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).
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 &
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
you’re really taxing my memory now (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.
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
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
HHC: And if we set you up an e-mail
account, would you be willing to take some e-mails from
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