Column: Rock, chalk JayhawkPublished 12:00am Thursday, April 10, 2008
By Jon Laging, Talking Sports
No Big Ten team fared well in the NCAA basketball tournament, to the surprise of no one. When the tournament directors did not consider inviting the Big Ten&8217;s sixth team, Minnesota, the indications were the conference did not rank very high with the nation&8217;s athletic directors. It used to be that such a finish would merit strong consideration and the fifth place team, like Ohio State, was pretty much a lock.
Not so this year. Ohio State didn&8217;t come close and was barely on the bubble. Teams are down and coaching is down. Tom Izzo of Michigan State seems to be the only big-time coach left in the Big Ten. First, Bobby Knight was fired, and Bill Self deserted Illinois for the University of Kansas.
The biggest addition to the coaching ranks is our own Tubby Smith. Perhaps Smith will not only bring the University of Minnesota back from mediocrity or worse, but the entire conference.
The NCAA tournament had North Carolina meeting Kansas. A clash of two old very prideful basketball programs. James Naismith, Kansas&8217;s first coach and inventor of basketball, started the tradition at Kansas, and Dean Smith of North Carolina improved it more than a half century later. Michael Jordan, perhaps the best basketball player of our era, came up through the Tar Heel program under Smith.
Kansas &8220;Rock Chalk Jayhawk&8221; last won in 1988. I was living in Kansas at the time and well remember the &8217;88 championship with Danny Manning and the four little Mannings. Larry Brown, then Jayhawk coach, did an unusual job of recruiting Manning by making his father assistant basketball coach. Brown was a strategist of the first order as the Big 12, then known as the Big Eight, had perhaps the two best teams in the nation in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma coach was Billy Tubbs. He believed in racehorse basketball and pouring it on. If he could beat you by 50 points, great! The more points the better. His voice was a duplicate of Jack Nicholson&8217;s, so he was easy to hate.
Kansas had lost twice to Oklahoma during the season and Brown didn&8217;t seem to have the answer to Tubbs&8217; run-and-gun game. They met during the finals of the NCAA Tournament after Kansas had defeated Duke by seven points. Manning and his team were again poised to take on Oklahoma. Manning had a wonderful game as Kansas defeated Oklahoma 83-79, beating them at their own game of up and down the floor with Manning scoring 31 points and gathering 18 rebounds.
Danny Manning is now somewhat forgotten outside of Kansas as he never had the same kind of success in the pros due primarily to injuries.
It was early in our years in Kansas, and it was fun to see the laid-back, down-to-earth Kansans celebrate. These were not very excitable people. After all they had enough to contend with, dust storms of the past and Bob Dole of that present. However, celebrate they did. You have to remember the largest city in Kansas is Wichita, a rather small place when compared to the Twin Cities. So there wasn&8217;t much in the way of big-time sports. They didn&8217;t have major league basketball, football or baseball. Their two members of the Big Eight football conference were doormats at that time. But there was Kansas in basketball. One of the best programs in collegiate sports.
Kansas was the epitome of flyover country and for once they had center stage. Kansas was very happy that they were the best at something and it was totally unexpected, for KU had lost 11 games that year. Coach Larry Brown could have been elected governor. Brown has also won the NBA during his career, but I would guess that the KU team of 1988 holds the most affection for him.