The Kansas basketball team's academic standing is its own cause for celebration.
The 2001-2002 Kansas University basketball team has provided its backers much to be pleased about. One of the major sources of pride, however, is academic rather than athletic. Graduation rates for men's basketball at KU are higher than for the other teams in this weekend's NCAA Final Four, and well up on the list of the nation's top basketball powers.
According to the latest NCAA reports, completed in 2001, the four-year average graduation rate for students entering the KU men's program from 1991 to 1994 was 64 percent. Overall, KU's graduation rate for the entire student body for a comparable four-year period was 54 percent, 10 points lower.
KU's team rate was topped by only one other university that made the Sweet 16 in this year's tournament. Duke's rate was 73 percent. Leading the way for all 65 schools that began the 2002 tournament was Stanford, with a flawless 100 percent.
Comparable percentages for the three other Final Four universities: Indiana, 43 percent; Maryland, 19 percent; Oklahoma 0 percent.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway wisely wasted no time in making another point about the basketball players' classroom performance, stressing that KU graduation rates aren't the result of special, less-challenging programs designed for athletes.
"Everybody knows that if you go to KU, you're not going to be put in a jock-degree track," the chancellor said. "You'll have to go to class and study to be a basketball player at KU."
Coach Roy Williams and his staff have consistently maintained a zero-tolerance approach to academic slackers. They penalize young men who miss classes without legitimate excuses and have been known to deny players road trips when they failed to attend.
One of Williams' finest KU teams was the 1996-97 group that wound up with a glittering 34-2 record. Too often overlooked when statisticians reflect on the accomplishments of this team is that there were six seniors on that roster and all six of them marched down "the Hill" to get their diplomas that spring. They were Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase, Scot Pollard, B.J. Williams, Joel Branstrom and Steve Ransom.
The Kansas basketball program has a way of making even casual sports fans beam, because of the favorable light it casts upon the school, the community of Lawrence and the state. All followers, casual and fanatic, also can hold their heads high when the subject of academics comes up.