KU basketball notebook: 125-year reunion, big Kansas win make for special day at Allen Fieldhouse
Former players and coaches returning to Allen Fieldhouse for game day is certainly nothing new.
But having so many of them in the same building at the same time is always a treat, and that was the scene on Saturday for No. 2 Kansas’ intense, 62-60 win over No. 14 Iowa State.
“I’m sure a lot of people do a lot of things at their respective schools that are cool and important,” KU coach Bill Self said of the Jayhawks’ 125-year basketball reunion that featured more than 200 former Jayhawks returning to campus this weekend. “But I’ve said this many times; This isn’t anything other than facts — nobody can boast that the inventor of the game (James Naismith) was their first coach. Nobody can boast that the most dominant player maybe of all time (Wilt Chamberlain) went to your school. And we can.”
In all, players, coaches, managers, trainers and staff members from five or six different eras of Kansas basketball were back for Saturday’s fun and a weekend of private banquets and events to honor the program’s rich history.
Together, that group combined to win six national titles, reach 16 Final Fours and win 63 conference championships. Whether you’re talking about Larry Brown or Roy Williams, Mario Chalmers or Mark Randall or Mitch Lightfoot and Sherron Collins, many of the biggest names and most accomplished players in KU history made their way back to their old home for Saturday’s game and a massive celebration of the culture that bonds them all.
“It’s wonderful,” former KU coach Ted Owens said of returning for this week’s reunion. “And boy it’s been a blessing. The biggest blessing is working with the finest young men that I could ever imagine.”
Added former KU big man Walt Wesley: “To reminisce about the days of old, it’s a grand feeling. It’s a wonderful feeling to come back and the ghosts of the past surface.”
Both Owens and Wesley said days like Saturday reminded them of all of the players they played with or coached and Owens said, for him, it was always the players who made it special.
“It’s not the X’s and O’s, as the saying goes,” he said. “It’s the Jimmys and the Joes. Or the JoJo’s.”
That last line was a reference to legendary KU point guard JoJo White.
Added former KU big man Nick Collison, who was back for his first reunion, though he has attended plenty of regular season games in recent years: “It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to see everybody. It definitely does mean more (now). I just think when you’re a kid you can’t fully appreciate it. With more time, it becomes even more fun and I appreciate even more coming back. Kansas basketball is a privilege if you get to be a part of it.”
Asked to describe the Bill Self era of Kansas basketball, former KU guard Ben McLemore summed it up with a single word: “Amazing.”
Added KU guard Tyrel Reed, who lives in Lawrence and has been around the program plenty of times in the past decade: “The first 3-5 years that you’re out, guys don’t really come back because it’s too fresh. You think, I was just out there doing that. But as you get older, you realize even more how cool it really was and is.”
Those who made it back for Saturday’s reunion were introduced during a special ceremony at halftime of Saturday’s game. They were introduced by head coach and era, with Ted Owens and Roy Williams leading their players onto the floor. Former KU coach Larry Brown led the members of the 1988 championship team onto the floor, while wearing a KU letter jacket.
The four NCAA title teams in KU history were honored and introduced separately. That included Chris Teahan and Mitch Lightfoot representing the 2022 national title team, with a handful of that group back in the locker room trying to figure out how to beat Iowa State.
“This win was even more sweet (because) of the 125-year reunion,” said KU freshman Gradey Dick, who grew up living and breathing all things Kansas basketball.
Alone at the top — for now
KU’s nail-biter victory coupled with Kansas State’s loss at TCU earlier in the day left the Jayhawks in first place by themselves in the Big 12 standings.
That’s after they entered the day in a three-way tie for first place. With 13 conference games remaining, it’s still far too early to worry about jockeying for position at the top. But any time a team can win while the two teams closest to it in the standings lose has to go down as a good day.
Beyond that, half of the conference entered Saturday with at least three losses and KenPom.com already had KU projected to win the conference by two games.
Kansas forward Cam Martin did not play on Saturday, missing the Jayhawks’ clash with Iowa State because of the shoulder injury that kept him out of most of the nonconference portion of KU’s schedule.
Martin returned to action Dec. 10 and has appeared in four games this season, playing 10 minutes total and scoring seven points to go along with two rebounds.
KU coach Bill Self said Friday that Martin’s shoulder had been giving him problems of late and that he may not be available to play.
That was not the case for freshman guard MJ Rice, who was available Saturday but did not play. After missing KU’s win at West Virginia with back spasms, Self said Rice was available both Tuesday against Oklahoma and on Saturday.
Survival in the Big 12
When asked Friday how he approaches managing a Big 12 schedule like the one the Jayhawks are facing in the next couple of months, Self said the biggest key was to avoid a specific mindset.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything, I hope, to plant a seed to survive,” he said. “I think when you say to survive, you’re almost being defensive and trying to hang on. No, we’ve got to go take.”
To that end, Self and the Jayhawks have kept the focus on doing the daily tasks that lead to improvement rather than worrying about what challenges await on the horizon. So far, that seems to have worked.
“I haven’t said anything to the point (of) we’ve got to (do this or do that),” Self said. “What I’ve said is we’re going to have to do this to give us the best chance to have success. As a coach, I know this; you can’t approach it when you play a gauntlet like this, daily, like you would if you have a tough game every other game. It’s more about mental preparation and rest than it is physical exertion.”
This and that…
Saturday’s win moved KU to 16-1 or better for the seventh time in Self’s 20 seasons in charge… KU is now 5-0 or better in Big 12 play for the 10th time in the Self era and the first time since the 2016-17 season… The Jayhawks now lead the all-time series with Iowa State 189-66, including 56-10 at Allen Fieldhouse… KU has won seven in a row over the Cyclones and 16 consecutive games in their home venue… The Jayhawks are now 15-0 this season when leading at halftime, a feat made possible by KJ Adams’ hard-charging bucket that beat the halftime buzzer.