Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jayhawk recalls heartbreak

Robertson reluctantly re-lives Rhode Island


A college basketball team representing the smallest state in the Union claimed one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history nine seasons ago.

The University of Rhode Island - a No. 8 seed from a state just 37 miles wide and 48 miles long - shocked No. 1-seed Kansas University, 80-75, in a second-round NCAA Tournament contest on March 15, 1998, in Oklahoma City.

The game, one of the most demoralizing in Roy Williams' 15 years at KU, concluded the careers of seniors Raef LaFrentz and Billy Thomas, who won 123 games against just 17 losses but never reached a Final Four.

It also marked the final game of junior Paul Pierce, who went 98-11 at KU but also never reached college hoops' promised land.

"You are calling to re-live that moment?" Ryan Robertson, a junior starter in that game, asked incredulously after answering his cell phone in St. Charles, Mo., where he now works as regional marketing director for Hartford Mutual Funds.

"Besides the Arizona game, that's the worst experience I ever had at KU. Why would I want to re-live that?"

Informed the two schools would be meeting at 7 tonight in Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since 1998, media favorite Robertson gave in and re-hashed the day Rhode Island guards Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler combined for 47 of the Rams' 80 points on 8-of-20 three-point shooting.

"It was the final game to what was a great year that ended horribly," said Robertson, a key cog on a KU team that went 35-4 and lost just one game in Big 12 Conference play. Rhode Island, 25-9, fell to Stanford, 79-77, in the Elite Eight.

"We were in a great position to go to the Final Four and do some things the previous year's team didn't get a chance to do. We were ready to do it, but as usual ran into a team that got hot at the absolutely best time for them and worst time for us."


Journal-World File Photo

Roy Williams, right, fights back emotions as Paul Pierce, left, leaves a news conference after the Jayhawks' NCAA Tournament loss to Rhode Island on March 15, 1998. It was Pierce's last game at Kansas University.

The Pierce- and LaFrentz-led Jayhawks were hoping to roll to the Final Four one year after their 34-2 team lost to eventual national-champ Arizona in the Sweet 16.

"I saw coach Williams, C.B. (McGrath) and Jerod (Haase) last week when North Carolina played in St. Louis," Robertson said of his former coach and teammates who now work at the University of North Carolina.

"C.B. and I were rehashing memories. He said the reason they won a national championship at North Carolina is Sean May put his teammates on his back and willed them to win.

"The fact of the matter is you need guys to make plays to carry you. I had the potential to do that. It's on my shoulders as well as others who had the potential to do that. The fact of the matter is we didn't make enough plays to win that game or the Arizona game."

The Rams, who tied for second in the Atlantic-10 East division with a 12-4 record, had two guards step up on a night KU bricked 23 of 28 three-point attempts.

"I think it's the best tandem we faced all year. They had that deadly combination, really quick guards but ones you can't leave alone," Robertson said of Mobley, an eighth-year pro with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, and Wheeler, a second-round NBA draft pick who played one game with the Denver Nuggets and currently competes overseas.

The 6-foot-4 Mobley scored 18 points the second half while being guarded by the 6-7 Pierce. Tiny 5-10 point guard Wheeler also wasn't fazed by the 6-5 Robertson.

"Their guards were very very good. You have to congratulate them," KU coach Williams said after the game.

Of course, it wasn't all about congratulating the Rams. After losing as a No. 1 seed to Rhode Island, Arizona and UTEP (1992), KU had soul searching to do as a program.

"In the regular season, we beat everyone," LaFrentz, who is now with the Portland Trailblazers, said after scoring 22 points, but just six in the last 14:08.


Journal-World File Photo

KU forward Lester earl mopes after the Jayhawks' second-round NCAA Tournament loss to the Rhode Island Rams on March 15, 1998. Kansas lost for the second year in a row as a No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks fell to Arizona in the Sweet 16 in 1997.

"In the tournament, everybody either plays over their heads or not up to their potential. I don't know what to say. It happened three times. Now it's happened four."

"It is unbelievable how luck is never on our side," noted shooting guard Thomas, who hit two of 13 three-pointers and scored just eight points. He currently plays pro ball in Serbia.

"We're supposed to be the good guys. Our program - we do everything by the book, and still we lose. Someday we'll get over the hump."

Down 72-68, KU still had a chance to rally past Rhode Island in the closing moments. However, Mobley hit a shot in the lane - with Pierce all over him - at 1:25. Following a Robertson miss, Mobley canned two free throws, upping the lead to 76-68, at 1:09.

