A couple of options for a Kansas men's basketball Mount Rushmore


One of Matt Tait's three versions of a Kansas basketball Mount Rushmore, from left to right, Danny Manning, James Naismith, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Self. (Journal-World & AP file photos)

One of Matt Tait's three versions of a Kansas basketball Mount Rushmore, from left to right, Danny Manning, James Naismith, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Self. (Journal-World & AP file photos) by Matt Tait

KU asked. So I figured I’d answer.

OK, so they didn’t ask me specifically. Instead, the Kansas men's basketball Twitter account recently put out a tweet that asked all of its 930,000 followers one simple question.

Who’s on your KU basketball Mount Rushmore?

I know people have done this over and over for decades. But, with tomorrow being the Fourth of July, I figured it made sense to do it again. Plus, you never know when it might change.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done one of these just for KU hoops. I know I’ve thought and written about it for KU sports as a whole. And that task wasn’t much easier than this one.

The way I see it, you can look at this task three separate ways.

No. 1, you can pick four people tied to Kansas basketball as your four faces of the program and its storied history.

No. 2, you can do a players-only version of a Kansas basketball Mount Rushmore.

And No. 3, you can do a coaches-only version.

For my money, the first and third options are actually the easiest. It’s No. 2 that gets a little tricky. More on that in a minute.

Let’s take a look at No. 1 first and pick four faces that represent all of the success and stories associated with more than 100 years of Kansas basketball.

It has to start with James Naismith, the inventor of the game and KU’s first coach. From there, you quickly realize that no KU hoops Mount Rushmore is complete without Wilt Chamberlain, the larger than life KU center who did amazing things in college and went on to become one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Although things get a little cloudier from there, you can’t pick four faces without one of them being the program’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader, so Danny Manning is on there, as well.

And then there’s Bill Self. He’s got a title. He’s got the Big 12 title streak. He’s got 700 wins (and counting) and his winning percentage and record are the best the program has ever seen.

So my overall KU basketball Mount Rushmore is Naismith, Chamberlain, Manning and Self.

For the next two options, we’re already halfway done because two of those four will land on the players-only version and the other two on the coaches-only version.

As I mentioned earlier, option 3 — the coaches rock — is pretty easy, as well – Naismith, Self, Phog Allen and Roy Williams.

You’ve already heard the case for the first two, and the case for Phog Allen is pretty convincing, as well.

The building is named in his honor. He recruited Chamberlain. He won a whole bunch of games in his 40-year career, including a national title in 1952, and he is widely known as The Father of Basketball Coaching.

With those three basically locks to be on the list, it came down to Larry Brown and his 1988 national title or Roy Williams and his 418 wins in 15 seasons. I went with Williams because of longevity and the fact that, until Self came along, the clip at which Williams won games was almost unheard of.

He left KU with an .805 winning percentage after leading the Jayhawks to four Final Fours and two runner-up finishes.

Now let’s get to the toughest of the three – the players-only Mount Rushmore.

As I mentioned, two of the four are locks in Chamberlain and Manning. I can’t imagine anyone who knows anything about Kansas basketball not having both of those guys.

But from there, it gets wild.

No. 3 on my list is Mario Chalmers and his inclusion comes down to one shot. If the 3-pointer he hit to send the 2008 national title game to overtime never went down, Chalmers wouldn’t even be in the running here.

However, it splashed, Kansas won the title and Chalmers became one of those forever heroes. Many have called that shot the biggest shot in the history of Kansas basketball and it continues to be celebrated today, 12 years later, during the pregame intro video, through a giant mural inside Allen Fieldhouse and on the walls of thousands of KU fans, who have the image framed.

It’s not as if Chalmers was an average player who happened to hit a big shot. He had a terrific KU career and was a huge part of all three Kansas teams for which he played. But that shot elevates him to Mount Rushmore status because, at a place like KU where it’s title or bust, Chalmers delivered when it counted most.

Trying to identify the fourth player who belongs on the players-only Mount Rushmore is an absolute nightmare. There are just so many choices and, really, no wrong answers.

