Monday, July 30, 2012

The greatest: Staff picks for KU’s all-time bests

The Journal-World staff selections for greatest Kansas University athletes of all time are, clockwise from top left, Danny Manning, Ray Evans, Gale Sayers, Isaac Byrd, Todd Reesing, Lynette Woodard, Jim Ryun, Otto Schnellbacher and, in the center, unanimous pick Wilt Chamberlain.

The Journal-World staff selections for greatest Kansas University athletes of all time are, clockwise from top left, Danny Manning, Ray Evans, Gale Sayers, Isaac Byrd, Todd Reesing, Lynette Woodard, Jim Ryun, Otto Schnellbacher and, in the center, unanimous pick Wilt Chamberlain.



Journal-World File Photos

The Journal-World staff selections for greatest Kansas University athletes of all time are, clockwise from top left, Danny Manning, Ray Evans, Gale Sayers, Isaac Byrd, Todd Reesing, Lynette Woodard, Jim Ryun, Otto Schnellbacher and, in the center, unanimous pick Wilt Chamberlain.

Throughout the summer, we’ve brought you a different set of lists from five staff members who have covered Kansas University sports at different times during the past four decades.

From fun and fantasy to favorite and ferocious, these lists have taken us back in time and highlighted some of the biggest and best names in KU sports history. Six weeks in, we’ve had great variety and something different from everyone’s memory bank each week. But this week, in the second-to-last edition of our summer series, we come in contact with the first unanimous selection.

The topic? Greatest KU athletes of all-time.

While there are some different takes and interesting picks on the lists below, one KU legend was an easy pick for all five of us.

Who? Wilt Chamberlain.

While Chamberlain made it onto all five lists because of his pure dominance, the rest of the picks varied depending on each person’s definition of greatness. That said, three other former KU athletes landed on at least three of the lists, making this edition, by far, the week with the fewest total names.

Matt Tait

Wilt Chamberlain — Whenever I’m talking about Wilt and his place in the conversation about basketball’s all-time greats, one thought always comes to mind: “They changed the rules because of this guy.” His greatness stretched far beyond athletics.

Danny Manning — Anyone who remembers watching him play knows where Manning ranks. The 1988 college player of the year capped his KU career as the men’s program’s leader in scoring and rebounding and went on to become the top pick in the NBA Draft. Also earned a spot on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, which won a bronze medal in Seoul, South Korea. Had he avoided injuries, Manning would have gone down as one of the top pro players of all-time, as well.

Ray Evans — An All-American in both football and basketball, Evans is often overlooked when talking about KU’s greats. He shouldn’t be. During the 1942 season Evans became the only player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both passing (1,117 yards), and interceptions (10), and his interception totals — which include a career mark of 17 — remain school records to this day. Not only was Evans a stud in college, but he also went on to play pro football (Pittsburgh Steelers) and basketball (New York Knicks) and also received an invite to play for the New York Yankees. He is the only player in KU history to have his jersey retired in football (42) and basketball (15).

Todd Reesing — This choice will probably be more easily accepted 20 years from now, but I’m not afraid to include him today. Reesing single-handedly elevated the KU football program to new heights and figures to own all of KU’s major passing records for a long, long time. Few Jayhawks — in any sport — have been the kind of must-see attraction Reesing was every Saturday.

Andrew Hartsock

Otto Schnellbacher — The “Double Threat from Sublette” led KU’s basketball team in scoring two years — and five years apart, 1943 and 1948 — was a four-time first-team all-league hoops pick, and, oh yeah, was KU’s first football All-American who went on to be a two-time Pro Bowler.

Isaac Byrd — Byrd was drafted in baseball twice — out of high school and after his junior year at KU — and had a short minor-league baseball career, but he chose to pursue a job in pro football, returned to KU and was drafted into the NFL, where he played six seasons, including a start in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Lynette Woodard — A four-time All-American, Woodard averaged 26 points per game and remains college women’s basketball all-time scoring leader at 3,649 career points. She was a two-time Olympian and captain of the USA’s first gold-medal-winning Olympic team in 1984. She also was the first female Harlem Globetrotter.

Wilt Chamberlain — This is the third time I’ve picked Chamberlain for this summer series, but I swear it’s not part of some posthumous bromance, nor is it the result of the fact a large framed print of Wilt hangs above my desk at work (I swear, I didn’t put it there). I simply can’t think of any Jayhawk more worthy of any best-of award. Wilt was, simply put, transcendent.

Tom Keegan

Wilt Chamberlain — Length and strength, grace and style, he remains one of the greatest athletes of all-time. His basketball talent was too enormous for the rules as they were written, so the rules were re-written to give the rest of the world a fighting chance. The lane was widened. Offensive goal-tending was instituted. To prevent Wilt from leaping behind the line toward the goal for an easy bucket, the rules of how free throws could be shot also were altered. If he played today, Wilt still would be ahead of his time.

Jim Ryun — Although he didn’t amass the Olympic medals that discus-thrower Al Oerter, Ryun did as much as any American in history to give track and field a high profile. He mastered the mile, the greatest of all individual sporting events, with a signature kick and did it with the word “KANSAS” splashed across his chest. If not for the “Wizard of Oz” being such a big hit on the big screen, it’s possible every person outside the state would feel obliged to make a Jim Ryun reference every single time Kansas becomes the topic of conversation.

Lynette Woodard — The answer to the often-used tricky trivia question — who is the leading scorer in Kansas basketball history — Woodard has kept her distance from Kansas women’s basketball in recent years, which is a crying shame.

Danny Manning — The way Magic Johnson played point guard in a power forward’s body influenced many, many players who followed him. Even as long ago as Manning played, he remains the best illustration of a big man influenced by Magic. He is the leading scorer and rebounder in Kansas men’s basketball history and had 20 30-point scoring games in his final two seasons, but passing the ball is what Manning did best. His vision was remarkable. As remarkable as he was physically, so strong for a man his build, so agile, fluid, coordinated for a man his height, Manning’s mental abilities surpassed his physical gifts on the basketball court.

Jesse Newell

Wilt Chamberlain — A shoo-in; one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Gale Sayers — A shoo-in; one of the best running backs of all time.

Lynette Woodard — The greatest women’s athlete in KU history and was the first woman to play with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Jim Ryun — Hard to go without Danny Manning, but Ryun completes the list after setting numerous world records.

Gary Bedore

Wilt Chamberlain — Revolutionized the game.

Danny Manning — He could do it all. He was a great passer and team player. Maybe even too unselfish.

Jim Ryun — He was truly dominant in track and field.

Gale Sayers — I mean, have you seen clips of his six-touchdown game against the 49ers?


Tim Orel 9 years, 11 months ago

Is Al Oerter left off more of these lists because he achieved so much after leaving KU, or because of the shortness of the lists. I agree with the posters, but Oerter would be on my team if I had a choice.

Alohahawk 9 years, 11 months ago

I agree on Al Oerter. Four gold metals in four straight Olympics. Difficult to beat. However, one can't argue much with the picks listed above. They are all worthy of selection.

Perhaps the list choices could have been changed. Instead of just 4 names, have the top five listed. Or, alter the lists to show the top in each sports category. Top BB male and top female, top track and field, top football. Etc. (Yikes! Then one has to decide between Wilt and Danny. And Oerter and Ryan.) However the pie gets sliced, when one's limited to only 4 choices a few great Jayhawks get left out. Very few, if any other colleges, would have the same problem: As many to decide between. It's Jayhawk pride at its best!

RJ King 9 years, 11 months ago

Stanford would. (John Elway, Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Bob Mathias, John McEnroe, John Brodie, Troy Hill, James Lofton, Janet Evans, Summer Sanders, Jenny Thompson, Kerry Walsh, Candice Wiggins, Jennifer Azzi, Kerri Strug, Julie Foudy . . .)

Interesting to think of top 5 other schools with elite and well-rounded athletics. Texas? Florida? USC? UofA? I'm probably missing the obvious.

yates33333 9 years, 11 months ago

Five aren't nearly enough. Unless they had to achieve super stardom while at KU I can't understand why someone didn't choose John Riggins. The comment on Oerter is also right on.

