KU vs UT:Rivalry or Revelry?

[The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other basketball essays; coming out someday if we ever survive this global pandemic]

Texas vs. Kansas provided fans with not only some of the most entertaining games of not only the Big 12, but in the nation.

One of the consequences of the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, was that it combined the strengths of the Big Eight and Southwest conference and covered up some of the weakness. Annual football powerhouses like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A& M were able to pitch recruits on marquee games against in conference foes, while Kansas could continue its reign as basketball overlords (having won 43 outright conference titles with the next closest being Kansas State with 17).

Kansas would continue its dominance in the new conference even going undefeated with an all time great team in 2002 (being the first and only team to do so, so far). Although Kansas has won 17 of the last 21 titles (including 12 straight before the 2018-2019 season), there have been years where other schools were able to give them a run for their money; most notably, the University of Texas. 

At UT’s best, (during the T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant years) this matchup produced some of the most memorable games the conference and nation had ever seen. The reason these games were so memorable is that they had star power on both teams, with future NBA players in each game. Although Texas lost all four games, the quality of the games were so high, that even Kansas fans walked away with respect for how those Texas teams competed. T.J. Ford once remarked on Twitter that the 2003 game in Allen was unforgettable, and one of the most intense games he’d ever took part in. 

As of today, Kansas leads the series 33-9 and since the 2013-2014, Kansas has won 11 of 12 meetings. Que Lastima! It could’ve been something beautiful. It could’ve been a Big 12 rivalry, but in the Big 12, Kansas has no rival (and don’t say Kansas State; that’s more emotion than execution). 

 

Kansas at Texas February 11, 2002 

Kansas over Texas 110-103 OT

This high octane game featured the two highest ranked recruits at their position in Jayhawks’ point guard, Aaron Miles and the Longhorn’s T.J. Ford. It was a point guard clinic. This game got up to 100’s as Kansas finally prevailed in overtime 110-103. It was one of the best games I’d ever attended live, with both teams going up and down the court. T.J. Ford was already making his case as one of the best point guards in the nation, taking the precise amount of dribbles necessary to advance the ball and always throwing his passes in a place where teammates could either shoot it or make a basketball move. He was fundamentally sound and a good defender. 

Miles had the luxury of playing with three All American players in Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. In addition to those guys, he had sharpshooter Jeff Boschee, and off the bench came Wayne Simien, Michael Lee and Keith Langford. Texas at the time was no slouch with James Thomas, Brandon Mouton, and Brian Boddicker on their side, and arguably one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders in future NBA role player, Royal Ivey. 

This game featured some impeccably run fast breaks, high flying alley oops, great defensive plays, and efficient offensive possessions, punctuated by a game tying jumper at 0:31 seconds in layup by Royal Ivey to send the game into overtime. At the time it was the loudest game I’d ever attended. The Frank Erwin Center was at 94 % capacity that night , at least half the crowd were Jayhawks fans. Seeing the Jayhawk faithful devotion and passion to their team (some people had driven down to Austin that day and were driving back to Lawrence immediately afterwards) piqued my interest, and the seed was planted to one day see a game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas

Footnotes:

  • Aaron Miles 10 points, 13 assists
  • T.J. Ford 16 points, 11 assists
  • Brandon Mouton had 25 pts , 9-17 FG for UT
  • Wayne Simien had 17 points, 10 rebounds (7-9 field goals)
  • Jeff Boschee 21 pts, 6-13 (3 pt)
  • Drew Gooden 28 points, 7 boards on 12/23 shooting
  • Texas forward Brian Boddicker 19 points for UT (4-8 3 pt)
  • Kansas more than 50 points in the paint and 4 out of timeout plays that resulted in lobs at the rim (This was also the first time I’d seen the front court high-lo run to perfection with Drew Gooden and Nick Collison). 
  • UT Power Forward James Thomas 14 pts, 12 rebounds
  • Nick Collison had 5 points, 2 key rebounds and 1 assist in the last 6 minutes of play (regulation and OT combined)
  • Kansas at the time of this game was 53-0 all time when scoring 100 plus points
  • Kansas guard Aaron Miles almost ended the game in regulation when he missed potential game winning jumper at the buzzer
  • Texas had five players in double figures of scoring while Kansas had six
  • This game also featured 5 players who all ranked in the previous season as the top 100 high school recruits, point guards T.J. Ford (#10) and Aaron Miles(#11), and forwards, Wayne Simien(#67), and Keith Langford(#41).
  • Basketball fans were robbed of a NCAA tournament rematch between these two teams when UT lost to Oregon 70-72 in the Sweet Sixteen round. It would’ve been a memorable Elite Eight for all parties involved. 

 

Texas at Kansas January 27th, 2003: The Nick Collison game

Texas 87-Kansas 90

This Big Monday rematch (featuring two top 5 teams) did not disappoint. It was fast paced, up and down and a very intense crowd in Allen Fieldhouse. Playing on four fouls, Nick Collison took over down the stretch drawing a standing ovation from announcer Dick Vitale. T.J. Ford put up 25 points and had 10 assists. Aaron Miles put up 15 and 9 assists, Kirk Hinrich had 25 points as well, but it was Collison who put up an unforgettable 24 points and 23 rebounds; scoring in every way possible to put the team on his back. A # 3 ranked Texas squad came to Lawrence and gave the struggling Jayhawks all they could handle (Kansas had lost their previous 2 games making this matchup a must win). Texas had two chances at the end to tie the game (Kansas didn’t make their free throws–something that would continue to haunt them all year) and send it to overtime with 2 missed desperation three pointers before the buzzer sounded. This would be the last time head coaches Rick Barnes and Roy Williams would face off as Big 12 opponents.

