KU Basketball News

Who will play Ted Owens in movie about former KU basketball coach?

Former Kansas basketball coach Ted Owens, right, shared a few laughs with (from left) Bill Self, Larry Brown and Roy Williams during the 60th anniversary celebration of Allen Fieldhouse in fall 2014.
Former Kansas basketball coach Ted Owens, right, shared a few laughs with (from left) Bill Self, Larry Brown and Roy Williams during the 60th anniversary celebration of Allen Fieldhouse in fall 2014. AP

Former Kansas men’s basketball coach Ted Owens, whose 2013 book, “At the Hang Up,” is being made into a movie, is waiting patiently for the hiring of an actor to portray him.

“Hopefully it will be one of the really good, hot young actors,” said Owens, an 87-year-old Tulsa resident, with a laugh during a phone interview with The Star. “He has to really like the role and then has to be affordable.”

Famed casting director Bonnie Timmermann — who has been credited with helping spark the careers of Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis, among others — is looking for a 30- to 40-something actor to play the 27-year-old version of Owens. At that age, Owens led the Cameron State Agricultural College baseball team — yes, baseball team — to the 1958 national junior-college championship.

Fans are being asked to go to the Facebook page of “The Hang Up” movie and vote for one of nine “hunky young movie stars” to land the part of Owens.

“They’re talking about guys like Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son, Channing Tatum, Chris Pine … There’s nothing at this point to suggest it’ll be any of them,” Owens said, keeping alive the suspense.

Some heavy hitters have already come forward to work on the movie, which should begin filming next spring or summer. The producer is Gray Frederickson, who won an Oscar in 1974 as one of the co-producers of “The Godfather Part II” at the 47th Academy Awards. In addition, he was nominated for “Apocalypse Now” in 1979 and won an Emmy for “Dream No Little Dream: The Life and Legacy of Robert S. Kerr,” in 2007.

“When I read it, I can’t put it down,” Owens said of the script. “I’m definitely excited about it.”

The movie chronicles the story of Owens’ 1958 Cameron Aggies baseball squad. That team scrimmaged an Army team from Fort Sill (located just north of Cameron’s campus in Lawton, Okla.) on a regular basis, but played no junior-college squads and actually had a record of 0-0 entering the 1958 postseason.

Cameron coach Owens talked the team’s way into the national junior-college invitational tournament despite the fact that Owens’ squad had no uniforms and no home field. The story is told in Chapter Seven of Owens’ 2013 book.

“I said, ‘Sir, we haven’t lost to a college team all year,’” Owens said of his discussion with the head of the junior-college tourney, who agreed to insert Cameron into the field. “I neglected to tell him we hadn’t played a college team all year.”

Cameron went 4-0 at the district tourney played in Lawton as Owens’ players quickly turned a city diamond into a useable facility. Then the Aggies went 3-0 in the final round of games played in Miami, Okla.

That’s a perfect 7-0 record during Cameron’s abbreviated, yet historic, season.

“As they say, ‘The movie is an adaptation of a true story,’” Owens said. “It doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent that story. I was asked (by screenwriters), ‘Did you have any serious conflicts (on the team)?’ I said, ‘Not really.’ They said, ‘You will now.’”

“They said, ‘Did you have any romantic interests?’ I said, ‘Not really.’ They said, ‘You will.’

“It sticks to the story, but as Dr. (Phog) Allen used to say, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ They added to it to make it more entertaining.”

Owens said the movie, which is being produced by Tulsa’s Total Entertainment Partners and funded by investors, is being made to be played in theaters across the country.

“It is a fun story, a good story,” said Owens, who after leaving Cameron (where he also coached basketball) went on to compile a 348-182 record in 19 seasons as KU’s hoops coach.

After working several years as an investment business adviser in Tulsa, Owens now toils as a fundraiser to send youngsters to leadership camps run by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

He’s qualified to write a second book — on the secrets of staying young — as he charges toward his 90th birthday. An avid golfer, Owens has shot a 74 within the past year.

“It was not a tough course,” Owens said modestly. “I am absolutely blessed to have good health. It seems every day we are burying one of my classmates. One of my former baseball players died last week. I don’t brag about it (health). I just feel terribly blessed to be able at this age to do things I can enjoy and make a small contribution.

“I try to swim four to five times a week. I developed a little arthritis in my right knee. Cris Barnthouse, one of my former (KU) players, orthopedic surgeon of the (KC) Chiefs, said, ‘Get off that treadmill. Get in the pool.’ I enjoy it. After watching the Olympics, I’m a little embarrassed with my stroke. Boy, do we have some incredible athletes at the Olympics.”

There are also some talented athletes on KU’s current basketball team, which Owens follows closely.

“I think they’ll have a great year as always,” Owens said of fellow Oklahoman Bill Self’s 2016-17 Jayhawks. “With a mixture of veterans and young guys who are very talented … I know Bill will get the job done, as he always does.”

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore