A couple of options for a Kansas men’s basketball Mount Rushmore

photo by: Journal-World & AP file photos

One of Matt Tait's three versions of a Kansas basketball Mount Rushmore, from left to right, Danny Manning, James Naismith, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Self.

KU asked. So I figured I’d answer.

OK, so they didn’t ask me specifically. Instead, the Kansas men’s basketball Twitter account recently put out a tweet that asked all of its 930,000 followers one simple question.

Who’s on your KU basketball Mount Rushmore?

I know people have done this over and over for decades. But, with tomorrow being the Fourth of July, I figured it made sense to do it again. Plus, you never know when it might change.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done one of these just for KU hoops. I know I’ve thought and written about it for KU sports as a whole. And that task wasn’t much easier than this one.

The way I see it, you can look at this task three separate ways.

No. 1, you can pick four people tied to Kansas basketball as your four faces of the program and its storied history.

No. 2, you can do a players-only version of a Kansas basketball Mount Rushmore.

And No. 3, you can do a coaches-only version.

For my money, the first and third options are actually the easiest. It’s No. 2 that gets a little tricky. More on that in a minute.

Let’s take a look at No. 1 first and pick four faces that represent all of the success and stories associated with more than 100 years of Kansas basketball.

It has to start with James Naismith, the inventor of the game and KU’s first coach. From there, you quickly realize that no KU hoops Mount Rushmore is complete without Wilt Chamberlain, the larger than life KU center who did amazing things in college and went on to become one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Although things get a little cloudier from there, you can’t pick four faces without one of them being the program’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader, so Danny Manning is on there, as well.

And then there’s Bill Self. He’s got a title. He’s got the Big 12 title streak. He’s got 700 wins (and counting) and his winning percentage and record are the best the program has ever seen.

So my overall KU basketball Mount Rushmore is Naismith, Chamberlain, Manning and Self.

For the next two options, we’re already halfway done because two of those four will land on the players-only version and the other two on the coaches-only version.

As I mentioned earlier, option 3 — the coaches rock — is pretty easy, as well – Naismith, Self, Phog Allen and Roy Williams.

You’ve already heard the case for the first two, and the case for Phog Allen is pretty convincing, as well.

The building is named in his honor. He recruited Chamberlain. He won a whole bunch of games in his 40-year career, including a national title in 1952, and he is widely known as The Father of Basketball Coaching.

With those three basically locks to be on the list, it came down to Larry Brown and his 1988 national title or Roy Williams and his 418 wins in 15 seasons. I went with Williams because of longevity and the fact that, until Self came along, the clip at which Williams won games was almost unheard of.

He left KU with an .805 winning percentage after leading the Jayhawks to four Final Fours and two runner-up finishes.

Now let’s get to the toughest of the three – the players-only Mount Rushmore.

As I mentioned, two of the four are locks in Chamberlain and Manning. I can’t imagine anyone who knows anything about Kansas basketball not having both of those guys.

But from there, it gets wild.

No. 3 on my list is Mario Chalmers and his inclusion comes down to one shot. If the 3-pointer he hit to send the 2008 national title game to overtime never went down, Chalmers wouldn’t even be in the running here.

However, it splashed, Kansas won the title and Chalmers became one of those forever heroes. Many have called that shot the biggest shot in the history of Kansas basketball and it continues to be celebrated today, 12 years later, during the pregame intro video, through a giant mural inside Allen Fieldhouse and on the walls of thousands of KU fans, who have the image framed.

It’s not as if Chalmers was an average player who happened to hit a big shot. He had a terrific KU career and was a huge part of all three Kansas teams for which he played. But that shot elevates him to Mount Rushmore status because, at a place like KU where it’s title or bust, Chalmers delivered when it counted most.

Trying to identify the fourth player who belongs on the players-only Mount Rushmore is an absolute nightmare. There are just so many choices and, really, no wrong answers.

If it’s titles, talent and stats you like, then it’s hard to leave Clyde Lovellette off. If it’s stats alone, it’s hard to look past Nick Collison, who ranks right up there with Manning on KU’s all-time scoring and rebounding lists and led KU to two Final Fours.

If you favor the total package and lean toward guys who were stars at Kansas and standouts in the NBA, you have to look at players like Jo Jo White and Paul Pierce.

And then you also have to address the recency bias, which easily puts players like Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham in the conversation.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. But, for my money, I think it’s Lovellette who is most deserving.

Not only did he lead KU to a national title, but he also averaged 20-plus points per game for three consecutive seasons and went on to win a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics, as well.

Despite playing just 80 games over three collegiate seasons, he still ranks fourth on KU’s all-time scoring list (1,979 points) and 11th in career rebounds (839).

Final Glance


Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Bill Self and James Naismith

Players Only:

Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Mario Chalmers and Clyde Lovellette

Coaches Only:

James Naismith, Phog Allen, Roy Williams and Bill Self