The most memorable moments from 120 years of Kansas Basketball


From James Naismith and Phog Allen to Bill Self and so many memorable people, places and moments in between, the first 120 years of Kansas Basketball, which will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during KU's home game with Oklahoma State, have delivered some of the best success and story lines that college basketball has to offer.

From James Naismith and Phog Allen to Bill Self and so many memorable people, places and moments in between, the first 120 years of Kansas Basketball, which will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during KU's home game with Oklahoma State, have delivered some of the best success and story lines that college basketball has to offer. by Matt Tait

When it comes to praising all of the things for which Kansas basketball is known, former KU coach Larry Brown perhaps said it up best when he opined, “there's no better place to coach, there's no better place to go to school and there's no better place to play,” a heartfelt endorsement of a school he loves that, until recently, still could be heard during the Jayhawks' pregame intro video.

But Brown is far from the only legendary name to sing the praises of the KU program, Allen Fieldhouse or the Jayhawk mystique throughout the years.

And while it's easy to see how a coach who worked the sidelines at Allen Fieldhouse would view KU as one of the greatest spots to do the job, it's the comments from those who did not wear crimson and blue that often seem most powerful and do the best job of putting things into perspective.

The list is long and full of just as many legendary names as anonymous faces.

One after the next, whether they've been to Lawrence a dozen times or were visiting for the first time, coaches large and small walk into Allen Fieldhouse eager to see how their teams will handle it and usually don't leave without uttering some sort of soliloquy that, more often than not, includes the words “special place.”

It's the venue, the fan base, the players and the atmosphere that make it that way, of course. But it's the thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into turning Kansas into one of the few truly elite programs in all of college basketball that have built Kansas basketball into a powerhouse brand.

Three of the eight coaches who have kept watch on the program will be in town this weekend — Brown, Ted Owens and Bill Self — and dozens of others with ties to the program also will make an appearance at an event that is celebrated every five years in one way or another.

“I think we have just under 200 ex-players coming back, plus managers, secretaries and people who have really given a lot to this place,” Self said this week. “With the players coming back, all of them can bring a guest, and the banquet that night only accommodates 400 or 450 so it'll be packed in there tight, but it'll be fun. All the ex-guys will certainly enjoy it and I know I'll enjoy getting a chance to see some folks I haven't seen in a while.”

As the Jayhawks prepare for a weekend's worth of celebration, honoring the 120-year history of Kansas basketball, let's take a quick look back at some of the best and most memorable moments that have dotted the last 120 years, stretching over 13 decades.


The year was 1899 and the date was Feb. 3. That was when the Kansas Jayhawks played their first official game of basketball. Led by the game's inventor, James Naismith, the Jayhawks lost that game to Kansas City YMCA and three others that season, finishing the first season of Kansas basketball with a 7-4 record.


The turn of the century also brought one of the most important hires in the history of the program. After running the program for nine years, Naismith eventually stepped away and hired one of his former players, Forrest C. “Phog” Allen to handle the job. Allen, the man for whom Allen Fieldhouse later was named, led the Jayhawks for 39 seasons in two stints and was driven to prove wrong Naismith's claim that “you can't coach basketball; you just play it.” Hired in 1907, Phog Allen contributed dozens of important moments to the history of college basketball and was known as "The Father of Basketball Coaching.”


In what can only be described as the most uneventful decade of Kansas basketball, the Jayhawks merely won 125 games under W.O. Hamilton and brought home five conference championships in the process. KU finished with just one loss in three of Hamilton's 10 seasons and enjoyed a 21-game winning streak that spanned the end of the 1913-14 season and the beginning of the 1914-15 season.


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Led by Phog Allen, the Jayhawks finished the 1921-22 and 1922-23 seasons with a combined record of 33-3, which, later, was good enough to earn KU two retroactively-awarded Helms Foundational national titles, which are honored on two of the five national championship banners hanging inside Allen Fieldhouse. After a 10-year coaching stint by W.O. Hamilton, who finished with a 125-59 record from 1909-1919, Allen retook control of the program and led the Jayhawks until 1956. One of the more notable names of the decade was Adolph Rupp, who played for Allen from 1920-23. Seven years later, Rupp began a 41-year coaching career at Kentucky that produced 876 victories, which ranks him fifth on the all-time list.


