Bruce Holman was born on March 1, 1922 in Sedgwick, Kansas. Morice Fredrick Winter was born in Wellington Texas on February 25, 1922. Holman’s father died six months before Bruce was born. Winter’s father died when Winter was age ten. The new arrivals in Kansas and Texas –born only four days apart in 1922- and raised by widowed mothers -would both serve their country during World War II as pilots and then cross paths twenty five years later in 1947 at Kansas State. A career decision made by one - would open a career path for the other.
Holman’s high school basketball career began in 1936 during his freshman year in Powhattan, Kansas. The Great Depression was sweeping the country-and- playing all sports was one way to keep his mind occupied when family resources were so scarce.
“It was the 1930’s and no one had money back then,” said Holman in a recent phone interview from the Veterans Home of California located in the Napa valley - an hour drive north of San Francisco, and 9 miles north of Napa.
“I came from a small high school with only 120 students and it was the last year the rules required a running clock and center jump after each basket.”
“I started my first varsity high school game as a freshman when Powhattan played Silver Lake and we won,” said Holman. “I also played against Bernard Rogers from Fairview- who later became the Supreme allied commander of European forces after General Dwight Eisenhower left that position.”
Rogers attended Kansas State for one year before entering the Military academy at West Point. Holman’s basketball skills were first noticed by Kansas State’s part time assistant basketball coach Chili Cochran who served as a scout for head coach Jack Gardner. “Coach Cochran told Gardner that I was one of the best prospects in Kansas among all high school players he had watched in the class A and B divisions,” said Holman. “Our high school team finished 36-4 my senior year and we got beat in the State tournament semi-finals by Buhler.”
When asked why he chose Kansas State over Kansas since KU was also recruiting him- Holman said, “Legendary basketball coach Dr. Phog Allen spoke at our athletic banquet in Powhattan my senior year- and I received two recruiting letters from him.” “Phog was a great psychologist- and if Phog wanted you, he got you”
“I picked Kansas State because Gerald Tucker, one of Kansas’s greatest high school athletes from Winfield planned to become a Wildcat and play for Gardner,” said Holman.
“But, Tucker only lasted three weeks and transferred to the University of Oklahoma.” Tucker became an All American at Oklahoma leading them to a national title in 1943 and later coached the 1952 US Olympic basketball team to a gold medal finish in Melbourne Australia with Bill Russell and K.C Jones leading the way for the Americans.
“Gardner sweetened the pot and promised me a job at the Palace Drug Store in Aggieville, a place to live- and took me to a banker who loaned me $78 to pay my tuition” remarked Holman. “Freshmen didn’t play varsity ball, but our freshmen team could beat the varsity.”
“My sophomore year was interrupted by the Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor during December of 1941 and three weeks later, we played in a tournament in Seattle”, said Holman. “I was the leading scorer and received a nice write up in the Seattle newspaper, but sprained my ankle on the opening tip and didn’t play in the game against Washington and Washington State.”
“By the 1941-42 seasons (Gardner’s third year at Kansas State) we had become quite a competitive team, “said Holman. “Kansas beat us in overtime at Lawrence 44-42, but I can still remember all five buckets I scored in that game.”
After the war ended, Gardner’s “Wildcats” opened the 1946-47 season at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. Something just didn’t feel quite right to Holman during the game. After the game he told Gardner that the free throw line distance from the basket seemed a bit off and Gardner relayed the message to Iowa’s coach “Pop’s” Harrison.
According to Holman, Gardner said, “Pops-I’ll bet you a straw hat that your free throw line is off.” “A week later, my friend Wayne Winter sent me a copy of the Iowa University student newspaper with a front page article stating that the free throw line measured 17 feet from the basket and not 15 feet as the rules stated,” said Holman.
If you are wondering why the team was shooting free throws from 17 feet at Iowa, Holman explained that prior to the season opener at Iowa, the nation’s basketball court surfaces were repainted because of a new requirement to move the backboard from 2 feet in bounds to 4 feet.
“I left school to join the Air Force as a B-24 pilot, then returned after the war to play in old Nichols gym -and remember landing in the crowd following a layup attempt because the fans stood within two feet of the basket.”
Gardner produced Kansas State’s first winning season Holman’s senior year-but did not win the Big Six conference championship. Colorado joined the conference the next year to make it the Big 7- and Oklahoma State made it the Big 8 a few years later. Gardner named Holman- team captain during his senior year- but there were some disappointments along the way. “After starting six or seven games, Gardner told me I better get going if I wanted t retain my starter role- but later moved me out of the starting lineup,” said Holman.
“I often thought I was sacrificed by Gardner to give the younger players some playing time- but in my mind I always felt like I was as good or better than those playing ahead of me- and should not sit on the bench- because it’s hard to be named team captain as a senior and not play.”