"It's frustrating because I think if we played again we'd win," LaFrentz said after a game in which KU hit 42.5 percent of its shots to Rhode Island's 50 percent mark. "You've got to come with your A-game every night."

"I just cannot believe we lost," Pierce of the Boston Celtics noted in '98. "This tournament is a one-game deal. You don't show up one night, that's it. The best team doesn't always win."

Robertson had one year of eligibility remaining after that game. Pierce and LaFrentz were off to the pro ranks.

"God love Raef and Paul, but I felt horrible for me at the time," Robertson said. "It was a horrible loss. It was a horrible feeling for all of us. I promise you Raef and Paul look back and are awfully disappointed that game ended their college careers.

"When the careers of Paul and Raef are brought up, the fact they were not part of a Final Four or national championship is part of the hurt I'm sure they feel. We all feel the hurt."

Robertson, who like Wheeler played one game in the NBA and enjoyed success overseas, said he would never forget the Rhode Island affair.

"It's said before you die all the great moments of your life flash before your eyes. If a couple bad moments flash before your eyes it will be the Rhode Island game and the Arizona game," Robertson said.

Robertson - who prefers to concentrate on the positive - had one final request of a reporter before heading off to play with his two children.

"If in two or three years you decide to call somebody to talk about Rhode Island or Arizona ... call somebody else. I'm through talking about those games," Robertson lamented.


Joe Ross 15 years, 11 months ago

Much that once was has now been forgotten, but how this article brings back the bitterness! In the Rhode Island game we got destroyed by Cuttino Mobley who was firing threes from passed NBA range. PASSED, I tell ya! I mean DEEP, and making them! It wasn't Pierce's fault unless you expected him to man up 6 feet beyond the arc. And that's the other thing: it hurts to recall the moments that Pierce and LaFrentz played their last game. The rest of the guys mentioned in this article were also very beloved: Ryan, Lester, Jerod and others.

Im a bit nostalgic, I suppose. I'll probably ruffle some Jayhawks' feathers in saying this though that is not my intention: the fans just a few short years ago seemed to have enjoyed a closeness with the players that is not the same today. Im guilty sometimes of not supporting players as well as I should myself, and so im not pointing fingers, but if any of you remember the outpouring of love we gave to Pierce and LaFrentz I think it's fair to say that most fans wont find a player on our current squad that we are as supportive of. Maybe that says something about US as FANS! We do a lot of finger pointing at Self and the players, but we need to do our job better as spectators. I think it starts with what appears to me as shaky confidence during the transition to Selfs tenure here. We kinda went through the same thing with Roy Williams, although not nearly as long (lasted months, not seasons). Those of you who remember when Williams was hired can recall the feeling of "Why is Kansas hiring a no-name?" Roy did a great job calming our fears and keeping the program in the limelight. It's Self's turn at the reigns and I think before it's over he will vindicate himself against the naysayers. (Editorial: let's show love for BOTH Roy and Bill, can we?)

Kansas HAS to go deep in the tournament this year. Even a third-round loss (in the round of 16) will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of KU fans. We would look back and note that we had 5 to 6 lottery picks, we started the season ranked number one/two, and the transition period into the Self era could no longer be used as an excuse (believe me, he wants to get the gorilla off his back with regard to the first round losses). With all of that if we don't make the Elite 8 I'd personally be disappointed.

And can we just play up to our potential? I for one am tired of reliving memories about how we've lost in various NCAA tournaments over the years, about the times we couldn't get it done when we were close, the times we lost early, etc. Although Im a realist Im a little greedy. Id like to see Kansas dominate in the final four for several years like Duke did in the 90s. Wouldn't that polish up the luster on the KU tradition? Man I love these hawks, but Im antsy for a decent showing in the tournament this year. PLEASE!!!

mitch 15 years, 11 months ago

Institutional memory is both a blessing and a curse. You remember both the highs and the lows. Rhode Island was definitely a low. It is said that one is doomed to repeat lessons not learned. So what can we learn from the RI game? "You've got to come with your A-game every night." "The best team doesn't always win." "The fact of the matter is you need guys to make plays to carry you." "It is unbelievable how luck is never on our side." We're an educational institution, so let's do some learning. What is the reason not to bring your A-game every night? Are you saving it for a bigger game? There is no game bigger than the one you are playing, so leave it all on the floor every game and you can have far less regrets. Sean May put his teammates at NC on his back and willed them to win. We have several players on the current team that have the potential to do just that. Chalmers has now done that a couple of games, and some others have done that at other points in this young season. Don't just stand around and wait for someone else to play this role. Rush and Wright both have so many talents. When one part of their game is not working, it is their responsibility to find something that does work. Since the best team doesn't always win, don't expect other teams to just lay down in awe of your past accomplishments and amazing talent. In fact, come to expect just the opposite. Then prepare and play accordingly. Games don't just win themselves. You must commit each and every game to play and savor each moment on the court as though it were your last. Last, but not least, make your own luck. Don't put yourself in a position where a blown call or an opponent's hot hand can help you to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Make your chip shots, sink your free throws, exercise good ball control, avoid silly fouls, and never let down when you've got the lead or give up and panic when you're behind. Robertson felt the pain by reliving a dark moment in Jayhawk history. Don't let it be in vain. Learn your lessons and make us all proud. Go 'Hawks!