In addition to winning a ton of games in this decade, Allen helped create something that has become one of the biggest spectacles in the history of sports and continues to grow bigger and bigger every year. First played in 1939, Allen the modern NCAA Tournament, which featured a bracket and the first ever Final Four. Villanova, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma played in that first Final Four, with Oregon topping Ohio State to claim the first official NCAA championship.


It's happened 13 more times since, but in 1940, Phog Allen's Jayhawks reached the first Final Four in school history, knocking off Rice, 50-44, to advance to the national semifinals. While there, second-seeded Kansas disposed of USC by a single point before falling to top-seeded Indiana, 60-42 in the national title game. That team, which featured, among others, Dick Harp and Ralph Miller, finished 19-6 and won its eighth Big Six championship in a 10-year span.


Arguably the most memorable decade in Kansas basketball history, the '50s featured not only KU's first NCAA championship (1952) but also a group of Jayhawks winning Olympic gold, the opening of Allen Fieldhouse in 1955, the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain one year later and one of the most memorable games in school history, a triple-overtime loss to North Carolina in the 1957 national title game. The Jayhawks also reached three Final Fours during the 1950s and saw the end of Phog Allen's stellar coaching career in 1956. When all was said and done, Allen left KU with a career coaching record of 590-219. Through his first 15 seasons, current KU coach Bill Self is now second to Allen in all-time Kansas victories with a career record of 434-92. Another notable name to play at Kansas in the '50s was Emporia native Dean Smith, who played at Kansas under Phog Allen from 1949-53. After a short stint as a KU assistant after graduation, Smith started his coaching career as an assistant at North Carolina in 1958 before taking over as the UNC head coach in 1961 and walking away after 36 seasons and 879 victories.


On Feb. 3, 1969, exactly 70 years to the day of the first ever basketball game in school history, Kansas picked up victory No. 1,000, with 64-48 victory over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse. In 1964, Ted Owens was hired to replace Dick Harp and Owens would go on to lead the Jayhawks for the next 19 seasons, guiding Kansas to six Big Eight titles, seven NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Final Four. Owens and the Jayhawks were inches away from reaching the Final Four in 1966, but what appeared to be a game-winning shot by point guard Jo Jo White in the first overtime of a game against Texas Western was waived off after White was whistled for stepping out of bounds. Texas Western won in double overtime and went on to defeat Kentucky for the national title, becoming the first team to field an all-black starting lineup to win the title.


On Senior Night of a particularly disappointing 1971-72 season in which the Jayhawks finished 11-15, senior Bud Stallworth provided one of the most memorable individual efforts in KU history. Facing arch-rival Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse, Stallworth exploded for 50 points — the second most ever by a KU player, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 52 — and ended the season on a positive note. Two years later, led by a group of talented juniors, Owens and the Jayhawks reached the Final Four for the second time in the decade, joining the 1970-71 squad as the fifth and sixth Final Four teams in school history.


The 1980s featured two of the most memorable coaching hires in school history — Larry Brown in 1983 and Roy Williams in 1988 — and also delivered Kansas its second NCAA title, when Danny and the Miracles wrote a Cinderella story en route to the 1988 national championship. Back in the Final Four for the second time in three years under Brown, the 1988 Jayhawks won the title as a No. 6 seed, knocking off fourth-seeded Kansas State, second-seeded Duke and top-seeded Oklahoma in successive rounds, avenging regular season losses to all three programs in the process. Following the magical 1987-88 season, Danny Manning went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. Manning still holds KU's all-time records for career points (2,951) and rebounds (1,187).


With a little-known former North Carolina assistant coach named Roy Williams, suddenly running the show, it did not take KU fans long to realize just how good they had it. Williams led the Jayhawks to two Final Fours in his first five seasons, leading the 1990-91 Jayhawks to the national title game and the 1992-93 team to the national semifinals. The 1990s also featured the arrival of players such as Rex Walters, Adonis Jordan, Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Jerod Haase, all players who contributed mightily to Williams' signature style of fast-paced basketball and tremendous effort at all times.