EverRisingHawk 9 years, 11 months ago

I'm somewhat surprised Paul Pierce didn't land on anyone's list. When it comes to KU athletes who have gone on to lead a franchise (a tradition rich franchise at that) and dominate post-season play, Pierce stands out. If that's not an accurate barometer for success, I'm not sure what is.

gchawk 9 years, 11 months ago

My thoughts exactly. I realize these types of polls are purely conjecture, but very few Jayhawks have experienced the success after college that Pierce has. I think that Harold Patterson and Nolan Cromwell deserve being mentioned as well.

rmushrush 9 years, 11 months ago

these "staff picks" stories they're doing this summer are so worthless...

79pkthawk 9 years, 11 months ago

You clicked, read and responded! Seems to me it did exactly what it was intended to do.

HawkTronic 9 years, 11 months ago

The picture you identify as Ray Evans looks like his son, Ray Evans Jr, who played in 80s. This picture looks like it was taken at one of the spring football alumni games 10 years ago - several years after Ray Evans Sr passed away. Raydar is a tremendous asset to KU and led the committee to hire Dr. Zenger, but is a long way from this discussion.

Andrew Hartsock 9 years, 11 months ago

My bad. I must have messed up with our electronic archive. Here's a pic of the REAL Ray Evans.

april28 9 years, 11 months ago

I'm ashamed to say how little I knew about Evans and Schnellenbacher. I know that it was a different time, but the achievements listed for these two athletes in these commentaries are pretty impressive.

Hard to argue with any of the lists. The "second" team would be even harder to pick: Hadl, Riggins, Cromwell.....just to get started.

Priest Fontaine 9 years, 11 months ago

do our current and ex NBA players know about this? Seems like the athletic program should be kicking in as well. Come on! Where are the heavy hitters??!! my $20 was like a quarter of my net worth :(

jayhawkinATL 9 years, 11 months ago

Agreed! Was hoping one of our legends, maybe even Bill himself, would come thru at the last second.

jayhawkinATL 9 years, 11 months ago

...heck, come on, Jacque!!! You can spare some change now, can't you??? LOL

jayhawkinATL 9 years, 11 months ago

...would have thought Pollard has $50K in his wallet at any given time.

RJ King 9 years, 11 months ago

I loved that Superstars show. Can't believe I missed Cromwell's appearance.

Jeff Suther 9 years, 11 months ago

Alex Galindo, David Padgett, Clark Green, Jordan Webb

number1jayhawker 9 years, 11 months ago

John Hadl two time All American @ HB and @ QB. Also played defensive back and was the punter and punt returner.

KemDooKU 9 years, 11 months ago

In no particlar order

Greg Ostrotag Greg Gurley Greg Williams Kenny Gregg John Gregory Killpatrick

FLJHK 9 years, 11 months ago

Chamberlain, Sayers and Manning are locks. Then you debate the other pieces.

theend 9 years, 11 months ago

How can Clyde Lovellette not be on this list????

jaybate 9 years, 11 months ago

Clyde has never passed the eye test even back when college basketball was still largely segregated and played by Caucasian-Americans.

Clyde was a marvelous basketball player who did not look lithe and elegant, until he shot the hook and it went in. People never could give him the credit he deserved as an exceptional athletes, because they said he was just tall. The media had just immortalized George Mikan and no one in the east, or north central states wanted to see him surpassed by someone out on the prairie. B.H. Born was just tall, too. Even Wilt was just tall at first, if you go back and read his ink after he left the east for the prairie eyrth. But when you score a hundred points in a game, average 30 points and 20 rebounds for 10 or so years, and eventually get a good enough team around you to set the best record for winning percentage in NBA history and win a ring, after having won a ring the only other time you have good players around you, well, even the yahoos in the high population states have to face facts. But they don't have to face facts with Clyde and so they won't. They also never face the facts that Clyde's ring and olympic team was probably the best college basketball team of the pre Bill Russell/Wilt era.

But we know.

And we are the keepers of the holy grail of college basketball.

And everyone knows this, even though they resent it often.

And so the knowledge will not perish from this eyrth.

arizonahawk 9 years, 11 months ago

Fun debate. If we consider Paul Pierce, why not consider Mario Chalmers? He has two rings.

I haven't seen Billy Mills name anywhere.

jaybate 9 years, 11 months ago

Al Oerter has to be included, or the mouth of hell will open and swallow KU and all those that would leave Oerter off the top of the list.

