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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Former Jayhawks hope players will be patient

Pritchard, Maddox endured 1988 coaching change

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Mike Maddox was a freshman forward when basketball coach Larry Brown left Kansas University in the summer of 1988 for the big bucks of the NBA.

It was a difficult time for the Jayhawks, who had won a national championship just a few months earlier.

"You're young. It's a big transition," said Maddox, now president of Intrust Bank in Lawrence. "You're away from home. The unknown is the worst part of it. You don't know what's going to happen."

What happened next turned out well for Maddox and the Jayhawks. Then-KU athletic director Bob Frederick hired a little-known assistant coach from North Carolina to replace Brown. The Jayhawks won nine league titles and made four Final Four appearances in the next 15 years under Roy Williams.

So what words of wisdom would Maddox have for current KU players following Williams' resignation Monday?

"My advice would be not to overreact," said Maddox, who was a senior when Williams guided KU to the national title game in 1991. "They came here to play basketball for the University of Kansas. They're still at the University of Kansas. They need to have confidence that the University of Kansas will find a quality coach. This program has been around 105 years, and it has always been good. It will continue to be good."

Williams' resignation came exactly one week after KU lost to Syracuse in the national title game in New Orleans.

"When coach Brown left it was a hard situation," said Kevin Pritchard, who was a sophomore guard on Brown's national title team. "We had just won the championship -- very similar to this year. We were at a pinnacle and wanted to make a run at it the next year. I know that's how (the current players) feel. They want to know who their leader will be. I remember when we hired coach Williams. I thought, 'I've never heard of him.' But after I met him, I knew we were going to work our tails off for him."

Pritchard said the Jayhawks should approach their offseason workouts as if nothing had changed.

"Get your butt ready for next year," Pritchard said. "Kansas basketball is going to be back, and it's going to be better."

Hurt by probation, KU dipped to 19-12 in Williams' first season in 1988-89, but his teams averaged 28.5 victories during the next 14 years.

"My heart hurts," Pritchard said. "This is a dark day in Kansas basketball. I'm very sad and very upset. I don't know exactly why this happened. I wish we had a chance to make our case again."

Fans and players pleaded for Williams not to return to his alma mater. The same tactic worked three years earlier when the coach rejected an offer from UNC.

Count Pritchard among those who left messages for the coach in the last week, asking him to stay.

"I wish there is more I could have done," he said. "That's the part that's upsetting."

Pritchard also was among the KU fans disappointed that former KU player and UNC coach Dean Smith helped lure Williams away from Kansas.

"Last time I looked, Dean Smith was a Kansas graduate on a championship team," Pritchard said of Smith, who was a reserve on KU's 1952 squad. "I don't understand it."

Pritchard also had a hard time understanding Williams' decision.

"I was stunned," he said. "I didn't think that would happen. Why would you leave this place? He built it up to be a top-five program every year. Not only that, he did it the right way.

"I can't think of a single reason, and that's the frustrating part. We've lost Kansas' best treasure in coach Williams. It doesn't get better than that."

There won't be much time to bemoan Williams' departure. Maddox and Pritchard both said KU needed to move quickly in naming a successor.

"We have to make a good decision," Pritchard said. "We have to make a prompt decision to keep our current players and our recruits."

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