fansincewilt 15 years, 11 months ago

Who knows? Maybe Bill Self can take us to the big game and win it. I think he will. I'm not sure that we will this year, though. We need that one go-to guy - someone to hit that big shot. Is Chalmers making his case to be that guy? Or, are we waiting on Arthur to get his game together? He sure does have all the makings of a great player. I think he just might be the guy. With his dream and all, I'm wondering if he's not a divine send.

jaybate 15 years, 11 months ago

I don't think KU fans have ever put the Rhode Island loss in the proper perspective.

Rhode Island was a good team with a good coach on a hot night. No other team in the tourney would have beaten Rhode Island that night either, not shooting a lousy trey percentage the way KU did. I've never understood the shame players and fans feel about that loss; let down and disappointment, yes, but shame, no. Rhode Island was a very good team with a very good coach. It wasn't like losing to Bucknell. Maybe a bit like losing to Bradley, but Bradley really wasn't near as good as Rhode Island was that year.

Specifically, Mobley was better than any guard Roy Williams ever had except Hinrich. He was a better guard than any of Self's guards, though Chalmers might one day have a chance at matching or exceeding him. To wit, Mobley's been a productive NBA guard for years.

And if I recall correctly, Jim Harrick, who won a ring at UCLA, and got dumped for infractions later disproven, jumped to Rhode Island and coached that team. So: they had a coach--albeit a sleazy one--who already knew how to win in the Madness.

And I've never understood this "tiny state of Rhode Island" stuff. It makes Kansans sound so provincial. Rhode Island is one of the original 13 states. Providence is a huge city. Rhode Island probably has a population comparable to Kansas, if not greater. Newport Rhode Island is where some of the richest persons in the world have lived. The state still has tons of wealth. And they have a history of playing basketball there. Providence College has played alot of great basketball over the years. Rick Pitino took them to the NCAA tourney before Harrick. I love the state of Kansas, but if anyone should be looking down their noses at anyone else, it could just as easily be Rhode Island looking down at Kansas.

Regardless, I repeat: losing to Rhode Island was not remotely like losing to Bucknell and Bradley in the first rounds. The Rhode Island loss was a disappointing upset by a good team with a saavy coach. By contrast, the Bucknell loss in the first round was a disgrace that should live in infamy at Kansas. And the Bradley loss in the first round was a near disgrace.

daddax98 15 years, 11 months ago

you are right jim, that never happend when Roy was here......oh wait

hometownhawk 15 years, 11 months ago

I personally would like to see jimjones banned from posting, because no matter the article he chimes in with the same broken record nonsense. This is an article about arguably the most talented KU team ever losing in the second round under Roy, and somehow this leads to Self-bashing. You are one-dimensional and pathetic. Nobody wants to see it anymore, so do us a favor and go away.

KFoz 15 years, 11 months ago

Players play, coaches coach. I remember the Rhode Island game. Roy coached a "system" that allowed no adjustments during a game. If he were able to coach during a game, we would have gone to a 3-2 zone to shut down the perimeter as Rhode Island's guards were much quicker than ours. I saw an adjustment during the recent Boston College game to do this in conjunction with our foul trouble.

As long as Coach Self can get his players to play (what, with all the weighted expectations of the program? Neither Williams or Self are good enough coaches?), I love the basketball philosophy of Kansas NOW. With all the comments about Self, he knows how to coach DURING a game. I also remember the UAB game in St Louis where KU was well prepared and the players played. That same group showed up to play Bucknell and expected the Bison to roll over. Just because it says KANSAS across the front, teams do not roll over for you. If anything, just the opposite. Last year was a lack of leadership on a young team; let's hope we see a leader develop this year and the players play.

Shardwurm 15 years, 11 months ago


Forget Rhode Island. I'd be more worried about seeing Oral Roberts again.

