Originally published May 8, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated May 8, 2009 at 09:05a.m.

KU web extends all over


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.


Dirk Medema 12 years, 1 month ago

Third to last paragraph "and Bill Self got another one 10 years later", should be 20 years later.

Eurekahwk 12 years, 1 month ago

Thank you Bill Mayer, that was soul food. If I hadn't been banned from UK and UNC message boards already, I'd link that for them because I don't think they get it.

Ted Toulouse 12 years, 1 month ago

This is a point I tried to relay to the Carolina faithful during the Williams saga. I always try to make sure people around me know about it when they start going off on their school's program. Love the history, love the excellence, love the Jayhawks!

minnhawk84 12 years, 1 month ago

drgnslayr: One war hero who comes quickly to mind is Bob Johnson. I believe he was a three sport standout at Shawnee Mission High School, started to go to KU as a basketball player, and enlisted in Navy Aviation from Campus when the war got going. He was an ace in the Pacific for the Navy, and his squadron set the record for most enemy tonnage sunk during the war. He had the carrier Wasp shot out from under him as well as many close calls. I believe he was awarded the Distringuished Flying Cross or possibly the Navy Cross. Returning from the war, I believe he was a Jayhawk basketball standout. He went on to coach basketball at Shawnee Mission (North) and later became the first principal of SM South HS -- my principal. I interviewed him for the school paper 39 years ago, so I am going off of what I remember from then. Bill, can you give us more on this war hero/standout KU athlete? Was he all-conference, or an all-American?

Joel Hood 12 years, 1 month ago

This is a nice story, but I really wish Mayer would do a piece on the impact of John McLendon. He was featured on the ESPN documentary, Black Magic. The game today would be very different if not for his influence in southern, historically African American universities. He went to KU in the 1930's and his mentor was James Naismith. This tenticle of KU basketball is rarely discussed.

NH_JHawk 12 years, 1 month ago

Bill, we will indeed have a good chance next season to pass the almighty UNC and close the gap significantly with UK. Another element of drama twisted up into what will be one of the most anticipated seasons of KU basketball in recent memory.

canuckhawk 12 years, 1 month ago

I'd just as soon we don't parade out our connection to Coach Cal.

Ervin O'Neal 12 years, 1 month ago


While I would welcome passing UNC next year, it would take us having 15 more wins than UNC. I can't imagine Roy's team only having 15 or so wins and not making the NCAA tournament. I do see UNC passing UK next year and KU closing the gap on both teams.

If UK struggles at the start next year, UK and UNC could be celebrating their 2,000th win around the same week.

We have the best coach, and soon we will have the most wins.

ChicagoJHawk 12 years, 1 month ago


I don't know too many details about the Jayhawks during WW2 but I do know we were really really good. We made it to the championship game in 1940 & lost to Indiana. I do remember reading that over the next few years we had some championship caliber teams but some of the players had to leave & go overseas to serve their country. I've read an article or 2 about this, I think it was here, on kusports. It sounded like we could have had another championship or 2 if those players didn't have to go to war.

KUFan90 12 years, 1 month ago

Mayer at his best. Great article. Stick to these pieces instead of the crotchety "back in my day" rants.

Mark Anderson 12 years, 1 month ago

Another great coaching legend and KU alum - Ralph Miller: Miller was born March 9, 1919, in Chanute, Kan. He was a football quarterback and basketball forward at the University of Kansas and broke into coaching at Wichita State in 1952. He compiled a 220-133 record there, then coached six seasons at Iowa before moving to Oregon State. He coached 19 seasons at Oregon State and won four Pacific 10 Conference championships. His 1981 team was ranked No. 1 in the nation for nine weeks. When he retired in 1989 after coaching 38 seasons, his total of 674 wins was sixth best in NCAA history.

The KU web is indeed wide and deep!

ChicagoJHawk 12 years, 1 month ago


I beleive this is what you were looking for...

"One of the saddest aspects of Kansas basketball history is that the Jayhawks were easily good enough to win the 1943 NCAA title with a starting five of Charlie B. Black, Otto Schnellbacher, John Buescher, Ray Evans and Armand Dixon. The day after the final game on March 6, another victory over Kansas State, all the physically acceptable Jayhawks (22-6) had been dispersed for World War II service.

