By Randy York
In the endless debate to determine the top Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball players who represented the Huskers inside the Devaney Center from 1976 to 2013, one name drops completely out of the conversation. And because of that, a Husker fan in Goshin, Ind., believes that Stuart Lantz becomes unintentionally irrelevant. Kenneth Petersen, who received his B.S. from UNL in 1967 and his MD from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1971, makes a valid point after reading stories emerging from the All-Time All-Devaney Teams that will be determined by Huskers.com voting ending Friday.
“I always look forward to reading your N-Sider articles on the Husker website,” Petersen wrote in an email. “Not taking anything away from Tyronn Lue, but in your ‘Legendary Question: Was Lue Huskers’ Best?’ article, no consideration was given to Stu Lantz.” Lantz graduated from NU in 1968, but somehow dropped off the radar when Dave Hoppen, Nebraska’s all-time leading basketball scorer, declared that Lue may have been the Nebraska’s all-time best NBA player. Hoppen said that title was between Lue, who spent 11 years in the NBA, and Eric Piatkowski, who played 14 years in the NBA. “Since Stu graduated in 1968, most of Nebraska’s recent players and sportswriters never saw him play,” Petersen pointed out. “He was a game-changer at Nebraska, even though his 1,200-plus points do not place him among the top 10 scorers.”
Closer examination reveals that Lantz, who played eight years in the NBA, averaged 12.4 points per game, a considerably higher performance standard than either Lue’s 8.5 ppg or Piatkowski’s 7.5-point scoring average. Petersen also points out that Nebraska’s basketball record for 1965-66, ‘66-‘67 and ‘67-‘68 – Lantz’s final three seasons – was 30-12 in the Big Eight Conference and 51-24 overall. “Stu not only played well in the pros, but also was a productive college player and model citizen,” Petersen said, acknowledingt that Lantz is still connected to the NBA as a color commentator with the legendary Chick Hearn on Los Angeles Laker broadcasts. “I was privileged to see both Stu Lantz and Tyronn Lue play for Nebraska and see them both play for the LA Lakers,” Petersen said.
1966 Teammates Made a Formidable 1-2 Punch
Nebraska basketball historian Mike Babcock and I both consider Lantz one of our all-time favorite Husker players, if not our favorite. And Petersen is right. When we wrote an N-Sider column about which Husker may have been Nebraska’s all-time best player in the NBA, Lantz’s credentials are as good as it gets, yet were not mentioned. I know this. Lantz’s former teammate and fellow Husker Hall-of-Famer Tom Baack, who arrived from Indiana at the same time Lantz landed in Lincoln from Uniontown, Pa., joined forces to become one of the best 1-2 scoring punches in Nebraska basketball history.
Even though Baack barely edged Lantz in career scoring, Baack said his more talented teammate was the best basketball player he ever saw play for the Huskers. “When he first got here, he could do so many things and jump so high, I was almost intimidated,” Baack recalled. “We became good friends and close teammates and are proud of what we accomplished.”
“Tommy was a real leader, and I was fortunate to play with him,” Lantz said.
“When Coach Baack was an assistant coach here, he would always tell me how he wished I could have seen Stu Lantz play,” Hoppen said. “I finally got to meet him at a Rebounders Club Golf Tournament in 2009.”
Lantz, Hoppen and Piatkowski are the only three Husker players to have their jerseys retired. “Lantz was a legend, and when you meet him, you understand why,” Piatkowski said.
Lantz, Baack: NU Basketball Re-Constructionists
In 1966, Lantz and Baack led Nebraska to its first 20-win season (20-5) and a second-place Big Eight finish. In my mind, those two Husker stars were modern-day re-constructionists because the Huskers experienced 15 consecutive non-winning seasons before they arrived on campus and turned things around.
“We had a good team,” said Baack, who returned for last weekend’s Nebraska Basketball Hall-of-Fame ceremonies, followed by more hoopla that included halftime introductions at the NU-Michigan State game.
“We were a very good team,” Lantz said, pointing out that fellow guard Grant Simmons also was an an All-Big Eight selection in 1966 when the Huskers finished with the No. 11 ranking in the final UPI college basketball poll.
The next two seasons, Lantz became Nebraska’s first ever, two-time, first-team All Big Eight player. As juniors, he and Baack led the Huskers to their first ever NIT Tournament bid, and as seniors, they won the Big Eight Holiday Tournament championship in Kansas City.
Lantz, Family Made San Diego Permanent Home
In 75 games at Nebraska, Lantz scored 1,269 points for a 16.9-point per game average.A third-round NBA draft choice of the San Diego Rockets, he went on to play for five teams in his eight NBA seasons. In 547 NBA games, Lantz scored 6,782 points – a 12.4-point average.
“The best thing that ever happened was meeting my wife and being married to her for more than 46 years,” Lantz said. “We’ve been blessed with three children and four grandchildren, and we trace it all right back to Lincoln, Nebraska.”
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