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Thursday, July 3, 2003

KU adviser follows Williams to Carolina

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Wayne Walden, academic adviser for Kansas University men's basketball program the past 15 years, has accepted a similar position on coach Roy Williams' support staff at the University of North Carolina.

"The University of Kansas has been great to me. It's really tough to leave here," said Walden, a Topeka native and 1984 KU graduate.

"The biggest thing I'll miss is the relationships with the students. It's really tough to leave those students. We've had some very special people come through this place."

Those top-notch students include Academic All-Americans Jerod Haase and Jacque Vaughn, law school graduate Mike Maddox and soon-to-be medical-school-grad T.J. Pugh, plus many others who have helped KU attain its current four-year graduation rate of 73 percent.

"Graduation day has always been a very special day for me," said Walden, who this year watched Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, Brett Ballard, Lewis Harrison, Jeff Boschee and Chris Zerbe graduate.

"Another big year for us was 1997. Not only did those kids go 34-2 on the court, but we had six guys finish their degrees on time," Walden said of Vaughn, Haase, Scot Pollard, B.J. Williams, Steve Ransom and Joel Branstrom. "You always are proud when they get those degrees."

For 15 years, he's preached to players the value of attaining a degree.

"You do the best you can to get them to realize they will not be playing basketball their whole life," said Walden, who starts Aug. 4 at UNC. A search for his replacement already is underway at KU.

"At some point that degree can be very necessary and beneficial. We remind the players of all the things that can happen to keep them from having a pro career. They are an injury away from never playing again. I tell them, 'Even if you have a long NBA career, you'll have 20 to 25 years where you do not want to just sit around.'

"We've been fortunate that coach Williams recruited awfully good kids who were motivated to do the job in the classroom, and I'm sure coach (Bill) Self will do the same."

KU made academics a top priority the past 15 years, as evidenced by players carrying their books into study halls during trips to preseason tourneys as far away as Alaska and Hawaii and to all postseason locales, including last year's Final Four in New Orleans.

"Certainly they hate that," Walden said of study time on the road. "But I think they understand, too, where we're coming from when we do that. It's not like we take up every minute of their time. Hawaii is a great place, but the student-athletes also have school going on and you can't forget that."

Paul Buskirk, KU associate athletic director/student support services, for one, never will forget Walden.

"I am absolutely heartsick for me, selfishly, and for our department, and absolutely thrilled for Wayne," Buskirk said. "I can't possibly put into a couple of sentences how much I admire Wayne Walden as a professional, a colleague and dear friend. There is no better academic counselor in the country than Wayne Walden -- bar none.

"He is the most ethical, the most skilled, has the best personal skills, knowledge of the system, dedication to athletes and attachment to kids of anyone I've worked with. We'll find a way (to move on), but we will miss him."

Buskirk, who is conducting the search for Walden's replacement, will work directly with men's hoops until that replacement is hired.

"Wayne chooses his timing very well. We only have a handful of kids in summer school now. They are all doing great and even the new students completed classes and have gone home," Buskirk said. "Eligibility is not a concern of any of our kids now, so there's no way I can mess it up in a short period of time.

"We are committed to finding the absolute best fit. I pledged to coach Self he will have tremendous input in the hiring of the new person. It may take a few of us to step in and contribute as much as Wayne did for 15 1/2 years."

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