Sparko 15 years, 11 months ago

Here's the thing: Rhode Island was purposely underseeded to threaten Kansas' run at the Final Four. Since the NCAA has moved to Indiana, Kansas has played a lot of teams that were much, much better than their seedings. I remember Kansas playing Kentucky in the Second Round previous to that--it was the best game of the tournament that year, but Kansas lost. It is better to play the Rhode Islands, the Bucknells, and the Bradleys once they have nerves eating them from all sides. Every team Kansas plays in the Tournie has 30+ games on video to break down. Even Detroit Mercy can cobble together some defensive schemes and hope for some long-distance shooting. Anyway, Rhode Isalnd was clearly a team Kansas should have seen in the next round that year.

TheOriginalCA 15 years, 11 months ago

When that URI player hits a desperation 3 pointer from the sideline while falling backwards almost out of bounds as the shot clock expired, I knew that we were not going to win that game. It just really sucked.

sdoyel 15 years, 11 months ago

That Rhode Island team had Cuttino Mobley and Lamar Odom....

Compare the NBA careers of:

Billy Thomas and Raef Lafrentz


Odom and Mobley


DSommersby 15 years, 11 months ago

Mitch - Your post on here was incredible. Great thoughts all the way around. Self should make it required reading for all of these players every day.

DSommersby 15 years, 11 months ago

The one thing that always bugged me about this game was Roy had benched Raef for an extended period while URI was really making a big run. Raef had blown a defensive assignment or something and Roy pulled and sat him for a long while. Does anyone else remember this?

I have not watched the game in years, but have it on tape somewhere. It just always ticked me off as the NCAA tourney is not the place to make a point or teach a lesson to a senior. It was do or die time, and I just remember Raef being on the pine for far too long.

Anyone else remember this?

Not trying to blame it on Roy and I think Mitch's initial post about the team having to make their own luck and playing "balls to the wall" to eliminate the wacky intangibles is right on. I just remember Raef did not play the best this game, but he was definitely one of our best five and should have been on the floor much sooner.

URI did light it up as Wheeler and Mobley played great but Lamar Odom did not play in that game as he was a trasnfer and sat that year. Hope the current guys are revved up to exact a small dose of revenge tonight.

Seth Peattie 15 years, 11 months ago

So tired of you clowns talking about Roy. You sound like a bunch of bitter ex girlfriends. Dude doesn't work here anymore, get over it. GET OVER IT. Every day... comparisons to Roy. "Roy wouldn't have done this..."


KUGreenMachine 15 years, 11 months ago

just so everyone knows, if you wonder why we end up talking about bill self and him being fired, click on this jimjones guy and see all of his posts. every single one of them, with the exception of ONE at least mentions firing bill self. this guy is not a ku fan. this guy is a joke. it is obvious he is just bitter, probably a mizzou fan upset at the previous fire quin snyder website. either that, or an angry illini fan who misses bill self. he is just stirring the pot and nothing else...not a true ku fan....


argentinehawk 15 years, 11 months ago

Hey sdoyel, if I remember right, Odom wasn't on that team that beat KU. I thought he came the next year (98-99) and only played that one year.

Seth Peattie 15 years, 11 months ago

PS: How great was the end of that MU/Oregon State bowl game yesterday? Love it...

Seth Peattie 15 years, 11 months ago

Great work, KUGreenMachine. JimJonesTheMUGuy is a clown! Take your anti-KU rhetoric elsewhere.

Kyle Crenshaw 15 years, 11 months ago

wow... i was 10 years old after that game and i'll tell ya, i was pissed! but i never realized we were a number 1 seed with only 4 losses.

tdub 15 years, 11 months ago

Relax guys, jimjones is just bitter cause his Tigers looked stupid yesterday.

Kit Duncan 15 years, 11 months ago

KUGreenMachine's right! This guy JimJones is probably the spy who ripped off Phog's name last year and always flamed the Hawks (especially when it came to MU). Everybody thought then that he was from Mizzery!

Go Jayhawks! Hooray Bill Self!

Kent Richardson 15 years, 11 months ago

The players need to quit playing scared or at least stop hesitating. During fast breaks and half court sets it can be ugly as often as not.

Career nights by opposing players has become standard and if an opposing player has a good first half we don't adjust at halftime.

It's time to get better and if we lose during that time it is preferable to indecision and fear of being pulled if a mistake is made.

Play with confidence and passion. If you do that we will love you no matter what happens

rockchalkjayhawk4ku11 15 years, 11 months ago

jimjones I cant believe you think that williams is a bad coach I was mad at him for leaving but he still is a good coach, he knows what he is doing. I have to say that self is not the best coach but we need him for recruiting. But with players like Julian Wright, Mario, Russel, Darrel, Darnel Jackson, and Sasha you don't need an incredibly amazing coach!

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