KU never got a hint of a tournament game because of the Great Hate, and Wyoming won the ’43 NCAA title in Kansas City.

Kansas had a 19-1 record in 1946 when its 1-2-3 punch consisted of Charlie B. Black, Gib Stramel and Otto Schnellbacher, with Ray Evans as the quarterback. But KU faced a district playoff against Oklahoma A & M with 7-0 All-American Bob Kurland in command. The outsized Jayhawks, despite their 10-0 league mark, came home from Kansas City at 19-2."

Joe Ross 12 years, 1 month ago


Amen and amen and amen. Amen all over the place.

KU HISTORY is the hub of the basketball wheel, and 3 of the greatest programs in college basketball owe their existence to it.

Beak 12 years, 1 month ago

yeah, cast your vote. We're down 2%

kvskubball 12 years, 1 month ago

I think that the KU contribution to basketball, especially through the coaches that have learned the trade at KU, is undeniable. I think it is very interesting that the slant of this article is the propagation of coaching genius eminating from KU and spreading to the rest of college basketball, most prominently to UK and UNC. The links between the big 3 can't be denied and between KU and UK it does seem to be unidirectional. The KU and UNC link is not. KU 'sent' Smith to UNC but UNC reciprocated by 'sending' Brown and Williams to KU, then of course Ole Roy ricocheted home to UNC.

I have been a KU fan since I was a western Kansas prairie bumpkin. Never actually attended KU, being an alum of Tulsa University and now Georgia. I think that as an incubator of coaches, KU is tops all-time, and lil' ole TU has done a nice job since the 1980's. I was reminded of that by an add-on to the Owens and Self Golf article on this site. It mentions Self, Richardson, and Tubby Smith going to a dinner in Tulsa. Amazing that the three coaches passed through TU, and then each eventually won a national title at another school, Self (at KU of course), Richardson at Arkansas, and Tubby won at UK. Relating that to KU would be phenomenal, as players/coaches (or those that were tutored or mentored by a KU coach, like McClendon - who never had the opportunity to be a player or coach at KU, due primarily to his pigmentation, which history has shown is a poor way to judge any human, at least IMO) that have come from the KU family have won a lot of titles. The Baron won 4, Dean won 2, Roy has won 2 and counting, McClendon won, I think, 3 HBCU national titles. Others may not have won titles, but have had incredible careers, for example, as noted above, Ralph Miller is one of the winningest coaches of all time, to go along with Dean and Rupp, and of course Doc...Did I miss anyone else coming from KU that won a national title at another school?

Love da history man! And as Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story....of course it always makes me chuckle to think that the only KU basketball coach with a losing record is the guy who invented the game, and that wasn't a guy named Iba or the General, no that would be Mr. Naismith, go figure!

jayhawker_97 12 years, 1 month ago

purty good article!! so refreshing.. let's get 2009-2010 crown also then!

Joe Ross 12 years, 1 month ago

not that I would give championships away, but i relish the history even more than the crowns.


tdomine 12 years, 1 month ago

I believe that John Wooden (and all his titles he would later gain at UCLA) came to Kansas to try and get on board the Jayhawk express when he was young. From what I recall, there was no room for the Wizard, but he spent the summer working construction on Memorial Stadium. So the web spreads wide indeed.

One school to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Rock chalk.

Rick Arnoldy 12 years, 1 month ago

Looking ahead, could these guys at UNC continue on to great things as head coaches some day?

Assistant Coach C.B. McGrath Head Assistant Coach Joe Holladay Assistant Coach Steve Robinson Director of Basketball Operations Jerod Haase

KUbsee69 12 years, 1 month ago

drgnslayr ...

