KU roster could be best ever

Friday, May 1, 2009

UCLA has not been kind to Kansas basketball, so it’s exciting that KU will go to Los Angeles come Dec. 6 with a loaded arsenal that can hibernate the deadly Bruins in their home den. Working further in KU’s favor is that the legendary Ukes are losing three of four of their top players to the pros and may be down a notch or two.

Kansas will head west with all the difference-makers from a stimulating 2008-09 season and will feature one of the best newcomer groups in its history.

Kansas is 4-10 against UCLA overall, 1-4 in trips to Los Angeles and 0-5 in NCAA Tournament competition.

Along with the tested veterans, coach Bill Self will add freshmen Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson. Transfer Jeff Withey won’t turn eligible until second semester. However, touted yearling Xavier Henry could be raising eyebrows by then; if brother C.J. can regain his basketball legs, he could add to UCLA’s problems.

Point is, Kansas may be assembling the best top-to-bottom personnel chart in its history, one sure to be picked preseason NCAA champ by many. Some even contend the coming newcomer group might be the best ever for the Jayhawks. There’s fabulous potential. But remember how football icon Bear Bryant responded when asked about touted new kids: “Potential means they ain’t done it!”

The newcomers have much to prove. Can they beat out those able returnees? Nice “problem” to have, huh?

Everybody has an idea of the best newcomer group in a school’s court annals. Kansas certainly has had a batch of such; we could argue all night about their relative merits. However, nationally, I’d have to pick the 1965-66 UCLA frosh as the best yearling crew ever, not only for that school but for any program.

The key men were Lew Alcindor, Lucious Allen from Kansas City Wyandotte, Lynn Shackelford, Kenny Heitz and Bill Sweek. They hubbed a Bruin onslaught that posted a three-year record of 88-2 and waltzed off with NCAA titles for 1967-68-69. Veteran Mike Warren, who became a fine actor, was the quarterback in ’67 and ’68, but the other five were the constants for the fabulous run of coach John Wooden (10 titles, seven in a row).

A sad footnote on Lucious Allen was that he couldn’t share fully in the ’69 glory. He got tangled with police on a marijuana possession charge. It was dismissed but a year later, he was nailed again. He hadn’t been enrolled enough for eligibility.

Yet he factored heavily in propelling the Bruins to that 88-2 victory level and had a solid pro career. Wooden was one of the saddest over this turn of events since he always said Lucious had unlimited potential if he could keep his ducks in a row.

KU won’t go to Los Angeles with a newcomer group as good as UCLA’s Alcindor-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gang. But the 2009-10 Jayhawks are speculated as college champions — and at this point should be. Potentially, anyway.

So do it, as The Bear might growl.