Originally published May 8, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated May 8, 2009 at 09:05a.m.
They’re 1-2-3 on the college basketball victory list: Kentucky at 1,988; North Carolina at 1,984; Kansas at 1,970. But the best story is who propelled them to such lofty heights. Think Kansas University.
A circle that re-emphasizes the tremendous impact of KU on college basketball has been restored. Funeral director Larry McElwain called that to my attention this week; how it came about is well worth noting for those who are fascinated (or should be) by Jayhawk history.
McElwain is a flawless veteran of local sports observation, and he said it even took him awhile to put it all into focus. “I think now’s a good time to review it again so that everyone gets refreshed, particularly younger people who may not yet fully appreciate KU’s impact,” Larry commented.
The fabulous KU-Kentucky-North Carolina linkage recently was restored when Kentucky hired John Calipari away from Memphis. John was a short-time assistant to Larry Brown at Kansas in the mid-1980s along with current KU tutor Bill Self. And, of course, Kentucky basketball’s excellence was born when KU alum Adolph Rupp took over in 1930 and began a 42-year reign of triumph.
Then there are the Kansas-Carolina bloodlines established when Dean Smith won even more games than Rupp, helped Monte Johnson hire UNC-ex Larry Brown away from the New Jersey Nets, then lined up Tar Heel Roy Williams to succeed Brown at Kansas.
Rupp, a farm boy from Halstead, was a substitute on KU’s 1922 and 1923 mythical national champions under coaching master Phog Allen. Doc’s assistant was a guy named James Naismith, who invented the game. Dean Smith also apprenticed at KU under The Phogger and brought North Carolina to national prominence in his 36-year tenure at Chapel Hill, starting in 1961.
At one time, Smith was Carolina coach, former player-assistant Dick Harp was KU coach, and Rupp was the Kentucky mahatma.
Phog Allen, of course, invented basketball coaching. It’s almost impossible to list all his contributions to the game, and society, in his 39-year tenure that ended with forced retirement in 1955-56. Rupp’s record was 876-190 that included four NCAA titles. Smith was 879-254 with two NCAA crowns at Carolina. Williams gave KU 15 glorious years, then won two college titles upon his return to Chapel Hill.
Larry Brown and Danny Manning staked KU to a 1988 NCAA title, and Bill Self got another one 20 years later. Oh, yeah, don’t forget that Matt Doherty was a Williams aide at Kansas before spending two turbulent years at North Carolina. He’s now at SMU. After Rupp at Kentucky, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie tried to match The Legend. Hall, Pitino and Smith produced champions; the Bluegrassers are counting on Calipari to repeat, soon and often.
Point is, there’s that KU-UK-UNC connection again. I’m always in awe when I start recalling how many Kansas tentacles flare out, all over college ball. Naismith, Allen, Rupp, Harp, Smith, Brown, Self, Calipari, Doherty — these and so many others are entwined in the KU net that has landed so many big fish.
Let’s hope the Jayhawks can soon close that 18-game victory gap between KU and Kentucky, bypassing Carolina en route.