Al Oerter was a 6-4 280 pound demigod.

Al Oerter should have a bronze statue and it should be standing right next to Forest Allen in front of Allen Field House.

Al Oerter is KU's Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron roled into one man. And had he taken anabolic steroids he would have been its Barry Bonds.

Al Oerter was the NCAA discuss champion two years in a row.

Al Oerter won the gold medal in the discuss in 1956, 1960, 1964, and 1968.

Al Oerter won an Olympic Gold medal in the discus shortly after a car accident nearly killed him and many thought he would never compete again.

Al Oerter unretired in 1980 to try to win a 5th Gold Medal, but finished 4th and missed making the American team that only took 3, at 43 years of age (note: he threw his longest distance ever in this attempt).

Sooner or later athletes have to be measured by the greatness of their accomplishments.

No other Kansas Jayhawk comes close to doing what Al Oerter did. Not even Wilt Chamberlain.

Al Oerter still holds the world record for winning a gold medal in the same event in the most consecutive Olympics: 4. (Note: he was tied by Carl Lewis, but Lewis did it in different events.)

Al Oerter is regularly ranked in the top ten greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

He won as a Jayhawk.

He won as an Olympian.

Al Oerter is the greatest Jayhawk athlete of all time. Period.

theend 9 years, 11 months ago

Jaybate-I'm shocked about Al Oerter......and Clyde Lovellette! Lovellette is one of only like 5 or 6 basketball players to win the Big 3.....NCAA,NBA and Olympic Gold!!!! ........PS-Did you know Oerter was a painter?

jaybate 9 years, 11 months ago

No, I will look for his work. If you know of any good links, please post them.

adhawk 9 years, 11 months ago

Bball: Lynette Woodard, Jo Jo White, Manning, Wilt. Sub: Clyde Lovellette Football: Sayers, John Hadl, Nolan Cromwell, Bobby Douglas. Sub: John Riggins Other: Al Oerter, Jim Ryan, Ray Evans (football & Basketball), Otto Schnellbacher (football & basketball)

Jeff Coffman 9 years, 11 months ago

What about the 1952 Basketball team, aren't they the only team to have won the NCAA and Olympic Gold in the same me that is greatness.

Steve Gantz 9 years, 11 months ago

Are you serious? KU's entire team was the olympic team that year?

Jeff Coffman 9 years, 11 months ago

There were 14 players on the team, 7 semi-pros (1 of which was from KU) and then 7 amateurs (all of the KU basketball NCAA championship team).

And yes they won the Gold Medal.

Scott Smetana 9 years, 11 months ago

Isaac Byrd? He wasn't even the best WR for KU when he played. I believe he wasn't even a starter behind Rodney Harris and Ashundai Smith. Obviously underutilized at KU as he did pretty well in the NFL. Nice guy, but belongs no where near this discussion.

Didn't know much about Ray Evans, Sr. What a stud.

Steve Gantz 9 years, 11 months ago

Maybe they should do it by sport. Probably the biggest debate then becomes Danny V. Wilt. Track-Oerter. Football-Sayers Women's hoops-Woodard

Jayhawker111 9 years, 11 months ago

How soon we forget.....

Endacott's jersey hangs in the rafters next to WIlt's..

This guy was player of the year....Two national titles.....

Cannot ignore Endacott....

Paul Endacott (July 3, 1902 – January 8, 1997) was a well-known collegiate basketball player in the 1920s. The Lawrence, Kansas native attended University of Kansas from 1919 to 1923. Playing under Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen, Endacott led Kansas to consecutive Helms Foundation national championships in 1922 and 1923. In 1923 he was named Helms Foundation Player of the Year. Following his collegiate career, he spent four years with the AAU Phillips Petroleum Company Team, from 1924 to 1928. He went on to serve as President of Phillips Petroleum in his later years.

Martin Rosenblum 9 years, 11 months ago

Without taking a step onto the court or the field while the clock was ticking,..

Without dribbling a ball, handling a football or wearing a KU uniform...

Without mising a single basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse from 1946-2006 which totals 1750 games....

Without calling 650 football games during his 60 years asociated with KU....

