From having to help raise his sisters, to becoming a Wichita State basketball standout, to eventually becoming one of the first inductees into the National Basketball League Hall of Fame, Calvin “Cal” Bruton has had quite the journey to get to where he is now.
Bruton has made a career out of basketball, but not in the traditional way. He has turned a successful coaching and playing career into his own business to help underprivileged children.
The road he took to get there wasn’t always easy, but he used that as motivation to give back.
The Early Years
Bruton is no stranger to adversity. He had to learn responsibility earlier than the typical seven-year-old.
“I lean towards the disadvantaged kids to be an outreach because I come from a disadvantaged background in Brooklyn, New York,” Bruton said. “I lost my dad when I was seven. He was killed at his place of work during a robbery.”
A month after his father’s death, his mother gave birth. With having one sister who was disabled, to a having a newborn baby in the house, Bruton quickly had to step up to the plate of being the man of the house.
Due to the circumstances he was living under, his mother encouraged him to play sports in attempt to find a way for Bruton to get an education.
“I became the big man of the house,” Bruton said. “My mother wanted me to play a sport so I played all three: baseball football and basketball.”
Although he played three sports, Bruton fell in love with basketball. His love for the sport is what landed him at Wichita State.
The Wichita State Era
Some would call the way Bruton got to Wichita State luck, others call it fate.
Bruton got his big break not by being a highly-recruited player, but actually being a good teammate to the player who was highly recruited.
Rudy Jackson, a 6-foot-9 center was one of the highest recruited high school players of the time. Bruton, who was a point guard, played in an all-star game with Jackson when he was getting recruited by Wichita State.
“When Wichita State came to see Rudy [Jackson] play, I was in that all-star game as well,” Bruton said. “I used to set Rudy up; I would throw him all the good passes. Then Rudy will score and acknowledge me.”
With no other major scholarship offers for Bruton, Jackson can be credited for the sole reason Bruton made it to Wichita State.
“When the Wichita State coaches asked Rudy if there was anything they can do for him before he signed on the dotted line, he said ‘I would really like my man Cal to come with me,’” Bruton said. “So off we went.”
In the summer of 1972, the two New York natives came to Wichita State. They both had to take an entrance exam to attend Wichita State, but Jackson failed it.
Jackson had to play for Hutchinson Community College that year, leaving the Shockers without their highly-recruited center, and left with Bruton: the 5-foot-9 point guard.
That year was when colleges allowed freshmen to play on Varsity, so Bruton found himself on the bench for the Varsity team. He was put in the game solely as a statement because the coach wasn’t happy with starters.
“In the first game of the season, our starters played terrible, so out of frustration the coach came down the bench and grabbed me and told me to get in the game,” Bruton said. “Long story short I ended up top scorer and that launched my career at Wichita.”
By his senior year, Bruton was named to the first-team All-Missouri Valley after leading the team to the conference championship.
Living Down Under
Bruton didn’t get drafted out of college. He tried out for San Antonio and made it all the way through the four exhibition games before getting released right before the first official game.
Bruton came back to Wichita and started hauling trash to make a living—he had 250 trash stops per day.
While doing so, he got an offer to come to Australia and be a player/coach there.
“I didn’t know where Australia was—I had no clue,” Bruton said. “I wanted to play basketball and get it out of my system. I had a chance to coach and teach and I had an opportunity to share all of the knowledge that I have in the game.”
Bruton was one of the two first African Americans to play in the Australian Basketball League.
Despite the racial discrimination challenges he faced early in his career, Bruton ended up becoming one of the first inductees into the NBL Hall of Fame when it opened in 1998.
“It was like going back to the old days of racial inequality,” Bruton said. “But then it comes to this point where I’m a representative in the Australian Hall of Fame for basketball.”
The Hall of Fame-r didn’t want his basketball road to end there. He has been living in Australia for 40 years, coaching for multiple teams, along with starting his own business, “Bruton Basketball.”
Bruton Basketball is a sport development program that teaches the game of basketball along with important life lessons.
Bruton focuses on helping underprivileged children with not only improving their basketball skills, but also stressing the importance of an education and employment.
“The inspiration I get from those kids is absolutely wonderful, so by doing this I’ve been trying to also emphasize education and employment,” Bruton said. “I’m the first one to go to college in my own family, so I stress on how important the education side is.”
Bruton also sets up charity events such as sneaker drives, reading programs, and even a refugee program.
“I work with the newly arrived refugees in Australia,” Bruton said. “Some of them don’t even speak English, but basketball is a universal language and I can use that tool to help those kids engage.”
Bruton doesn’t plan on stopping Bruton Basketball any time soon. His love for basketball and helping those in need has turned into a career for him.
“I’m just living the dream as they say. I’m doing what I love to do.” Bruton said. “Basketball has always been a part of my life, and now I’m using it as a vehicle to bring me around the world.
Bruton had a chance to visit Wichita State and current head coach Gregg Marshall. The former Shocker said that was one of the best and most humbling experiences for him.
“Gregg said he would like to close the distance between us,” Bruton said. “I would love to see Wichita State bring their team to Australia. That would be my ultimate goal.”
Bruton still stays up-to-date with Wichita State and even gets up early to watch their games—despite the 17-hour time difference.
“I owe it all to Wichita State,” Bruton said. “I’m always going to be a Shocker.”