I can't believe nobody has listed the Bob Dole war connection. He played KU basketball for Phog Allen in the early WWII years before he entered the Army and his subsequent very serious wounding in Italy. Remember, he has his own building named after him on the KU campus.

ckdann 12 years, 1 month ago

The most noteworthy link among KU-Kentucky-North Carolina is that all three were defeated by Arizona during the UofA's stunning run to the title in 1997. Only time in the history of the tournament that a team beat three No. 1 seeds en route to the title. And the three winningest programs in history to boot!

mlubyRN 12 years, 1 month ago

Yah that was a really cool article. RCJH! Go KU!

kvskubball 12 years, 1 month ago


I like the LOR reference, but I don't think KU basketball has any 'evil' world domination plans, or do we??? Let the conspiracy theorists ponder the KU legacy and it's ever widening web! LOL (Or is that an evil Chucky chuckle I hear?)

Ryan Mullen 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm sorry but this is all stuff that we have heard for years nothing is new here just stuff that's millions of people already knew and talk about often bill it's time to retire.

Steve Gantz 12 years, 1 month ago

Interesting article. I'm sure any UCLA reader seeing this would say well they all trail us in NC's. What they did in the 60's and 70's was amazing.

I may be dreaming, but was Gillispie an assistant at KU also?

On a side note I met a man living in Lawrence who claimed to be Wooden's cousin.

100 12 years, 1 month ago

Great article:

Three things missed.

  1. Phog actually had a fifty one year reign here. Interupted for a few years in the 1910's, but he was always here, even if letting EO Wilson have the reigns for a few paltry years. Recruited by the inventor at a basketball tournament at KC's municipal auditorium (the same place the ku 1988 team walked out during the NAACP basketball game, a day before facing Duke at Kemper. The packed house exploded. I still believe that energy, through the crowd, in the building, through Danny & the miracles & coach brown woke up the spirit of Phog & Naismith. It seemed inevitable we'd win it all after that moment in Municiple, the place where Naismith recruited Phog.

  2. Wooden visited KU before any school to meet Phog & Naismith. Meet he did. And he got a much needed job for him at the time. Pouring concrete for a new football complex -- Memorial Stadium.

  3. Naismith's impact -- Lawrence will forever be a better place thanks to him. He was as Jayhawk as Danny Manning, if that's at all possible. He lived here more than half of his life, 41 years and almost never missed a home game. Put another way -- without Naismith, there's no Wilt. There's no Phog. There's no Allen Fieldhouse. There's not even a Memorial Stadium (Phog, with the help of Naismith --originally a football & lacross man before inventing bball -- coached a KU football team for a season -- coming up with a huge tie against NU in the early 1920's -- and together turned them into winners which caused a need for a new structure, and caused money to flow in)

Great article! Keep the bball articles coming all summer!

actorman 12 years, 1 month ago

"mythical titles? What?"

Jayceph, unless you're joking, I'm surprised you would say that. Surely, as much as you know about KU, you would know that the 1922 and 1923 "championships" were voted on by a committee in 1936. That's far less legitimate than winning a BCS championship, where at least they're voted on in the same year. That's why 1922 and 1923 will never mean that much to me -- they were great seasons, sure, but as far as considering them championships, that's quite a stretch.

5yardfuller 12 years, 1 month ago


If you count Helms titles, Dutch Lonborg's Northwestern team was awarded the title in 1931 and John Bunn's Stanford team received it in 1937. Also Rupp's teams received the Helms title in 1933 and 1954 (in addition to the years he won the NCAA championship). Dutch Lonborg also coached Washburn to the AAU national championship in 1925.

Paul Mitten 12 years, 1 month ago

Gillispie was a Self assistant, not a Kansas assistant.

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago


Regarding John Wooden having worked a summer job pouring concrete on Memorial Stadium, what is your source on this? It is a very interesting story that at least seems to conflict with a piece of the puzzle that I possess.

As I have said before, I met Wooden and spent a couple days with he and Nellie a few years after Wooden retired from UCLA. What he told me was quite different than what you indicate. Wooden told me that he was invited to come to Lawrence for a visit by Allen and that he certainly would have considered playing for Allen at KU but for a perceived snubbing by Allen. Wooden related how he took the train to Lawrence. Someone was supposed to pick him up at the train station. When he arrived, no one was waiting. He waited an hour or so. He was so insulted that he got back on the train and returned to Martinsville, Indiana. Wooden's best friend from his high school team, the 6'5" center, Marshall Tackett, had just decided to attend Butler, where he shortly became an All American center. Tackett was the bigger star of the two in those days. Wooden said he did not want to appear to be riding Tackett's coat tails to Butler. Instead, he chose Purdue, because of his admiration for Ward "Piggy" Lambert. He indicated no warm and fuzzy feelings for KU whatsoever in my meeting with him, and he knew that I was from KU.

