships with his teammates.
After his freshman season, Hougland was the starting point guard for the next three years for the Jayhawks. It became evident that the relationships he built with his teammates during that first year translated to the success Kansas had throughout his career. Hougland and his teammates proved they could play together and produced one of the greatest teams in Kansas basketball history.
As the starting point guard during the 1951-52 season, Hougland went onto win the national championship over a highly-touted St. John’s team. He explained how winning the NCAA Tournament was just one of his many memories as a Jayhawk.
“I think what I remember more than anything was when we won the NCAA Tournament,” Hougland said. “None of us at that time really knew how big of a deal it was.”
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, winning the NCAA Tournament eventually proved to be a big deal as Hougland and a handful of Kansas teammates were selected to represent the United States Olympic basketball team in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. The Olympic team brought home a gold medal to United States as they defeated the Soviets in the championship game. Having Olympic gold medalists in the city of Lawrence got Jayhawk fans enthused about that team. Hougland explained how the Lawrence community cherished the success he and his Kansas teammates achieved.
“Coming home to Lawrence from the Olympics was a lot like when the 2008 Kansas basketball team came home after winning the NCAA Tournament,” Hougland said. “The street was packed, and we rode a fire truck through town.”
His Olympic career had only begun after he was selected as the captain of the United States basketball team for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Guided by Hougland, the U.S. team went onto win yet another gold medal. As a result, he became the first American basketball player to earn two gold medals in the Olympics.
Following his remarkable college and Olympic basketball career, Hougland went on to be drafted. He wasn’t drafted to the NBA or ABA, but rather to serve in the Air Force as a result of the Korean War.
He served overseas in Japan for over a year, yet there was still a lot of downtime. In order keep busy during this free time, Hougland competed on a basketball team at his Air Force base. The team would travel on an airplane and fly to different U.S. military bases and play pickup games. He explained how much he enjoyed playing and how he created great relationships with soldiers during the process.
“It was a lot of fun and we met a lot of people,” Hougland said. “I even met different people from KU in the service during that time.”
Hougland’s basketball career allowed him to travel the world, but he still stays true to his small town roots. He doesn’t want to be remembered for his individual achievements. Instead, he wants the entire 1952 NCAA Championship team to remembered for its success.
“The team should be remembered and not just individuals,” Hougland said. “That is the way I feel because our team was a team.”
To this day, Hougland still keeps in contact with members of both Olympic teams, soldiers he served with overseas and teammates from the 1952 National Championship team. He explained how winning is not everything in sports and how he cherishes these relationships more than his NCAA Championship and two gold medals he earned along the way.
“Winning was wonderful, but we still would have had good friendships and relationships with each other regardless,” Hougland said. “There were some great stories to look back on, and today we look back on them say we were lucky.”
Sports in today’s world focus on the win/loss column more than anything else. Athletes across the country can learn from an individual like Bill Hougland. Although success is always the goal in sports, it is simply the relationships one creates with his teammates and coaches along the way that will last a lifetime.
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.