November 27, 1972
When Ohio University guard Walter (Put It in the Bucket) Luckett showed up at Missouri for his first college game, he encountered 12,600 fans with their noses buried in the magazine shown at left. The spectators, intent on unnerving him, had targeted Luckett after reading such hepcat utterances by him as, "They get the ball to me in our two-guard front and I will positively freak. I mean, I will drive those rascals wild." The 6'4" Luckett then made only three of 12 shots against Mizzou. Welcome to Division I.
"I was young, very young," Luckett says with a laugh. "I was overly confident." He had gained that assurance by dominating the rollicking playground scene as the acknowledged King of Nanny Goat Park in Bridgeport, Conn., and by setting the New England schoolboy scoring record with 2,691 points—which landed his Kolbe High jersey in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Despite his rocky debut, Luckett fulfilled his promise at Ohio. After averaging 25.3 points a game as a junior, the newly married Luckett—he and his wife, Valita, now live in Hamden, Conn.—declared for the NBA draft. The Detroit Pistons picked him in the second round, but because his left knee was becoming arthritic as the result of a freak injury suffered the summer before he went to college, he never played in a regular-season NBA game. "That was one of my heartbreaks," Luckett says. "I just didn't make it."
Luckett played four seasons of minor league hoops before trading his basketball career for one in business. He is nearing his 20th anniversary at Unilever Home and Personal Care U.S.A., a branch of the Anglo-Dutch consumer-goods conglomerate. Luckett, 46, directs the firm's charitable efforts as the manager of community relations and corporate contributions. He was promoted to the position three years ago after a senior Unilever executive took note of his long-standing involvement in the African-American community. The cock-sure young man who left college early to pursue an ill-fated NBA dream now holds an MBA from the University of New Haven and is part owner of the USBL's Connecticut Skyhawks.
Though Luckett primarily wears the button-down clothes and close-cropped hair of a successful businessman these days, he finds that many Connecticuters still recognize him from his time as a basketball prodigy in shorts with a prodigious Afro. "It's a little scary," Luckett says, "but after all these years, it's nice that people remember you."