A high school hero at Manhattan High and three-year starter at Kansas State University, Tim Jankovich has a lot of friends still living in the Little Apple.
It seems like every one of them picked up the phone last week to congratulate and rib Jankovich, a 1982 KSU graduate who April 21 accepted a position as an assistant coach on Bill Self's men's basketball staff at K-State rival Kansas University.
"It's been funny. Everybody has been good-natured about it. I don't have a bulletproof vest or anything," joked Jankovich, a three-time Academic All-American, Rhodes Scholar and the eighth-leading assist man in KSU history who helped Jack Hartman's Wildcats to NCAA Tournament berths in 1980, '81 and '82. That included a spot in the 1981 Sweet 16.
Jankovich, who worked for Self at the University of Illinois last season after serving as assistant on Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt staff the previous three years, says, all ribbing aside, he is not surprised he now is working 90 miles down the road from his alma mater.
"The first college basketball game I ever saw," Jankovich related, "we lived in Kansas City, and my parents brought my brother and myself to Allen Fieldhouse (in 1967) to see Kansas play Louisville. I still remember it vividly. It had an incredible, powerful impact on me. I told my parents I was going to play there one day."
'A little rebellious'
Jankovich might have played at KU had his family not moved from Kansas City to Manhattan when he was in the third grade.
He emerged as an all-state guard at Manhattan High -- who wasn't recruited by KU and other schools, apparently because everybody felt he was a lock to attend Kansas State.
Jankovich shocked everybody by signing a national letter of intent with Washington State.
"George Raveling basically would not take no (for an answer)," Jankovich said of the WSU coach. "He did a tremendous job recruiting me. Also, I was a little rebellious. I was tired of everyone assuming things. It was like, 'I'll show you. It's not a foregone conclusion that I go there (KSU).' Early on I realized it was a mistake. I missed Kansas and missed home.
"I didn't have a good feel of what I gave up in terms of basketball heritage and tradition and crowds, so I transferred back and played my last three years at Kansas State."
He fared well against Kansas, winning six of nine games, including two of three at Allen Fieldhouse. Yet, he says, he never really hated KU.
"I remember the NCAA games the most. The other games I remember were the games against Kansas," Jankovich said. "Not because of animosity, but because everyone around me could feel the magnitude of the game.
"Regardless of where I went to school, I grew up in Kansas. What Kansas basketball represents is probably as deeply ingrained in me as anyone who has ever been here."
Making a move
Jankovich landed his first head-coaching job at North Texas in 1993. He compiled a 53-57 record in four seasons, resigning to take the head-coaching job at Hutchinson CC in 1978.
"When I got there (North Texas), I thought it was a diamond of a job," Jankovich said, "and I think I was right."
The job description changed, however, with a new athletic director forcing Jankovich to schedule nine guarantee games against powerhouse schools in order to raise money. Guarantee games normally mean losses for schools like North Texas.
"After my fourth year I looked at the situation. I had three years left on my contract and he scheduled nine out of 10 guarantee games," Jankovich said. "We changed conferences (from Southland into Sun Belt) and were still a Southland team. That's why I went to Hutch.
"I talked to a lot of people I think highly of, coach (Roy) Williams and coach (Eddie) Sutton and some others. I said, 'Here's my dilemma. I can stay here, but don't see any chance of success.' People I respect told me I had to leave. Sure enough, they won 20 games the next four years and the coach and athletic director were replaced."
Jankovich went 50-14 in his two seasons at Hutchinson CC.
"The people were great. The athletic director was great. I still think about the people there a lot," Jankovich said. "I had a great time there."
'Thrilled beyond belief'
He left Hutchinson for Vanderbilt in a return to major-college ball, departing for Illinois last November after Self lost assistant Billie Gillispie, who took the head coaching job at UTEP.
Now it's on to Kansas, where Jankovich will be joined by his wife, Cindy, and 3 1/2-year-old son, Michael. Jankovich never actually purchased a house in Champaign, Ill., because of the lateness of his move.
"We will look for a house here soon," Jankovich said.
He said he was enthused about the future of KU basketball under Self, who, like Jankovich, worked on Sutton's Oklahoma State staff in 1992-93.
So far, Jankovich and Norm Roberts have been named KU assistants, with one full-time coaching spot and two administrative aide positions yet to be filled.
"Bill is about as good and likable person as I've ever known. He has terrific charisma and is as hard a worker as you'll find in a head coach or assistant or wherever," Jankovich said. "I've been with Norm a year, and he mirrors a lot of those qualities and does a tremendous job."
As does Jankovich, Self said.
"Tim brings a wealth of knowledge," Self said. "Having been a player and assistant under some of the premier coaches in the nation and working six years as a head coach, he has strong recruiting contacts in the Southeast, Southwest and junior college ranks."
And of course, in Kansas.
"I am thrilled beyond belief to be back," Jankovich said.