If it’s titles, talent and stats you like, then it’s hard to leave Clyde Lovellette off. If it’s stats alone, it’s hard to look past Nick Collison, who ranks right up there with Manning on KU’s all-time scoring and rebounding lists and led KU to two Final Fours.

If you favor the total package and lean toward guys who were stars at Kansas and standouts in the NBA, you have to look at players like Jo Jo White and Paul Pierce.

And then you also have to address the recency bias, which easily puts players like Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham in the conversation.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. But, for my money, I think it’s Lovellette who is most deserving.

Not only did he lead KU to a national title, but he also averaged 20-plus points per game for three consecutive seasons and went on to win a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics, as well.

Despite playing just 80 games over three collegiate seasons, he still ranks fourth on KU’s all-time scoring list (1,979 points) and 11th in career rebounds (839).

Final Glance

Overall: Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Bill Self and James Naismith

Players Only: Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Mario Chalmers and Clyde Lovellette

Coaches Only: James Naismith, Phog Allen, Roy Williams and Bill Self

None by Kansas Basketball


Dane Pratt 2 years, 5 months ago

Naismith and Allen for sure. Then Chamberlain. That fourth pick would be difficult. Probably Danny.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

It was a tough call, at least for me, between Phog and Self. And I don't think you can go wrong either way. But I went with Self because of the NCAA record streak, the insane winning percentage, the crazy home record and the fact that he's on pace to pass Phog for career wins at KU, perhaps by a long shot. He's 39 wins shy of tying him as of today. So he'll probably get there sometime early in the 2021-22 season... Unless, of course, KU goes 40-0 during the upcoming season.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 5 months ago

I’ll take Phog over Bill and Jo Jo over Mario.

Thank you for also adding that Clyde only played 80 games in a full career here. Some get that in 2 years now.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

Yeah. Clyde's numbers, in a far different era, are insane!!! Especially when you consider the limited number of games. 80 games is basically 2 seasons in today's game. And he played that number in 3. If the rules had allowed him to be able to play all 4 years or if he had played more games per season, his numbers would look like Manning's.

No arguments here with Phog over Self and White over Chalmers. Both are logical choices.

Len Shaffer 2 years, 5 months ago

Also, of course, he played his 80 games when there was no shot clock, so that makes his scoring numbers even more impressive.

Steve Kubler 2 years, 5 months ago

As long as a statue of Max is in the viewing area with a recording of him discussing the merits of each choice I am ok with any of the above.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

That's an interesting concept. I like it.

Kenneth Johnson 2 years, 5 months ago


I agree with you on almost everything, except that on the No. 1 list, I would replace Self with Phog . At his time of retirement, Phog was basketball's all-time leading games winner. He lost that position only when colleges started playing a dozen or more games each season. And, in addition to his 1952 national title, KU also was named national champs in 1922 and 1923.

Kenn Johnson, Ph.D., (KU MS ’70) Author of Kansas University Basketball Legends (2013) and More University of Kansas Basketball Legends (2014), both published by The History Press, and available at KU Bookstores and Amazon.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 5 months ago

Agree. Without the foundation laid by Phog, where would this program be.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

Thanks, Kenn. Totally get the case for Phog Allen and I don't think anyone would argue with you. Tough exercise to do. But it was fun. And it will continue to be fun well into the future, especially the players-only version.

Nick Kramer 2 years, 5 months ago


We all love Mario and his game-tying shot, but seriously. Probably the 3rd best player on the 08 team at best. Arthur had 20 and 10 that game. In elevating Mario with his 12 ppg avg, you bypassed Wayne Hightower (21.3), Dave Robisch (21.1), and Walt Wesley (19.3), and JoJo at 15 ppg who was arguably better than the three I just mentioned. BTW - Is there a story behind why Hightower's Jersey wasn't retired?

Brett McCabe 2 years, 5 months ago

Do two of them have to be slave owners?