After a decade of heartbreaking NCAA Tournament losses, the Jayhawks got back to the promised land in the 2000s, with Williams guiding KU to back-to-back Final Fours in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and a trip to the 2003 national title game. That game, an 81-78 loss by Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison-led Jayhawks to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse, wound up being the final Kansas game ever coached by Williams, who left for North Carolina, his alma mater, following the season. That paved the way for the Jayhawks to replace him with Bill Self, who, five years later, did something Williams could never do at Kansas — cut down the nets and win the NCAA Tournament. Self's 2007-08 team that finished 37-3 was one of the best college teams of all-time and was crowned champion after a miracle 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers sent the national title game with Memphis into overtime, where Kansas won, 75-68.


After a few disappointments of his own, Self's squad finally got back to the Final Four in 2012, with a team led by tough-as-nails leaders Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. That group lost to Kentucky in the national title game. That same year, the Jayhawks won the final Border War showdown with Missouri in an epic game at Allen Fieldhouse that featured the Jayhawks coming back from 19 down to win in overtime. Two years earlier, in 2010, Self led the Jayhawks to the program's 2,000th victory, making Kansas just the third team in NCAA history to reach that milestone. In 2014, one-and-done Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins became the second KU player to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Three years later, point guard Frank Mason III became the first Kansas player to sweep all of the country's national player of the year honors after becoming the first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists in a single season. In 2017, just prior to the start of his 15th season in charge of the Kansas program, Self was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.


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Bryce Landon 3 years, 8 months ago

So hard to summarize 120 years of KU basketball in one article.

Matt Tait 3 years, 8 months ago

It definitely was. Could've been 10 times as much just about each decade... and then some. But I figured this would at least hit on most of it. Fun to do, even if it was tough.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 8 months ago

Matt, you know you could use this article as an outline, flesh it out with all the wonderful incidents you had to edit it out, publish it and make a fortune.......I'd buy it in a heartbeat!!

PS Don't forget Dickie V giving Nick Collison a standing ovation!!

Matt Tait 3 years, 8 months ago

Haha. Hadn't thought of that. But, yeah, there's plenty here. There also are plenty of KU books out there so any new ones, in my humble opinion, are best if they're unique in some way. Thanks for the comment and the Vitale standing ovation memory. Helluva moment!

Kenneth Johnson 3 years, 8 months ago

Tony, You might think about buying my two books on the history of KU basketball, which can be purchased at KU Bookstores or Amazon.

Kansas University Basketball Legends (2013) and More University of Kansas Basketball Legends (2014, both published by the History Press.

Kenn Johnson (KU MS '70)

Matt Tait 3 years, 8 months ago

I haven't. Assuming it covers all of this and more. Just threw this together last night so as not to ignore the special celebration taking place this weekend. Pretty cool that they do it every 5 years and always fun to see who makes it back.

Titus Canby 3 years, 8 months ago

Matt, glad you mentioned Adonis Jordan. He's one of my favorite Jayhawks for 2 reasons - he was a great player, but just as important, he stayed when we got the sanctions.

After reading your article, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to be a Jayhawk. I'll never forget being in a bar in Chicago in the 90s, got to talking to some guys and mentioned that I went to KU. Their first question was "have you been to game at Allen Fieldhouse? How awesome is it?" (Ok, that's 2 questions.)

Titus Canby 3 years, 8 months ago

Since we're walking down memory lane... questions for all you posters. Who's your all-time favorite KU basketball player? (Favorite, not best.) And what's the most memorable game you've been to at the Fieldhouse?

Steve Gantz 3 years, 8 months ago

Since I went to KU starting in 1985 (lucky me) my favorite of all time, easy!

Robert Lofthouse 3 years, 8 months ago

Bulldog Mason!

Memorable? Feb 25, 2012, the 19 point rally to push Missouri into OT before packing them off to another conference! Stood through the whole second half and OT. Just one of those things that makes Jayhawk basketball special. Disappointment, defense, slow comeback, college kids paying their hearts out for 40+ minutes, furious end-game! Glorious end of an era.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 8 months ago

My five Personal Top KU Memories:

1] November, 1966. my first game in Allen Field House. Dirt track and all, Allen was just as magical as it is today. I can't even remember who we played but I can still picture Ron Franz and Roger Bohnnenstiel [sp?] dominating while watching the cheerleaders from below on the raised court!

