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Archive for Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Woodling: Miracles not boys anymore

April 5, 2006

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Chris Piper will turn 42 in July. Milt Newton's 41st birthday will be in August. Danny Manning will hit the Big Four-Oh next month. Kevin Pritchard will be 39 in July.

Yes, the Boys of April slipped into midlife before we knew it.

It doesn't seem possible that Danny and the Miracles stunned the college basketball world around the time many of this year's high school seniors were born.

Was it really that long ago? Ah, it was.

Eighteen years ago today, Kansas University's men's basketball players and their fans still were floating rim-high two days after the Jayhawks had shocked Oklahoma, 83-79, in the NCAA championship game - the first and last (thankfully) ever played in Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

Kansas entered the 1988 NCAA Tournament with a 21-11 record and a No. 6 seed. The Jayhawks finished the tourney with a 27-11 record. To this day, they are the losingest team ever to win it all, and certainly one of the most unlikely.

Was it a fluke? Yes and no. Sixth-seeds do not normally win 64-team tournaments, but are there really any upsets when the nation's best teams are plunged into a winner-take-all scenario?

Oklahoma was one of the nation's best teams that season. The Sooners had knocked the Jayhawks off twice during the Big Eight Conference race, yet Kansas was the better tournament team that year.

Then again, nobody remembers that Oklahoma dominated the Big Eight. All they remember is that Kansas won the national championship.

Still, that would have been a memorable KU team - at least in my mind - even if it hadn't won its last six games because it was perhaps the most attrition-ridden team in school history.

One starter (Marvin Branch) was lost to grades after the first semester. Another starter (Archie Marshall) wrecked a knee after Christmas. Still another starter (Otis Livingston) was kicked off the team at the end of the regular season, reportedly for lipping off to coach Larry Brown. Reserve Mike Masucci was booted, too.

Meanwhile, Brown already had committed red shirts for Mark Randall and Sean Alvarado. Thus six of the 15 players who sat in preseason for the official team photo did not suit in the tournament.

Brown did not go into the tourney with only nine players, however. He added Clint Normore and Marvin Mattox, a couple of football players, for the stretch run. Thus Normore and Mattox must forever explain why they own NCAA championship rings, yet do not appear in the team picture.

Mattox logged only four minutes on the floor during the six tournament games, but produced - in my opinion - the most memorable post-championship quote when he boomed: "This is better than ANYTHING. This is better than BIRTH."

When last heard from in the mid-'90s, Mattox was playing Arena League football in his native California. Like Milt Newton, he'll celebrate his 41st birthday in August.

Mattox is not to be confused with Mike Maddox, the baby of the 1988 NCAA championship team. Maddox, now president of a Lawrence bank, will turn 37 in May.

The Boys of April are boys no more, and neither are we.

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