This man should be given consideration as an athlete!

Alohahawk 9 years, 11 months ago

Good call. Max has to be considered one of the best, if not THE best, sports announcers/commentators of all time. (And that's not just KU announcer.) Could also qualify as the top Jayhawk "supporter" of all time.

As the numerous posts have illustrated above, KU has a wealth of worthy athletes who could easily have been named. To add to my comments above, perhaps a more telling list would have been: Top 4/5 most recognizable (nationwide) Jayhawk athletes of all time. Very few people (not KU fans) would not recognize the names: Wilt Chamberlain, Gale Sayers, and Jim Ryan. Next rung down: Manning, Oerter, Pierce, Hadl, Riggins. (Chalmers needs a few more years of NBA fame before he can be added to the list.) Woodard deserves mention, but unfortunately women's sports does not generate the national interest men's sports has.

Mike Kendall 9 years, 11 months ago


Totally agree. Got to meet Max in person when he came out with his book. A very nice man to talk to and the #1 Fan of KU Athletics!

Jim Dickerson 9 years, 11 months ago

It has been an ultimate thrill to have watched many of the names mentioned here. Those names include Ray Evans, Otto Schnellbacher, Al Oerter,Wilt, Danny, Hadl, Sayers, Cromwell and yes, I can't count the number of times I listened to Max. I hate to admit that I really am that old. Another name that has not been mentioned is Bill Neider. Correct me if I am wrong, but I beleive Bill was the first to put the shotput 60 ft., a feat, at the time, similar to breaking the 4 minute mile. Unfortunately Bill's career was severly hampered by a knee injury while playing football for the Jayhawks.

bgthemanofsteel 9 years, 11 months ago

i was wondering why no one had mentioned JoJo.

roosey 9 years, 11 months ago

Wilt, Danny, Gale Sayers, John Riggins, Lynette. And we're done here.

REHawk 9 years, 11 months ago

Newell and Bedore are right on, except for the omission of Oerter. I;d vote for Chamberlain, Ryun, Oerter, Sayers.

Gil Ek 9 years, 11 months ago

Too many great ones over too many decades. Need to break it down by sport or generation. I would vote for Wilt, Gale and Jim Ryun. After that it is to competitive without separating by sport or era. But what a long list of greats that still don't get KU the recognition on the national level. What a great place with too much modesty at times. RCJH!

hoopdog42 9 years, 11 months ago

Tyke Peacock. - Anyone remember this guy. World Class high jumper that spent too much time on the basketball court. I've never seen a better athlete. In dunk contests he would jump from free throw line and have to duck his head to keep from hitting rim. No joke, ask any bballers from early 80's.

George Bures 9 years, 11 months ago

Al Oerter did what he did as a true amateur. After KU he worked as an engineer at Grumann Aircraft Corporation in Bethpage LI. As best as I can tell Carl Lewis never worked a day in his life. Oerter's 4 golds is the most amazing Olympic accomplishment for a career. As an aside, Bob Beamon's record long jump is the single most amazing sport feat.

Max Ledom 9 years, 11 months ago

Okay, Sayers missing the list on any one of these is pure BS. I really hope the guys who didn't include him just simply forgot about him somehow, even though that is ridiculous that they could forget Sayers. Sayers is arguably the greatest NFL running back of all time. He more then deserves a spot on every list. For me, my list is:

Wilt Chamberlain, Gale Sayers, Al Oerter, Danny Manning, Kerry Meier, John Hadl.

TKELuke 9 years, 11 months ago

<<-- "Jarring Jim" Bausch 1932 Olympic Decathlon Winner (Set the World Record for Points) Sullivan Award Winner Inducted into the Nation Football Hall of Fame

One of the greatest all around athletes in the history of KU

Ted Collins 9 years, 11 months ago

Subjective list, of course, and creates discussion on this board. I loved Reesing (great kid/competitor, etc.), but not sure how anyone with a decent knowledge of KU sports history could include him over Hadl, Riggins and a host of other FB players. And no Al Oerter...seriously?

On the plus side, I challenge any other university to top a list of Chamberlain, Sayers, Ryun and Woodard for greatness in their respective fields. For that matter, Wilt is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, period. Rock Chalk!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.