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The ultimate KU fan favorites of the Bill Self era

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The other night, when I was perusing yet another NBA Summer League box score, a thought occurred to me that inspired a little extra examination.

Why is it that a short story about an average game by new Sacramento Kings point guard Frank Mason III gets a ton of love on our site, while a similar note about former KU forward Cheick Diallo topping 20 points and impressing New Orleans’ coaches entering Year 2 of his pro career draws far less interest?

The answer was easy to find. And it has everything to do with how long the two players were in Lawrence and what they did while they were here.

With Mason, a four-year player and three-year leader who capped his KU career with the best individual season by a guard in Big 12 history, the opportunity for fans to watch him succeed and fail, to share the ride through college basketball’s ups and downs with him, took KU fans on a long journey and provided time for them to feel a true connection with the once-quiet Petersburg, Va., native.

With Diallo, and others like him, the time was short-lived and left many Kansas fans with a ‘We hardly knew ya,’ attitude toward the once-hyped, highly coveted former prep standout.

I’ve long been a believer that the Kansas basketball players who are remembered the longest — and the fondest — are the ones with whom the fans feel a true connection.

Sure, winning a title trumps everything. So, yeah, Danny Manning, Milt Newton, Kevin Pritchard, Chris Piper, Scooter Barry and that gang, along with Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun and the 2008 crew will always be beloved for bringing home the hardware.

But there’s more to the college basketball experience than cutting down nets. Especially for the fans. And there have been more than a few KU players throughout the decades who have held a special place in the hearts of thousands of rabid KU fans for reasons beyond their basketball accomplishments.

Be them personality traits, hardships, memorable moments or unforgettable toughness and courage, those players have endeared themselves to Kansas fans everywhere for eternity and will not soon be forgotten.

For this exercise, and because KU coach Bill Self last season called Mason the greatest guard he’s ever coached, let’s take a quick look at the most memorable fan favorites of the Self era.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) shoots a selfie with some Jayhawk fans awaiting autographs following the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) shoots a selfie with some Jayhawk fans awaiting autographs following the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug


1. Frank Mason III

Heading into his senior season, I’m not sure I would’ve put Mason on this list, let alone this high on it. But then he became the unanimous national player of the year, turned in one of the best seasons in Big 12 history and did it all while being the face of the standard of toughness for all past and future Kansas players. Add to that his sudden rise in the NBA Draft, which came with Mason still maintaining his underdog persona, and you’re talking about a player who every KU fan felt like they knew on a personal level and rooted for like family.

Kansas fans reach out to forward Thomas Robinson as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 90-66 win over Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. Robinson scored 17 points in his return to the Fieldhouse after Thursday's funeral for his mother, Lisa Robinson, who died last Friday of a heart attack.

Kansas fans reach out to forward Thomas Robinson as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 90-66 win over Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. Robinson scored 17 points in his return to the Fieldhouse after Thursday's funeral for his mother, Lisa Robinson, who died last Friday of a heart attack. by Nick Krug

2. Thomas Robinson

This is tied directly to the death of his mother, Lisa Robinson, who passed away unexpectedly during T-Rob’s sophomore season, just weeks after the powerful power forward lost two of his grandparents. At such a heartbreaking time in the young man’s life, the Kansas faithful opened their collective arms as wide as possible and wrapped them around the KU forward, who, beyond using the KU family to help him get through such a tough time, also turned in All-American numbers in leading the Jayhawks to the national title game one year later. The wins were great. But it was the bond created between player and fan — one that later even extended to Robinson’s younger sister, Jayla — that landed Robinson so high on this list.

Kansas guard Mario Chalmers claps as the Jayhawks begin to widen their lead in the second half of Monday night's game against the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas guard Mario Chalmers claps as the Jayhawks begin to widen their lead in the second half of Monday night's game against the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

3. Mario Chalmers

Yes, Chalmers is on this list — and dozens of others — because he hit arguably the biggest shot in the storied history of Kansas basketball. But his status as a fan favorite was cemented long before the 3-pointer to tie Memphis in the 2008 national title game. That, obviously, did not hurt his standing, but more than the shot, or any number of deadly 3-pointers and steals that Chalmers drained or swiped during his time at KU, was the smirk. The look on Chalmers’ face that surfaced when KU had an opponent beaten or when the outcome was still uncertain, but Mario wasn’t, was the stuff of legends and endeared him to KU fans everywhere. It was the kind of look that you loved if it was on your side and absolutely despised with every fiber of your being if you were on the other side.

