Jan. 25, 2007
Former Santa Clara University All-American Ken Sears returns to Santa Clara this Saturday, Jan. 27 to have his jersey raised to the Leavey Center rafters. The ceremony will take place at halftime of the Broncos game against Loyola Marymount, which starts at 2:00 p.m. Sears played from 1951-55 for SCU and was twice named the WCC Player of the Year. He was also the first basketball player ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A native of Watsonville, Sears played six seasons with the New York Knicks and also spent time with the San Francisco Warriors. He will be one of seven former Broncos to have his jersey hung in the Leavey Center.
What does it mean to you that the school is honoring you by hanging your jersey in the rafters?
It is quite an honor that they would do this. I am pleased. It is a little embarrassing though because I am not the kind of guy that does a lot of public appearances. When Carroll Williams called and told me about it I was surprised and happy that the school was choosing to honor me.
What was it like playing for the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden?
It was a big place for me to go to. New York is the media capital of the world and I was just a farmer from Watsonville. I never got used to the cold back there. When I first arrived the coach didn't even know who I was because he had never seen me play. I thought I would be driving a lettuce truck after college but I was lucky enough to be able to keep playing ball. I remember that my senior year a couple of people told me that I might be able to make it in the NBA. It was nice to have a job right after college.
In a recent Sports Illustrated article David Stern mentioned that you were one of the players he looked up to on those Knicks teams in the 1950s. How does it make you feel that the current NBA commissioner learned a lot about the game from watching you?
That is interesting that he said that. I guess I am glad that I helped him enjoy the game. I am amazed that he remembered someone like me though.
How many All-Star Games did you play in?
I got invited to three All-Star Games, but I was only able to play in two. I remember the one in Detroit the best. There was not a lot of hoopla around it like there is now. It was fun to play with all of those great players though.
How many times have you been back to Santa Clara since you left?
I have only been back once. I came back when they honored the Final Four team for the 25th anniversary of the 1952 Final Four. That was 1977 and Kurt Rambis was on the team then. I still follow the team on television though and I see my former teammates whenever I can.
What are your thoughts on coming back again?
It will be nice to come back. I will enjoy seeing people. My whole family is excited so it will be nice. We are all going to Santa Cruz for dinner afterwards.
What do you think of the current team?
I saw the Saint Mary's game on television and there are some big guys on the team. That makes them tough to play against and they play well as a team. They have a nice record so far so hopefully they can keep it going. It is a totally different game now than when I played. The coaching is a lot more advanced and the game is a lot faster.
What do you remember about your 41-point 30 rebound game against Pacific?
I remember that game the most because that was the only time that my mother came to see me play. I saw her in the stands when I was playing. She was a Pacific graduate. I am not sure if I really got 30 rebounds. I may have to thank our stat keeper for that one. It was a memorable game though.
You beat out Bill Russell for the WCC Player of the Year award in 1955. Looking back now, what do you think about that?
It was a shocker that I won. I couldn't believe it. Bill Russell was a great player and he had some amazing numbers. I didn't know what to say when they called my name. It was nice to be honored and to even be compared to a player like him.
Your jersey is going to hang alongside your former coach Bob Feerick's jersey. Does that make this event more meaningful to you?
That will be an honor to be up next to him. He was young when he started coaching and he did a great job with our teams. He always found a way to make us successful. He was also a good player. Since he was so young when he was coaching, we asked him to play with us at one practice. He put on his jersey and came out there. He was clever and he played in the post even though he was only 6-3. Feerick was a pretty sore after that practice so he did not get on the court with us again.
What was your childhood like in Watsonville?
My father, Mark, worked in the produce industry and so did his brothers. His brothers followed the fruit wherever it was, down in Southern California or up in Watsonville and Salinas. My dad worked in lettuce in Watsonville. Some people would go south in the winter, but my dad stayed up here. I started working in the fields and the packaging houses when I was old enough.
When did you start playing basketball?
I picked it up in grade school. We played everything back then because there was not much else to do. I played baseball and I went out for football as a freshman, but I didn't make it. When I was freshman I was 5-9 and then I was 6-3 as a sophomore. By the time I was a senior, I was 6-9 so I grew late. I did not get much coaching in basketball, but I just learned by playing a lot. There were a number of good teams down there at that time. Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Salinas and Monterey all had good high school teams. Watsonville was pretty good at all sports.
How did the Sports Illustrated cover photo come about?
Our school publicist at the time was getting my name out there quite a bit my senior year. One day he told me that a photographer was coming from this publication called Sports Illustrated to take some photos. It did not seem like a big deal at the time because Sports Illustrated was so new. Looking back now it feels good to be the first basketball player on the cover.