Perhaps Wooden came to Lawrence on an earlier trip and did as you describe, but he gave no hint of this in my discussion with him.

This seems very much worth clarifying for the sake of The Legacy.

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago


I do not see how Phog could have been recruited by Naismith at KC's Municipal Auditorium, at least the art deco one built in 1936 by the Pendergast machine using Dewey Portland Cement, because Phog's recruitment had to have occurred several decades before 1936. Perhaps you are referring to an earlier Municipal Auditorium, or a facility in Kansas City, Kansas.

NH_JHawk 12 years, 1 month ago

Jaybate -

There have been a few references from the LJW about Wooden pouring concrete at Memorial Stadium as he was "passing through town." I posted links to two articles below. I do find it interesting that there's a 6 year difference of Wooden working on Memorial between these two articles. Take it for what it's worth I guess.

"Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden actually played a small role in the building of Memorial Stadium. While passing through town in 1927, Wooden approached KU basketball coach Phog Allen about a job. And Wooden was hired to help pour concrete for the Jayhawks' future home long before he became the Wizard of Westwood."

"UCLA's John Wooden worked for Allen during the 1921 building of Memorial Stadium and adopted lots of KU tactics."

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago


Thanks for posting those links together with my anecdote as pieces of the puzzle. As the LJW stories are conspicuously unattributed, and varied in dates, they probably do deserve some skepticism. My recollection dates to late 1977 or early 1978, when Wooden was speaking at Northwest Missouri State. If anyone knows the Wizard, ask him if he worked on Memorial Stadium. Maybe he did. I just don't recall him making any reference to it at all.

5yardfuller 12 years, 1 month ago

From the book, “How To Be Like Coach Wooden”,

“During the summer of 1927, before his senior year in high school, Coach and a high school teammate hitchhiked to Kansas to work in the wheat fields there. The Martinsville High School team had won the Indiana state championship that year, so the boys wore their state championship letterman jackets on the road in order to increase their chances of getting a ride. When they reached Lawrence, the boys discovered, to their dismay, that the wheat crop was not yet ready for harvest. So, instead, they got a job pouring concrete for the University of Kansas’ new football stadium, Memorial Stadium. At night, they slept on the floor of the campus gymnasium. Memorial Stadium is still in use today, and Wooden chuckles, “I think I did an excellent job.””

Regarding the dates in the LJW articles, Memorial Stadium was originally built in 1921. In 1927 the north bowl was added increasing capacity from 22,000 to 35,000.

rkrause 12 years, 1 month ago

Just a test to see if comments are working - please ignore

Ervin O'Neal 12 years, 1 month ago


Please don't steal away my fun. I love the fact that we were awarded the National Championships in 1922 and 1923. KU defeated Mizzou on the last game of the season in both years. I've had shirts made up for these games. I give them to my Mizzou friends. A group of us play pick-up basketball each week. Some nights are deemed Final Four shirt night. The shirts from 1922 and 1923 are the only things that keep us from having to play shirts-on-skins. Mizzou has played in two different title deciding games. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. lol

jaybate 12 years, 1 month ago


Thank you so much for posting the source of the quote. It certainly convinces me.

Eric J. Baker 12 years, 1 month ago

Great article! I love sharing the incredible sphere of KU's influence, too.

However, anyone who thinks we're going to pass UK or UNC in wins next season is a little naive. We're 18 and 14 games down respectively, meaning we would have to win at least 19 and 15 MORE games than those schools next season to move up on the list, and that just isn't happening. I fully expect us to narrow both gaps next season (UK's probably by about half), but I also expect UNC to overtake UK on the wins list. We'll need a while to move into #1, since, like us, UNC is on a roll of great seasons.

kvskubball 12 years, 1 month ago


I agree, we aren't very likely to pass either UK or UNC in total wins next year.

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