For a night, the Kamikaze Kids ride again
The stories flowed, as did a beer or two. The occasion was an impromptu reunion of the Kamikaze Kids last Thursday night in conjunction with the Oregon-UCLA basketball game at Matt Knight Arena in Eugene.
Though their presence went unremarked, and maybe a majority in the house that night wouldn’t have known their names anyway, the good vibes must have been channeled to the Ducks, who emerged with a badly needed 68-63 victory over the Bruins.
“We had a great, great time,” said Rob Closs, the former guard who has served as sort of a communications nerve center for the Kamikaze Kids era of 1971-78. “It was fun. Oh, my God.”
What it was, was the largest gathering of players – eight — from that era in perhaps a decade, joined by a couple of team managers. The roster:
Ronnie Lee, the pre-eminent player of the era and a first-round NBA draft pick in 1976. More than anybody, the guy who made the era sizzle.
Doug Little, the undersized (6-3 1/2) forward who averaged 17.7 points a game in 1972-73 and teamed with Lee to essentially launch the era with a 16-10 record, a 10-win improvement over 1971-72.
Gerald Willett, the consummate overachiever in those times, a 6-8 center who landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated after UCLA’s infamous “Lost Weekend” in 1974.
Paul Halupa, a guard who averaged 5.4 points in 1971-72 as a useful connector in the fretful transition from the Steve Belko regime to the manic Dick Harter days.
Burt Fredrickson, another early-Harter guard, who averaged 6.7 points in 1973-74.
Closs, who caught the back nine of Harter’s tenure, with six points a game in Harter’s final two seasons in Eugene.
Mike Drummond, the “Bulldog,” the irrepressible 5-8 guard who was a modest scorer, but a 50-percent-plus shooter his first three seasons and the joystick of Harter’s beloved delay offense.
John Murray, the shooting guard from New York whose career was split between the tenures of Harter and successor Jim Haney, and who averaged seven points as a freshman.
“Most of it was, ‘What have you been doing the last 20 years?’ ‘’ Closs said.
Drummond, for one, hadn’t connected much with the group recently. He found it gratifying to return, especially when Lee, the definitive Kamikaze, said he got so infuriated in practice one day with the feisty Drummond pestering him that he grabbed Bulldog in a headlock and threw him down.
Joining the eight were team managers Rick Cornish and Jeff Kritzer. Cornish and Harter corresponded through many of the coach’s NBA years.
Said Closs, “Everybody came away saying, we gotta do it again.”
Left to right, Doug Little, Burt Fredrickson, Ronnie Lee, Gerald Willett, Rob Closs, Jeff Kritzer, Rick Cornish, Mike Drummond, John Murray and (part of, anyway … sorry, Paul) Paul Halupa