Editor’s note: This is the ninth story in the Journal-World’s series of top 10 games in Kansas University hoops history. Introducing No. 2:
As the countdown continues, look back at the ten greatest games here:
5 - KU cools heels
Twenty-two years. A long time. Bodies are thicker and hair is thinner. Memories tend to grow wispier, too.
But it really happened. Kansas University really did win the 1988 NCAA men’s basketball championship.
KU’s men’s basketball program is approaching a major milestone. Keep an eye on their progress and look back at what got the Jayhawks there.
In today’s culture of powerful, nationally ranked KU teams, it’s difficult to comprehend that the ’88 team wasn’t overloaded with talent, certainly nothing like the edition you’ve watched this winter.
Bill Self has so many quality players, he doesn’t need a meal ticket. If one of Self’s starters is having a bad game, he can count on another starter or even a bench player to pick up the slack.
Larry Brown didn’t have that luxury back in March of 1988 when the Jayhawks went into the NCAA Tournament with 11 losses, a No. 6 seed and a handful of regulars no longer around for one reason or another.
• Read Gary Bedore's original story from the No. 2 greatest game in KU history.
But Brown did have Danny Manning and Manning was his Secretariat, a thoroughbred who could carry the load to the end of the road. That’s exactly what Manning did, scoring 31 points and grabbing 18 boards in the stunning 83-79 triumph over Oklahoma in the championship game, and etching his name forever into Mount Oread lore.
Manning’s terrific title game overshadowed a remarkable overall tournament performance, six games in which the 6-foot-10 senior averaged 27.2 points and 9.3 rebounds.
That 31-point outburst against Oklahoma wasn’t even his high-water mark. He had 38 against Vanderbilt. Otherwise, Manning scored 25 points against both Murray State and Duke, 24 against Xavier and 20 against Kansas State.
So awe-inspiring was Manning that it’s difficult to imagine him ever missing a shot. He did, though. Manning missed 44.8 percent of them. But that’s like saying a baseball player made an out in 70 percent of his at-bats. In basketball, 55.2 percent shooting is over-the-top.
The other starters on that history-making team were Chris Piper, Milt Newton, Kevin Pritchard and Jeff Gueldner.
It’s a bit ironic that Manning and Piper can still be found at KU men’s basketball games — Manning as an assistant coach and Piper as the analyst on the Jayhawk Network radio broadcasts.
It’s also interesting to note that Pritchard and Newton are both NBA executives — Pritchard GM of the Portland Trailblazers; Newton personnel director of the Washington Wizards — even though neither enjoyed much more than a cup of coffee as NBA players.
Also noteworthy is that Manning’s son Evan is a basketball player at Free State High and Pritchard’s son K.J., who lives here with his mother, is on the Lawrence High basketball roster. Along the same lines, current KU player Chase Buford is a son of R.C. Buford, one of Brown’s assistants that season.
Oh, and one more connection. The student assistant on Brown’s staff was Mark Turgeon, now head coach at Texas A&M.
In my mind, the most unusual aspect of those ’88 champions involved the team picture. Six of the players pictured did not suit during the NCAA Tournament. Two were being red-shirted, two were booted by Brown, one suffered a season-ending injury and the other was declared ineligible at the semester.
To fill out the roster, Brown added a couple of football players — defensive back Clint Normore and linebacker Marvin Mattox. Normore scored seven points off the bench in the title game, but Mattox didn’t play.
Nevertheless, it was Mattox who uttered one of the most memorable comments after the Jayhawks won.
Asked how he felt, Mattox gushed: “This is better than birth.”