Kansas forward Darnell Jackson roars as he trots back on defense following a bucket in the second half Saturday, April 5, 2008 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas forward Darnell Jackson roars as he trots back on defense following a bucket in the second half Saturday, April 5, 2008 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Nick Krug

4. Darnell Jackson

One of the true all-heart players to come through Kansas, Jackson enjoyed the perfect career trajectory, from seldom-used sub as a true freshman to national champion starter as a senior. Sometimes, simply paying your dues along that path is enough to inspire grand appreciation from the KU fan base, but, with Jackson, there was much more that went into it. For starters, his personality. A no-nonsense guy on the court, with a fun-loving and expressive personality off of it, Jackson carried with him that lovable teddy bear vibe, provided that teddy bear came in a 6-foot-8, 250-pound, rock solid frame. As was the case with Robinson, the personal tragedies Jackson endured during his life, both while at KU and after, (his grandmother died in a car wreck and mother later passed away after an overdose of pain pills) tugged at the heart strings of many KU fans and created that deeper connection between the player and the fans.

Kansas University guard Sherron Collins trots back on defense with a wide smile after drilling a three-pointer in the Jayhawks' 88-74 victory over Kansas State. Collins hit three of seven treys - and KU 11 of 23 - in the victory Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas University guard Sherron Collins trots back on defense with a wide smile after drilling a three-pointer in the Jayhawks' 88-74 victory over Kansas State. Collins hit three of seven treys - and KU 11 of 23 - in the victory Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

5. Sherron Collins

The perfect combination of Mario Chalmers’ swagger and Frank Mason’s toughness, with the bulk of his playing career sandwiched right between the two, Collins’ Chicago-style persona and constant willingness to sacrifice his body in any and every way for the KU basketball program in pursuit of the next bucket or victory made him one of the most beloved Jayhawks of the past couple of decades. His passion for the game, ability to play bigger than his size and raw emotion and fiery mentality provided Self’s post-title teams with the perfect leader for the next era. Add to that the huge role he played in delivering the 2008 title and it’s easy to see why Collins was so loved and still is.

Have an opinion about which one of these Jayhawks stands above the rest? Or maybe your guy didn't make this list? Vote here in our fan favorite poll and/or name your guy and why in the comment section below.

Comments

Suzi Marshall 2 months, 1 week ago

If you were to extend that list a bit more, you would not need to go too far before adding Josh Jackson. Jackson is unique amongst the OAD in that he came to Lawrence to play ball. As Self says; "He unpacked his bags."

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

I agree completely and think Jackson would probably have made a Top 10 list... Others who I thought would/should be on that next five include: Russell Robinson, Perry Ellis. Devonte' Graham after next season... Who else?

Craig Carson 2 months ago

I would have had Wayne Simeien...he was the best college player to come out of the state of Kansas in a long time. And him coming from Leavenworth made him a true home grown kid. I always wonder how that 2003 title game would have panned out if he had been healthy at least for that game. Maybe Roy finally wins a NC for KU???

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

Great call. He'd make the Top 10 for sure. Think he belongs ahead of any of these guys?

Phil Leister 2 months, 1 week ago

No. I'd say maybe Darnell Jackson shouldn't be in the top 5. The other 4 guys though are rock solid. Getting a top 10 list opens it up to a lot more guys.

Janet Olin 2 months, 1 week ago

I agree about the fans loving Traylor. A couple of other fan favorites who got the love because they started from the bench and worked their way into starting, then did well enough to be in the NBA are Tarik Black an Jeff Withey. I wouldn't put either in the top 10, but they sure were fun to watch and classy guys.

Brad Farha 2 months, 1 week ago

What have we come to?!?!?! Journalist on journalist violence!!!!

Scott Proch 2 months, 1 week ago

Maybe I'm too old for this but I'd have to go more than 10. Jacque Vaughn, Ron Kellogg, Danny, Josh Jackson, Raef & Mark Turgeon. I could go on with bench guys who everyone loved when they went to the table like Booty Neal, Tommy Smith...

Cary Ediger 2 months, 1 week ago

Think both played for Roy, but love them.

Scott Proch 2 months, 1 week ago

Correct, I went through the article to make sure I wasn't missing the point but forgot to re-check the title!!

Ken Easthouse 2 months, 1 week ago

I really enjoy this Top 5. Extending it to a Top 10 would be tough, as there are a bunch of guys you could make an argument for 6-10.

Throw Cole Aldrich into the mix for me. He and Sherron had the monumental task of extending The Big XII title streak after the exodus from the 2008 title game. He had to grow up quick and be the big man down low, bringing along the Morris twins and taking enough elbows to the face he had his teeth knocked out. Without Cole, I don't think we would be talking about The Streak.

2 months, 1 week ago

I think the list overall is pretty accurate. I think Sherron probably belongs a little higher on the list to most fans. Quick editing note- Thomas Robinson's mother died during his sophomore year in January 2011 I believe. His breakout year wasn't until his junior year when he helped lead a team to the title game.

Humpy Helsel 2 months, 1 week ago

Hard to argue with any of the 5, but clearly, time and eras tend to diminish some of the older guys of other decades. Darnell Valentine. I can only imagine if he had played on one of Roy's or Bill Self's better teams. He was a serious stud. Danny. The only player I ever saw who could get a basket any time he wanted to and the other team could either foul him to stop him from scoring, or let him do his thing and try to stop everyone else. And the whole time everyone commented what an unselfish player he was. One of the best passers I've ever seen for his position and size at the college level. Big 8 opponents admitted they were in awe of him and swore he played at Kansas for at least 10 years. What I loved about Sherron is he truly intimidated opponents regardless of size. Frank will ALWAYS be my #1, but Sherron was a true and for real serious bad ass. I know this was "the Bill Self era," but I couldn't contain my old self.

Titus Canby 2 months, 1 week ago

Landon Lucas for top 10. Same career trajectory as Darnell Jackson, who's my #1 of the Self era. I'd include Tyrell Reed too, for the same reason.

And how about Brady Morningstar? While most posters here hated him, great defensive player, great fundamentals and good shot. Kind of a Landon Lucas in a guard's body.

And Kevin Young! Almost forgot him.

Possibly my 2nd favorite (after Darnell Jackson) is Tarik Black. Only here for one year, but what a great kid, hard worker, and smart.

Mike Greer 2 months, 1 week ago

Darnell Jackson was one of my favorites as well. Part of that 2008 team and I loved the way he could run and dunk. He had to have had as many highlight real shots as anyone on the team. He dunked with authority, it was fun to watch. He was also one of those guys that played four years and moved up the roster. http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.280889.1314350745!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/amd-jackson-jpg.jpg

Aaron Paisley 2 months, 1 week ago

My might be Tyshawn because of where he started and where he ended up leading KU to the title game.

Harlan Hobbs 2 months, 1 week ago

I really appreciate this kind of article, Matt, not just because of those you listed, but the many that others have added to your list. They all deserve to be there, and I prefer to say that, for the most part, there is a multiple-place tie that expands the list almost indefinitely.

What a storied history that KU has had under such a small list of coaches. Consider that, for over the past 100 years, KU has done this with only 6 coaches: Phog, Dick, Ted, Larry, Roy, and Bill. Add in the man who started it all, James Naismith, and what a gallery of greats you have. As broadcaster Dick Enberg likes to say, "Oh, my!"

Bryce Landon 2 months, 1 week ago

Don't leave out William O. Hamilton! He had some good seasons with the Jayhawks during the Wilson Administration.

Bryce Landon 2 months, 1 week ago

Although Mario Chalmers would be the obvious first choice for being the man primarily responsible for giving us our third NCAA title in 2008, I am personally partial to Thomas Robinson because of all the family crap he had to deal with with three deaths, including that of his mother, and having to figure out what was best for little Jayla, and how it forced him to grow up faster than most of us would have liked at the tender age of 19.

By the way, how is T-Rob doing these days? And what's the latest on Jayla?

Todd Hudnall 2 months, 1 week ago

Great list and so many great personalities. Despite not playing all four years under Self, my pick would be Wayne Simeon. Simeon had a great career at KU and is a man of admirable character. He averaged a 20/11 double/double his senior year, while being named Big 12 Player of the Year/First Team All-American. The way coach has always bragged on Wayne, I believe he'd be on Self's short list. If his last shot again Bucknell had fallen, maybe he'd be on Matt's list as well.

Craig Carson 2 months ago

the Bucknell game was a sad way for him to close his college career..KU had no business losing that game. But Id put Wayne Simien on this list. He was a true home grown kid. For a program with as much Tradition as KU, the state rarely produces top college talent.

Humpy Helsel 2 months, 1 week ago

Great summertime fun for KU basketball addicts, Matt. We can get a little bump fix to get us to the Games of Italy. Nice call on Wayne Simeon, Todd.

Eliott Reeder 2 months, 1 week ago

It is always a fun and interesting exercise to try and come up with this kind of list and to pin down the various criteria for inclusion. It is a mix of longevity, ability, backstory, miraculous moments, connection with fans, etc. Also, there are aspects of "exclusion" that would preclude someone from making the cut. Staying out of trouble is important to many fans. The players that I am surprised nobody has mentioned... Aaron Miles & Keith Langford & Wayne Simien??? I know a lot of folks think of them as Roy players, but they finished their careers under Self. I'm pretty sure Simien might even make a lot of people's top 5...

Eliott Reeder 2 months, 1 week ago

Oops, credit to Todd above for mentioning Wayne Simien first. Started my comment earlier this morning and I didn't see that one till I scrolled back through.

Tim Orel 2 months, 1 week ago

One of the top 5 fan favorite posters to this site - KLM. Keith Langford's Mother!

Mike Greer 2 months, 1 week ago

Another player from the 2008 team that I enjoyed watching was Darrell Arthur. He was only here two seasons, so I don't think he's going to make many fan's top 10 list, but he was sure fun to watch, another guy that could run and dunk with authority.

David Robinett 2 months, 1 week ago

We are obviously suffering from recency bias in excluding players before our time. For me I'd include Darnell Jackson Tony Guy Ron Kellogg and more recently Russell Robinson.

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