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    Then & Now: Willard Fagler

    Then & Now: Willard Fagler

    Compiled By Dave Brandon


    Basketball Hall of Famer Willard Fagler played for the

    Huskers from 1952-1955 for Coaches Harry Good

    (1947-1954, 86-99) and Jerry Bush (1955-1963, 81-132).

    A 6’6”

    center from Harvard, Fagler led the team in scoring his

    senior year (13.6 PPG), and was often paired under the

    basket with such former Husker big men as Bill Johnson

    and Rex Ekwall.


    is our latest guest in this Sunday's edition of "Then &


    HHC: Thanks

    for joining us. What was your high school career like at

    Harvard (Nebraska) High School?


    Well, we had a pretty good basketball team but we were a

    Class C school and we never made it to the state

    tournament. But, I made All-State two years for Class C.

    HHC: And,

    before we flashback, how did you manage to play four

    years of varsity basketball at a time when most were

    forced to play a year on the freshman team?

    WF: Well because at that time it was

    during, I guess, the Korean War, and a couple of years

    in there they let freshman play and we were eligible to

    play four years.

    HHC: Ah, okay. And as a high school senior

    in 1951, what made you choose to play basketball at the

    University of Nebraska?

    WF: I got recruited by Coach Harry Good,

    and really at the time, I didn’t think I wanted to go to

    school, but he kept after me, and I finally decided I’d

    go and give it a try.

    But he

    called a couple of times and I also got two or three

    letters from him stating what the university could offer

    and what they could give me to come play at the

    University of Nebraska. But it was nothing like it is

    now, for sure (Laughs).

    HHC: (Laugh) That’s probably a good thing,



    Yeah, I suppose you’re right (Laughs).

    HHC: Like you said, Harry Good was the

    Head Coach when you first arrived at Nebraska. What was

    he like and was he held in high regard?

    WF: I thought Harry Good was a very nice

    individual. He was a good coach, and I think everyone on

    the team liked him.

    But, you

    know that if you don’t win, it’s just like anything

    else, and sooner or later they are going to make


    HHC: What style and brand of basketball

    did he believe in playing?


    When I was there, I played forward and center for him,

    and we had a triangle offense that we ran. He didn’t

    zone; we played man-to-man. But, it was just a little

    bit slower pace back then than it is now.

    HHC: What are some of your favorite

    memories of him?

    WF: The thing that I always remembered

    about Coach Good, and this included Mrs. Good as well,

    is that they always had the basketball team out to their

    house for Thanksgiving and Christmas if we had to have

    games or practice. They were always very nice to the

    players on the team.

    HHC: Before we

    get into some of your specific years, what was it like

    playing in the Coliseum back then?


    You know, back then, they drew a curtain across one end

    of it so we’d have the fans basically right next to us

    on the court, and it always seemed like they were right

    on top of you. But this wasn’t just at Nebraska, but

    also everywhere else back then, because they didn’t have

    the big coliseums like they do now.

    I can

    also remember road trips where some universities had the

    fans even closer than the Coliseum; they were right on

    top of you.

    HHC: 1951-1952 was your first season at

    Nebraska, and the team went 7-17 (3-9, 7th). However,

    one positive was that Jim Buchanan earned All-American

    honors (16.7 PPG) and was a first team All-Big Seven

    pick. How good was he, and what kind of man was he?


    He was a very good ball player, and probably, in fact,

    one of the better ball players I played with. To me, he

    was a terrific individual.


    was a guard, and probably about 6’1”. I was coming in as

    a freshman, and Jimmy more or less took me under his

    wing and taught me quite a few things on how to play

    basketball and get accustomed to the university life.

    So, I

    think he’s a great person.

    HHC: 1952-1953 was your sophomore year,

    and the team went 9-11 (4-8, 6th). You guys did beat #5

    Kansas State at home (80-67) that year, and Bill Johnson

    was your leading scorer (13.9 PPG) and rebounder (9.4

    RPG). What do you remember about that year?

    WF: Well, I remember that we started out

    and thought we’d have a real good year (Editors Note:

    They were 8-5), and then something happened, and you

    know, it just didn’t gel after we got about halfway

    through the season. But, I still had a lot of fun

    playing and representing the university.

    HHC: Anything

    about that Kansas State win stick out?


    No, not really, except that we played really hard that

    night trying to win, and things like that. But that’s

    been a long time ago.

    HHC: Talk more about Bill Johnson and Rex Ekwall,

    who were the other key big men during your times at



    Well, Bill was probably the tallest person on the team

    at that time, and he was a good individual, and has

    always tried to keep up with everybody on the team.

    In fact,

    last time everybody got together from our teams, he put

    together an event at one of the games at the Bob Devaney

    (Sports Center). So, he does a very good job of keeping

    up with everyone.

    Rex was

    another one of these players that came from a small town

    in Nebraska and was an excellent ball player. He and I

    roomed together and had a good time, and we still see

    each other every now and then if I go back to a

    basketball game, because he is there and supports

    Nebraska basketball very good just like Bill.