2] The Saturday comeback fame against Texas when their star scored about 100 points in the first half then got shut down in the second. [A twisted ankle helped].

3] The Final Four semifinal game against UCLA in 1971 in the Astrodome in Houston. !2 of us from Stephenson Hall went down and all stayed in the same hotel room!!!

4] The Maui Invitational in 1996 when my dear friend, Carl Krehbiel, his mom Kathryn and myself were kicked out of the same by the UMass coach because he thought we were KU spies!

5] The last game I would attend with Carl and Kathryn who would both pass away later that year, the January 2016, overtime victory over Kentucky. You couldn't have picked a better finale.

David Kelley-Wood 3 years, 8 months ago

If there'd been a 3-point shot in 1966, Roger (which I've also seen spelled "Rodger") Bohnenstiehl would have been a god.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 8 months ago

Interesting questions, Titus. Don't know that I could boil it down to one in those two categories.

However, the most memorable game for me wasn't actually in AFH. It was the 1957 National Championship game in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. I still have vivid recollections of that game even 60 years later.

I was 9 at the time, and my father took me to that Final Four. I remember that besides KU and UNC, the other two teams were the University of San Francisco and Michigan State. I don't recall which of those latter two KU played in the semi-finals, but KU won rather easily.

I remember that USF was in the post-Bill Russell era, but I think that KC Jones was on that team. Also, Michigan State had a star names "Jumping" Johnny Green who later played in the pros.

As 9 year old, I was in awe of watching Wilt Chamberlain in person. When KU lost in triple overtime, I cried all the way home to Topeka.

As for favorite player, oh my, where do you start. Pretty hard to top Frank Mason, probably because he is one of the most recent. However, for true grit, determination, and leadership, nobody has been better. The fact that he won every National Player of the Year Award in his senior season speaks to the respect and admiration that he earned across the board. I hope that he returns to KU in some capacity when his playing days are over.

Len Shaffer 3 years, 8 months ago

I've been watching KU basketball since the year before the '74 Final Four team. And once I had set foot in Allen for my first KU game at 9 years old, I was hooked for life.

I've had several favorite KU players over the years. When I was a student, I loved watching Calvin Thompson fire up shot after long-distance shot. (Oh, if only we had had three-pointers when KU had Thompson and Kellogg!)

For most of the 2000s and this decade, my favorite had been Kirk Hinrich, who never quite got the credit he deserved. (He should have been a first-team All-American.)

But my favorite is now Frank Mason. The combination of skill, work ethic and class is going to be hard to surpass.

As for my favorite game in the old barn, it's hard to narrow it down to just one. There was the game against Oklahoma in the mid-'70s, when Alvin Adams had a great game for OU but KU still won to clinch the Bit 8 championship.

And there was the Notre Dame game in the early 90s, I think, which may still be the loudest I'd ever heard it at Allen.

I've seen so many other great ones, including a few tough losses against great teams.

But I'm going to cheat a little and pick a game that wasn't at Allen -- the '88 championship. My friend and I had traveled back from the San Francisco Bay Area to go to the Final Four, and it was almost impossible to find tickets, as there were virtually no scalpers. (They had been cracking down on scalping so people had been scared away.) Just before the Final Four started, we found someone willing to sell us tickets for $300 each. My friend was hesitating, but I said, "Ten years from now, the money will mean nothing, but you will always remember that you'd been at the Final Four." After KU beat Duke in the semis, we were able to find tickets to the championship for $100 each, so we were fortunate enough to be there for that incredible memory -- and then got to go back to the campus for the celebration! One thing that made that game so special is that it was one of the last Final Fours to be held in a NORMAL-sized basketball arena, rather than in one of those behemoth domes. It's a shame that things will never be like that again.

Sorry for the long, rambling post, but articles like these bring back so many great memories.

Mike Riches 3 years, 8 months ago

Great article, Matt! So many great memories!

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 8 months ago

Love the references to Roger Bohnenstiel. His turn-around jump shot was legendary.

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