Cal Basketball: Former Bears Star Big Man Ansley Truitt Dies from COVID-19

All-Pac-8 Center Was One of Cal's Most Prolific Rebounders
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Ansley Truitt, a former All-Pac-8 Conference player who remains Cal’s No. 2 all-time rebounder nearly 50 years after his career with the Golden Bears ended, died Feb. 13 due to complications from COVID-19. He was 70.

“He had an excellent touch for a big man facing the basket and he jumped out of the gym,” said his former Cal teammate, Phil Chenier, who went on to 10 seasons in the NBA. “He was a tremendous rebounder and shot blocker.”

Truitt grew up in San Francisco and played on talented Cal teams in the early 1970s that featured the likes of Chenier, Jackie Ridgle and Charlie Johnson. Ridgle died in 1998, Johnson in 2007.

Chenier first crossed paths with Truitt at the old Tournament of Champions, when Truitt’s Woodrow Wilson High team from San Francisco beat Chenier and Berkeley High in the finals at the Oakland Coliseum.

They both accepted scholarships to Cal, where they played freshman ball under coach Earl Robinson before starring for Jim Padgett’s varsity team.

“We really thought we had an opportunity to beat UCLA,” Chenier recalled. “We never could get over the hump.”

Ansley Truitt

Ansley Truitt

Truitt idolized former UCLA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known then as Lew Alcindor, and had heard that Alcindor lived off campus in an apartment when he was a college freshman.

“So he wanted his own apartment,” Chenier said, “but he spent all his time at the dorms with all of us.”

Truitt and Chenier, along with basketball player Floyd Jackson and track athlete Cliff West, became lifelong friends. They were at Cal during a tumultuous time, highlighted by anti-war protests, the rise of the Black student union and People’s Park.

“Those times defined our early adulthood,” Chenier said. “We’d go to Top Dog and then get some cheesecake. We didn’t have any money but we were happy as all heck.”

A 6-foot-9 center, Truitt started for three seasons on the Cal varsity team. He averaged 16.3 points as a sophomore, 16.9 as a junior and 18.8 as a senior in 1972 when he also served as team captain and was voted the squad’s MVP.

His 382 rebounds during the ’71-72 season remain a school record. Truitt’s career total of 940 rebounds is second-most in Cal history, as is his 11.8 career per-game rebounding average.

Truitt ranked third on Cal’s career scoring list with 1,384 points when he completed his college career, and his total remains No. 16 all-time. He scored 35 points against New Mexico State and 34 vs. Stanford, both as a senior, and had five games of 20 rebounds or more.

Chenier recalled Truitt as being very quiet during much of his time at Cal. Truitt spent one season with the Dallas Chaparrals in the ABA, then played 16 professional seasons in Europe, primarily in France.

“He came back and was speaking French,” Chenier recalled. “Here’s this guy who barely spoke English and now he’s bilingual, showing off for us. You just saw the constant growth in him.”

In the days since his death, the internet was overflowing with Facebook tributes to Truitt — most of them in French.

While working for the U.S. Postal Service, Truitt began writing poetry and attended seminary school, ultimately becoming an ordained minister. He loved jazz and collected watches and coins.

Ansley Truitt and grand daughter Amiah

Ansley Truitt and granddaughter Amiah

In recent years, Truitt and his wife of 47 years, Mary, lived in Las Vegas, where Ansley became especially close to his granddaughter Amiah. Chenier said Truitt watched Amiah daily while her mother worked. “He was just a soft guy,” Chenier said.

Jackson and West, in a social media post, wrote: "Truitt was a man of God, a wordsmith, a devoted family man, a loyal and treasured friend. He relished life and was grateful for every moment he was granted to be alive. Ansley enriched the lives of those who knew and loved him. He will be missed but his legacy of love will live on through his family and his friends. See you someday soon my true and faithful friend!”

Ansley Hoover Truitt is survived by his wife, Mary Truitt, and their three daughters, Najah, Nikita and Alanna. He also leaves behind four granddaughters. His sister, Arintha, and brother, Kato, still reside in the Bay Area, and he has six brothers who live on the East Coast. Truitt was preceded in death by Lera Shealey (mother) and Ansley Truitt Sr. (father).

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Cover photo of (L-R) Floyd Jackson, Ansley Truitt and Phil Chenier, courtesy of Chenier

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo