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.

July 30, 2012


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.

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?


BringBackMark 5 years, 10 months ago

Wow, nobody mentioned Nolan Cromwell. Go back and watch some film of his '75 and '76 seasons before he got hurt. It's something to behold. He was also an outstanding track athlete and multiple pro bowl selection in the NFL.

Robert Rauktis 5 years, 10 months ago

Probably Ryun's greatest influence in the sporting world is the "LeBron/Carmelo effect...the sports prodigy. Ryun kicked international butt at 18 when Track & Field was still a major sport: an age unheard of in the "distance events", where you had to have mental discipline or old fogey-ism judgment to be successful. Rivals, the ESPN pinheads, and all the beauty contests owe Ryun a big debt for their "next coming of" and "I saw him/her first.

Tyson Travis 5 years, 10 months ago

Are you sure the #2 photo of Ray Evans is correct? It looks too recent and doesn't look like him, a b/w photo from the post-WWII era might have been more appropriate. Just checking.

Jayhawk1963 5 years, 10 months ago

I thought the same thing. The JW just blew it, as usual !

Clickker 5 years, 10 months ago

That is Ray Evans son, Ray Junior. But maybe the editors were thinking greatest frat/ bar athlete.

Topple 5 years, 10 months ago

Oh stuff it you sour old curmudgeon.

Andrew Hartsock 5 years, 10 months ago

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

Jeff Bandle 5 years, 10 months ago

Wow, no love for Al Oerter. 4 time Olympic champion. Would have been nice to at least see him mentioned, especially if Ryan is included.

gk83 5 years, 10 months ago

Wow also! I have participated in this "friendly" debate with a many KU fans through the years. Limiting the discussion to the time frame we are familiar with, from the 1940's on, there have consistently been 2 unanimous candidates: Wilt of course (probably the winner) and Nolan Cromwell. People are apparently forgetting what he demonstrated in Track and Field. Decathletes are often called the worlds greatest athletes. Nolan was not primarily a decathlete but he set the KU record in the decathlon without formally and specifically training for the decathlon. A Sports illustrated article in the early 1980s he was named the greatest athlete in the NFL, seems like that might put you in the conversation for greatest at KU.

Jayhawk1963 5 years, 10 months ago

I can't believe John Hadl is not mentioned ! He was a better quarterback and athlete than Reesing for sure. In fact, I would say he was KU's best all-round football player since, at least, the mid-fifties. He was an All-American at both halfback and quarterback and still holds a KU record for longest punt, I think. John also was most dangerous when the play broke down; he invariably made good decisions when he had to improvise. This list is what you get when it's prepared by sportswriters too young to have any personal memories of most of the athletes mentioned !

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 10 months ago

I know he made some enemies but I don't see how you can exclude John Riggins from the conversation.

Of all the running backs I ever watched in a football game, what John was able to do at times was just unbelievable.

Terry Sexton 5 years, 10 months ago

Tough call. I s'pose I'd say Sayers, Riggins, Chamberlain & Manning.

Bobby Douglas, Nolan Cromwell, Jo Jo White & Clyde Lovelette also come to mind.

riverdrifter 5 years, 10 months ago

You included all my picks. So, I'll just say +1.

Jayhawk1958 5 years, 10 months ago

BH Born is another you can't forget about.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 10 months ago

Very difficult job, compiling such a short list of KU's greatest student athletes. There've been so many, and there'll be more in the years to come. Bill Mayer and Chuck Woodling should have been invited to contribute their opinions.

KU has also produced nationally-dominant or conference-dominant athletes in the non-major sports, too -- swimming, gymnastics, golf, baseball, tennis, shooting, fencing, just to name a few. Jeez, where do you start?

frank mcguinness 5 years, 10 months ago

How come no one ever brings up Billy Mills. Its a tragedy that he doesn't get more respect from the Lawrence/ KU Community. He did win Gold in the Olympics.

Terry Sexton 5 years, 10 months ago

I brought him up the other day when choosing most underrated/overlooked Jayhawks. Still like watching film of his Olympic victory.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 10 months ago

Okay, double comment post: sorry. But someday I'd like to read a story about what happened to the Wishbone Offense in football. Why did it fall out of favor with football coaches?

Former KU football head coach Bud Moore came here from national football power Alabama. Alabama had used the Wishbone Offense to win a national championship. Coach Moore immediately installed the Wishbone Offense here after he took at KU. To accomplish this, Moore made the surprise move of switching Nolan Cromwell from defensive free safety to offensive quarterback. This was a shocking switch, but Moore knew what he was doing because Nolan Cromwell quickly displayed a genius for passing, handing off the ball, and running.

So...what happened to the Wishbone Offense? The scheme worked great for KU and almost every school that used it...and then seemingly in the blink of an eye it was gone. Nobody uses it anymore.

I've never played the game myself, so this abrupt disappearance of the Wishbone from college football offenses has long confused me.

riverdrifter 5 years, 10 months ago

4-4- cover 3 defense. More speed in the secondary. They defensed for the run and double-dog dared wishboners to pass. It happens. The spread offense is already becoming passe, just watch. Stuff comes & goes.

rgh 5 years, 10 months ago

You do know that Ryun also won a silver medal in an Olympic and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as their sportsman of the year don't you? My problem is you continuing to bash a KU great and former world record holder by calling him a "wimp" and saying those who voted for him are "idiots." Also, it's Cromwell not Crownwell.

rgh 5 years, 10 months ago

Hard to argue any with so many greats to pick from. 1. Ray Evans 2. Otto Schnellbacher 3. Al Oerter 4. Wilt Chamberlain 5. Gayle Sayers

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