Roundball Classic back for 16th year with new, familiar faces

Five-year-old Nolan Anderson, who is battling leukemia, slaps hands with players as he is introduced during the 15th annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic at Free State High School on Thursday, June 8, 2023. Photo by Nick Krug

The annual basketball game that brings Jayhawk greats back to Lawrence to help raise money for pediatric cancer is back for its 16th year, and this time around it will feature some Kansas luminaries of the very recent past.

Ochai Agbaji, Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson, all current NBA players, will make their debuts at the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, which is set to return to Free State High School on the night of June 13, joining the broader roster of former stars who take part in KU broadcaster Brian Hanni’s charity event.

While professional hopefuls don’t play a role in the Roundball Classic because of its close proximity to the massively important NBA Draft, in successive years “you find out pretty quickly who loves Lawrence, who wants to utilize their platform, who has the ability to get back and all that,” Hanni said. These three recent Jayhawks have thus shown their commitment by returning for the event early in their professional careers as part of a “next wave” of participants.

“They get to come back, see the coaching staff, see their old friends, have some nostalgia,” Hanni told the Journal-World, “but at the same time come back and make a profound impact on the lives of these kids that are really in need.”

Also new this year: Seven children in all will serve as the primary beneficiaries of the event, which has raised $1,382,000 over the course of its existence, according to its website.

Hanni said the greater number of beneficiaries — which is usually a “starting five” and was six in 2023 — is a result of steadily increasing fundraising numbers over the course of the event’s existence, significant pledges in advance of the event and also the sense that “like any coach challenging his team, when you set goals high, everybody works that much harder.”

The “magnificent seven” kids are Azel Bryant, Rowdy Campbell, Lucas Kromminga, Owen Ragsdale, Isaac Reynolds, Calvin Smith and Keira Whiting.

The Roundball Classic has also expanded its reach somewhat with the recent introduction of a year-round “benevolence fund” that aided 18 families, Hanni said. It is predicated on the ideas of impacting more than a select group of kids and also understanding that there is value in providing a “unique experience” to a child — in the form of a free KU game — along with financial help to their parents, he added.

“We wanted to make a bigger impact throughout the entire year,” Hanni said. “And the idea was, the best that Kansas has to offer in terms of athletics is the amazing game-day experience we have at Allen Fieldhouse and David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, so why not — with the partnership of in some cases KU and in other cases local folks with extra tickets — why not bring these children to game days at the Booth and in the Phog and then while they’re there present them with a five-thousand-dollar check?”

The Roundball Classic weekend consists, beyond the actual game, of a gala dinner the following day (June 14) and a Saturday night bowling event (June 15), with more information available at Hanni stressed that these events provide particularly wide-ranging access to the Jayhawk stars as compared to the game itself.

“This is our sixth year of the Roundball celebrity dinner and yet I still feel like to some people, it’s a hidden gem that they’re not familiar with or aware of,” he said. “It’s our biggest night of the three. To me, as an event planner and an emcee, it’s honestly just as much fun as the game, maybe more so, because you fill the room with a Jayhawk star at every table, you get five of them up on stage telling the untold stories of KU hoops.”

Other former KU standouts announced for this year’s event so far include Devonte’ Graham, Jeff Graves, Greg Ostertag, Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor and Calvin Thompson, with more to come.

photo by: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Toronto Raptors guard Ochai Agbaji (30) brings the ball up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Orlando, Fla.

photo by: AP Photo/Abbie Parr

Toronto Raptors guard Gradey Dick (1) works toward the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels (3) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 3, 2024, in Minneapolis.

photo by: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Brooklyn Nets forward Jalen Wilson (22) shoots a 3-point basket over New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 12, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York.


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