    HHC: 1953-1954 was your junior season, and

    the team went 8-13 (5-7, T-4th). That year was the last

    for Harry Good. Was this because of lack of wins, or was

    winning emphasized less back then?

    WF: I think the lack of wins was some of

    it, but I also think that at the time, the Athletic

    Director, who I believe was Bill Orwig, wanted to go in

    a different direction than what the program was going


    HHC: How did Coach Good leaving make you



    Well, anytime you play for someone for three, four

    years, and they are going to be replaced, you are always

    antsy about what is going to happen the next year, as

    far as how are you going to fit into schemes and things.

    So, it was just a “let’s wait and see what Coach Bush


    But as I

    said before, Coach Good treated me very fairly and I

    respect him very much.

    HHC: Prior to your senior season of

    1954-1955, Jerry Bush was hired as Head Coach. Do you

    recall any other candidates for the job besides him?

    WF: No. In fact, I think it was when we

    found out that we had a new coach was the day he was

    introduced to us, and that was it.

    We had

    never heard of whom they were interviewing or anything.

    It was a little bit different than it is now.

    HHC: What was your initial impression of

    Bush, who came to Nebraska from Toledo (7 years at

    Toledo, 129-59)?

    WF: I don’t know if you know this or not,

    but he did play professional basketball for awhile, so

    he knew the game of basketball and it was a more up

    beat, up tempo game when he got there from what we had

    been used to before.

    So, I

    think all of us enjoyed it a little bit more. We still

    played our man-to-man defense.

    HHC: What kind of man was Jerry Bush?

    WF: Coach Bush was very energetic. When

    you went to practice, you had better put out 100%,

    because if you didn’t, you would be running laps and

    steps in the Coliseum.

    So, his

    practices were always upbeat, and he was always upbeat.

    He just wanted you to feel like you were winners all the

    time and you could beat anyone, and that’s really what I

    remember about him.

    HHC: Your last

    year (1954-1955) saw a record of 9-12 (6-6, T-3rd),

    while you led the team in scoring by averaging 13.6 PPG.

    What sticks out about that year?

    WF: We went and we played Colorado, and

    they beat us by 30 points or something like that

    (Editors Note: Colorado 89, Nebraska 47).

    But then

    they came back to Lincoln and we turned around and won

    by about 10 (84-77) against them, and that was probably

    one of the best ball games that we had that year.

    But gee,

    you’re really taxing my memory now (Laughs).

    HHC: (Laughs)

    Who were some of the best ball players you ever competed


    WF: Well, the first one would be Clyde

    Lovellette from the University of Kansas. He was a

    senior when I was a freshman and went on and made

    All-American two or three years. He was born just tall;

    he was about 7’0”. And then BH Born from Kansas, too.


    Knostman (guard) from Kansas State was great, along with

    Burdette Haldorson (6’7” center) from Colorado, and then

    the one and only Norm Stewart from Missouri, who was an

    excellent ball player.

    The most

    famous person would have been Dean Smith, who was a

    senior the year I was a freshman, but he never started

    for Kansas. They had a set of twins that played guard,

    and he was the third guard on the team.

    HHC: What do you feel was your biggest

    shot or play that you ever made while in a Nebraska


    WF: I never really kept up with stuff like

    that. I was just out there to play basketball.

    HHC: Fair enough. And what are your

    favorite memories of UNL? 

    WF: I guess

    one of them would be being voted into the Nebraska

    Basketball Hall of Fame. Another is being married and

    having two sons that have nice families. And I guess my

    older granddaughter signing a basketball scholarship at

    North Georgia College, which is a Division II school.

    HHC: Did you stay in touch with any

    coaches or teammates after leaving, and do you know of

    anyone passing away?

    WF: Mostly Bill Johnson and Rex Ekwall. I

    don’t know of anyone that has passed away. I think the

    ones that I played with are all still living unless some

    have just passed away recently and I haven’t heard about

    it, but most generally, my sister lets me know because

    she still lives in Lincoln.

    HHC: Do you get a chance to follow the

    current program?

    WF: Well, I follow the football team if

    its on television and things like that, and same with

    basketball, but down here in the south, we usually get

    SEC and ACC ball games. But every now and then, we get

    Big 12 on ESPN2

    HHC: And what have you been up to since

    1955, and where will we find you today?

    WF: I went into the Army for two years and

    played basketball there at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where I

    met my wife. After I got out, I came back to UNL and

    finished school and started working in the agricultural

    fertilizer and chemical industry, and did that my whole

    life up until I retired about five years ago in

    Savannah, Georgia.

    HHC: And if we set you up an e-mail

    account, would you be willing to take some e-mails from

    our readers?


    No, I don’t really use the Internet, I’m sorry.

    HHC: Not a problem. Thanks a lot for your

    time, and anything else you'd like to say or add?

    WF: No, I don’t believe so, but it’s been

    a pleasure talking to you and thank you for calling.<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">

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