“Allen and Gardner had a “chilly” relationship that may have started over an incident with our 6’5” center, Clarence Brannum,” said Holman. “Brannum wanted to play in an AAU tournament in Denver after the season and there was a question whether Brannum would be eligible the next year.” Holman continued,“ Dr. King- our faculty representative told Brannun he could play in the AAU tourney in Denver and then return to play for Kansas State which would be Brannum’s fifth year.” “Although Dr King was wrong in his interpretation of the rules, he was so highly respected by the Big 6 conference officials that they allowed it and -Phog had a fit over it,”
I told Holman I had heard stories about how Gardner and Allen didn’t care much for each other and was told by a reliable source in Lawrence- that “Phog” was disappointed that Gardner lived on a high hill in Manhattan to escape the 1951 flood. I don’t remember the exact quote by Phog.. but it was way more descriptive than what I just said about it. I think it had to do with “son of a” something in it.
Playing basketball for Kansas State was important to Holman, but the social life in the late 30’s was equally important especially- when students could attend the big dances at the Avalon Ballroom in Aggieville. “We danced to the music of Matt Betton and his orchestra on a spring floor that could knock you over when you and your partner started swinging to that Glenn Miller sound,” said Holman. “Heck, we thought Matt and his band were even better than Glenn Miller.” Holman’s eventual dental partner Ray Hailey was a trumpet player in the Betton band and they have maintained a lifetime relationship and correspond by email on a regular basis.
Holman married a Kansas State coed he’d been dating in college -from McPherson named Audrey Somers. They were preparing to make a decision about their future when Gardner offered Holman a full time assistant basketball coaching position during the spring of 1947. Holman was making plans to enter dental school but Coach Gardner had other plans and wanted him to stay on and help him coach the Wildcats. “Gardner sat in our car for two hours with Audrey and me, and tried to talk me out of going to dental school,” said Holman. “I’d just returned from being in the service, was married and not sure I wanted to be a coach the rest of my life- and still had some hard feelings about being pulled from the starting line up- and didn’t feel I would do a very good job of coaching for Gardner.”
“After I turned down Gardner’s offer, he hired Tex Winter,” said Holman. Tex Winter arrived during August of 1947 and developed a lifetime friendship with Bruce and his wife Audrey. The Holman’s opened the door for a career path for Tex and his wife Nancy and literally opened another door for the Winters-the door to their apartment.
Tex and Nancy moved Winter-500 Moro 1st apt 1947into the Holman’s apartment at 500 Moro street when the Holmans left Manhattan and headed off to dental school.
“Any success I would have had should I have taken the job could not begin to match Tex’s success as innovator of the Triangle offense.” said Holman.
“Tex is a great person, and straight shooter and was a genius the way he could develop “the big men” and turn them into outstanding players.”
Dr. Holman helped Tex with recruiting -especially Wally Frank from Norton Kansas- who became a star player for Tex in the late 1950’s. “I practiced dentistry in Phillipsburg Kansas between the years 1951-56 and Wally and his mother were both patients of mine.” said Holman.
“Tex used to visit me in Phillipsburg and I feel like I played a small part in getting Wally to attend Kansas State.”
Bruce and Audrey moved from Phillipsburg in 1956 to St. Louis where Bruce received his advanced training in orthodontics at St. Louis University’s Orthodontic school. He completed the requirements in 1958, and they moved to Denver, Colorado to raise their family. Following retirement in 1984, Bruce and Audrey retired to a gated community in Chapala, Mexico- 40 miles south of Guadalajara.
They enjoyed Mexico’s excellent climate by playing lots of golf until 2004 when Audrey experienced health problems-and they moved to the Napa Valley in California where Bruce lives now. Photo: ( Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz visits Holman and friend Marie Billings in California during a K-State Alumni event.)
Billings-Holman-SchulzHolman’s’ wife Audrey died of a second stroke in December 2005. Audrey and Bruce have four children. Bruce III is the oldest and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Son Chris is golf pro and lives in Tampa Florida. Daughter Nancy lives in Escondido California and is a prenatal nurse at the San Diego Hospital. And-youngest daughter Devatara Holman lives in Sausalito, California near San Francisco.
Bruce said he felt the Lord has blessed him in many ways through his life and likes to read his bible during his late years. Now his best friend, Marie Billings has been by his side- and as Bruce told me, “I love her companionship and she can dance up a storm,” (Send Birthday greetings to Bruce Holman, 260 California Dr., Sec E, Yountville, CA 94599.)Bruce was recently interviewed in a documentary video for K-State.
Dr. Bruce- Happy 91st birthday on March 1st- from all of us in the “Wildcat” nation…