I don’t read the column but here are your four best in Kansa history: Danny. Clyde. And two others.

Bret Eckert 2 years, 5 months ago

McCabe, Once again you show your complete ignorance. Why are you even allowed to post on this site. Your statement is so tired and I believe I speak for 99.9% of all KU Fans. We are tired of your pompous ass.

Dane Pratt 2 years, 5 months ago

Brett and Bryce are a couple of trolls but put me in the 0.1% column.

Tony Bandle 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm with Dane... just like their predecessor, Jaybate, someone to stir the pot keeps it interesting. Heck, even ginger cookies have a little Chili powder in them!!

PS Too bad they ran out of money and didn't get the fifth president on Rushmore..I forget who it was, but five would have made this much easier!! :).

Blake Brown 2 years, 5 months ago

Somehow, Max has to be on this list even if it needs to expended in number.

For players, how can it not include Clyde, Wilt, Jo Jo, Danny, Paul, Raef and Mario? and eventually, Devonte and Frank and probably Thomas. And then I think of many others who are right in there as well. This is a tough one to do at 4.

The coaches list has to have Naismith, Phog, Larry, Roy and Bill.

I`m thinking this kind of tribute needs to be inclusive, not exclusive and it would be better to just list the greats and not limit it to a number.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

I hear ya, but including everyone, regardless of how deserving they are, kind of defeats the purpose of the whole Mount Rushmore idea.

The fun of the whole thing, at least in my opinion, is stacking up the cases against each other and seeing who makes the cut. Leaving any of those great players or coaches off certainly is not a knock on any of them.

Robin Smith 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't think Naismith should be here. His importance to basketball is unquestioned and of course we're proud to have him associated with Kansas, but he pales in comparison to Phog in Kansas impact.

Phog, Self, Danny, and Frank for me -- the two most successful coaches and the two four-year NPOYs

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

I like it. It's hard to imagine the inventor of the game not being up there, but you make a pretty strong case here. I'd still keep Chalmers over Mason, but could be talked into Phog over Naismith. Cool perspective.

Joe Ross 2 years, 5 months ago

No way Self is more important to Kansas basketball than Dr. Phog Allen.

No way.

Naismith Manning Allen Chamberlain

  1. Self
  2. Williams
  3. Brown
  4. Lovellette
  5. Stallworth
  6. LaFrentz

Tony Bandle 2 years, 5 months ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Naismith, the inventor of the game.

2] Allen, the inventor of modern coaching.

3] Chamberlain, the most dominating male player.

4] Woodward, the most dominating female player.

5] I think we need to look at this list as a full spectrum of KU basketball and to ignore the women's program would be an injustice.The great thing is Kansas has so many deserving alumni to consider for this list, it is a gratifying list to consider!!

Len Shaffer 2 years, 5 months ago

Great point about Woodard (not Woodward, BTW). She has never gotten the amount of attention and credit she deserves for being the consistently best player in the women's game the entire time she was at KU (not to mention being the first and only women's Harlem Globetrotter).

Titus Canby 2 years, 5 months ago

Overall: Naismith, Allen, Manning, Wilt Coaches only: Naismith, Allen, Self, Brown (For those of you who weren't around, Larry revived a nearly dead program.) Players only: Wilt, Manning, Lovellette, either Valentine or Jo Jo White

Tony Bandle, great point about Lynette Woodard.

Matt Tait 2 years, 5 months ago

The Larry Brown v. Roy Williams debate is a good one. You've got a point about Larry, but it should also be noted that what Roy did, after Larry left the program on probation, helped save Kansas from potentially suffering a fate similar to Indiana or UCLA... The title is big for Brown's case and you probably can't go wrong with either guy. It's most likely just a matter of what you value most in a coach.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 5 months ago

Larry’s contribution is significant, and maybe one of the best coaches ever. Loved watching the’88 NC, because it was never so evident that we had the better coach. Hard to include him when he leaves so quickly and as he did. I do appreciate that he has come back and commented that leaving was one of his big regrets.

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