The Kansas University men’s basketball team, known as the Jayhawks, competes in the Big 12 Conference in NCAA division I. Among the most well-known and successful programs in the country, the Jayhawks have over 2300 wins, 53 conference regular season championships, 15 conference tournament titles and three NCAA titles since their first season in 1898-1899. Who were the men behind this successful program? We take a look at the eight men who have coached this team and the top players to have come out of Kansas University.
First KU Basketball Coach
Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the great game of basketball, was the first coach of the Kansas University basketball program. Ironically, he is the only coach in the program’s history to have a losing record, at 55-60 from 1898 to 1907.
Known for his contributions to the modern game of basketball and the creation of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Dr. Forrest Allen coached the Jayhawks from 1907-1909 and then for a 37-year period from 1919-1956. William O. Hamilton won five regular season conference championships in his 10-year run coaching Kansas University basketball from 1909-1919 and had a record of 125-59. After Hamilton resigned, Allen returned and all told, led the Jayhawks to 24 regular season conference championships, was a key member to help create the NCAA Tournament in 1939 and led the Jayhawks to their first NCAA title in 1952. Allen had a career coaching record of 590-219, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959 and College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Other Top KU Basketball Coaches
Dick Harp too the helm in 1956 and remained with the Jayhawks for eight seasons, compiling a 121-82 record. He reached the Final Four in 1957 and had two regular season conference titles. Ted Owens became the next coach and and some successful runs, winning six conference regular season championship, two Final Four appearances (1971 and 1974) and a Big 12 Conference title in 1981. Owens was fired in 1983 after compiling a record of 348-182.
Although his time at Kansas was relatively short, Larry Brown left his mark as a coach from 1983-1988. He led the team to the 1986 Final Four, won two conference tournament titles and brought an NCAA Championship to Kansas University basketball in 1988. Brown left Kansas to become head coach of the San Antonio Spurs after winning 135 and a .754 winning percentage at Kansas.
Roy Williams took over in 1988 and won 418 games in 15 seasons with a winning percentage above .800. He won nine regular season conference titles, four conference tournament and advanced the Jayhawks to the Final Four in 1991,1993, 2002, and 2003. The only thing that eluded Williams was an NCAA Title.
After Williams left to coach North Carolina, Bill Seif took over and is the most successful coach in the program’s history, winning 500 games with an .821 winning percentage. Sief led the Jayhawks to an incredible 14 consecutive regular season conference titles, seven Big 12 championships, NCAA Championship in 2008 and Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2018.
Top KU Basketball Players
Amazing players have been developed by these stellar coaches, many of which had successful NBA careers. The most famous of those that went through the Kansas University basketball program is Wilt Chamberlain. Although spending only two years at Kansas, Chamberlain averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds over two seasons, winning an NCAA title. He went on to fabulous NBA career, famous for the 100-point game in 1961. Chamberlain averaged over 50 points per game that season and 30 points and 22.9 rebounds per game for his Hall of Fame career.
Danny Manning scored 2951 points in his collegiate career from 1985-1988, which is 850 points more than Nick Collison for tops in program history. Manning was the first pick overall in the 1988 NBA Draft, going to the Clippers. He was a two-time NBA All-Star and was a starter in the league through the 1995 season. Manning played for the Clippers, Hawks, Suns, Bucks, Jazz, Mavericks, and Pistons before retiring in 2003.
Raef LaFrentz is third on the Kansas Jayhawks career scoring list with 2066 points from 1995 to 1998. He was selected third overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets where he played for 3 ½ seasons. He was an NBA starter for the Nuggets, Mavericks and Celtics through the 2006 season and played two years in Portland in a backup role, retiring in 2008 with averages of 10 points and six rebounds per game.
Darnell Valentine is seventh on the Jayhawks’ scoring list and was drafted 16th overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the 1981 NBA Draft. Valentine played ten seasons in the NBA with three teams (Portland, Clippers, Cavaliers), his best in 1982-1983 when he averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 assists per game.
Jo Jo White was drafted out of Kansas by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1969 NBA Draft. He became one of the top scorers in the NBA, consistently averaging nearly 20 points per game or above for seven consecutive seasons. White was the MVP of the 1974-1975 NBA Finals and made the All-Star team seven times. A two-time NBA Champion, White is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Paul Pierce ranks 10th on the Kansas University basketball scoring list and was drafted by the Boston Celtics 10th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. He quickly became one of the best players in the NBA, averaging 20 or more points per game eight times in nine seasons. Pierce made 10 All-Star teams with the Celtics and was NBA Finals MVP in 2007-2008. He also played for the Nets, Wizards, and Clippers, retiring in 2017 with a scoring average of 19.7 points per game.
Andrew Wiggins was the number one overall pick out of Kansas in 2014. At age 19, he won NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 16.9 points per game. He averaged over 20 points per game in three of his first four seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins is averaging a combined 21.8 points per game this season in 42 games with Minnesota and 12 games with Golden State.
Joel Embiid played in Kansas just one season, but was drafted third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014. After missing two seasons with a foot injury, Embiid finally got on the court in an NBA game. Although still bothered by injuries at times, he’s shown to be the top big man in the league. In four seasons, he is a 3-time All-Star, 2-time All-Defensive team and has averaged 24.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game for his career.
Other notable players rounding out the top ten on the Kansas Jayhawks career scoring list are Clyde Lovellett (1979 points, 1950-1952), Sherron Collins (1888 points, 2007-2010), Frank Mason III (1885 points, 2014-2017), Keith Langford (1812 points, 2002-2005), and Perry Ellis (1798 points, 2013-2016). Collins played briefly in the NBA, Turkey and Canada. Ellis played for the Charlotte Hornets G-League affiliate, as well for several teams internationally. Langford has had a successful international career for several teams and is still playing.
There are several other players currently in the NBA that played the Kansas Jayhawks. The list includes Cheick Diallo (Phoenix Suns), Devonte’ Graham (Charlotte Hornets), Josh Jackson (Memphis Grizzlies), Dedric Lawson (San Antonio Spurs), Ben McLemore (Houston Rockets), Marcus Morris (Los Angeles Clippers), Markieff Morris (Los Angeles Lakers), Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Detroit Pistons), and Kelly Oubre Jr. (Phoenix Suns)
KU Basketball is rich in tradition and remains one of the top programs every year in college basketball.