A few weeks back, MSU Men’s Basketball alum Keljin Blevins signed a contract with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, giving himself the opportunity to accomplish something only one previous Bobcat has done before: score a point in the Association. Blevins will be hoping to join Havre-born forward Raphael “Ray” Kuka of the class of 1947, who went from small town hoops to participating at the pinnacle of collegiate and professional basketball. Besides setting a standard for MSU basketball, Kuka set an example of what it means to be a Bobcat by serving in the United States military during World War II.
Kuka graduated from Havre High School in 1940 after producing the school’s only men’s basketball state championship. The highly-touted recruit then left Big Sky Country for basketball’s most sacred of places: Indiana. Upon joining the University of Notre Dame’s historic basketball program, he enjoyed two years as a member of the Fighting Irish including a sophomore campaign which concluded with him being recognized as an All-American.
Instead of getting the chance to build off of his impressive sophomore season for the Irish, Kuka became a true All-American when he was drafted by the United States Army and trained to serve as a flight instructor in the Air Corps. He spent the remainder of the war in the military, but he still managed to hone his basketball skills by playing on an enlisted team that competed in exhibition games across the country.
Once the war concluded, Kuka picked up right where he left off, going back to college to play ball, this time much closer to Havre — joining the Bobcats in Bozeman. While playing for the blue and gold, Kuka was named an All-Conference talent in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. His stellar play for Cats was enough for him to be included in the BAA (now NBA) draft, where he was selected by the legendary New York Knicks.
Unfortunately, his career in the Big Apple was cut short as he suffered a career ending injury during his second season in the league. He remained with the Knicks as a scout and coach for a few more years before returning to teach and coach in his hometown where he spent the rest of his life. Kuka’s career was so elusive that one of the few pictures that exist of him is from his professional basketball card, which in mint condition sold at one auction for more than $2,200.
Raphael “Ray” Kuka was a Bobcat that represented the best intentions of this university and its students; proving that those from the Treasure State can succeed at both the top of their field and sacrifice in an effort to serve others. While Kuka’s career may not be the first to fans’ minds, his remarkable legacy on and off the court is something us Bobcats should truly understand and appreciate.