 

March 3, 2007 Texas at Kansas Kevin Durant comes to Lawrence 

Texas 86-Kansas 90

 

One of this generation’s most fantastic phenoms came to basketball’s most hallowed court and left his mark. Kansas overcame a 16 point deficit as Kevin Durant scored 25 first half points to open the game (he would finish the game with 32 points). He had lots of help from his teammates. Damion James chipped in 12 points, A.J. Abrams had 18 points, and D.J. Augustin scored 19 points and dished out 13 assists. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they only had 8 offensive rebounds compared to Kansas 13, and Texas only had 2 points all game from their bench. Despite all that, they almost came away with a W, and probably would’ve if not for an injury to Kevin Durant’s ankle with less than 11 minutes left in the game (keep in mind that KU was up at the time 71-67 when this occurred).

Texas jumped out to a 16 point lead, lost it in the second half but fought back at the end to get within three points. Julian Wright made an unbelievable block on D.J. Augustin’s 3 point attempt to tie the game. Wright would finish the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds 6 assists and 5 blocks.

What is most notable about this game was the sheer volume of NBA bound players who played. Brandon Rush, Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, and Darrell Arthur, and for Texas, D.J. Augustin, and Kevin Durant (Damien James and Dexter Pittman had cups of coffee in the league too).*(Keep in mind that Lamarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, and P.J. Tucker all left school early for the NBA. Imagine the hype around this game had they still had those guys on the roster.)* 

Although it would not go into overtime like the Big 12 tournament championship game, the overall quality of play was better. Because it was in Lawrence–a college atmosphere not an over-sized arena–both teams played better overall in this match-up to decide the Big 12 regular season champion. This would prove to be the peak of these two basketball programs contesting each other.

2007 Big 12 Championship Tournament game (Durant gets a glimpse into his future)

Texas 84 at Kansas 88

The second meeting had the intensity of their first meeting, but lacked the efficiency and execution, as both teams were clearly exhausted going into their game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant had little help scoring outside of A.J. Abrams’ 19 points. The team collectively shot 38 % and would’ve been blown out had it not been for Kevin Durant’s 37 points (12-30 shooting) 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. Kansas with its five future NBA players on the roster, had four guys score in double figures. In a harbinger of what was to come for Kansas (the next season), Chalmers hit a game tying 3 pointer off a dribble hand-off play to send it into overtime. Texas (again) jumped out to a solid lead, but couldn’t quite hold on. There were only 14 points scored total during overtime as Kansas just outlasted Texas despite Mario Chalmers fouling out at the end of regulation.  

That particular Kansas team would would go on to lose to UCLA in the Elite Eight, while Texas would get knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament by Nick Young, Taj Gibson and the USC Trojans. Neverthless, Kansas and Texas have never been able to recapture the magic that college hoops fans witnessed in the early to mid 2000’s. Despite sending numerous guys to the NBA, Texas hit a level of mediocrity that cost Rick Barnes his job after almost another decade.  Kansas would continue to dominate the league to this day, not missing a beat with head coach Bill Self who would parlay his success at Kansas into a Hall of Fame coaching career. Losing only Julian Wright the following season, Kansas would go on to march to the Final Four and beat Memphis in the title game; taking Self only 5 seasons to win a national championship at KU. 

 

BM

Loveable Losers: 2002-2003 Kansas Jayhawks

Basketball season has only been over for a couple of weeks, but for anyone who suffers from the “Jones” as badly as I do, there are remedies. I’ve been traveling a great deal for the past month, but anytime I hit a lull, I go to the NCAA Vault and pull up an old game–usually from the 2002-2003 era.

Why that time period? Well in my honest opinion, I think it was the golden age of Big 12 basketball. The Big 12 was littered with big name coaches. Kelvin Sampson was over at Oklahoma coaching Hollis Price and Quannis White.

Eddie Sutton had some great players at Oklahoma State in John Lucas III, Tony Allen, Ivan McFarlin, the Graham brothers, Desmond Mason  (a few years before), and Victor and Andre Williams.

Rick Barnes had some guy named T.J. Ford who is only the best point guard in UT history. Lastly, you have Roy Williams coaching at Kansas (they had some sweet uniforms those years).

It is no secret that the 2002-2003 team was one of my favorite college basketball teams of all time. Watching that squad get up and down the court was a thing of beauty with the backcourt of Aaron Miles and “Captain” Kirk Hinrich (Wichita States’s Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet kinda low key remind me of them).

Keith Langford is one of my all time favorite wing players. He was dazzling and flashy, but he was also almost always in control. “K-freeze” just got buckets, and could finish once he got to the rim. Don’t let me get started on Nick Collison. We’ll get to him in a second.

For those of you tapping that vein, and in need of some good ass games to watch, I give you the best five Kansas Jayhawks games from 2002-2003. Honorable mention goes to this match from the 2001-2002 season affectionately know as the Juan Dixon game.

#5 Senior Night

Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich go out in style vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Definitely worth the stop in, even though the clip ends pre-maturely. You also get to see glimpses of Tony Allen’s world class NBA defense in this game and see why he has become such a good pro.

#4 The Nick Collison Game

This is one of the best, most intense regular season games you will ever watch. I remember it like it was yesterday. Texas and Kansas were in the top 5 that year; both having lost to Arizona (a team that everyone thought was going to win it all that year).

T.J. Ford puts on a clinic in this week, and almost willed UT to a Big Monday win in Allen Fieldhouse, but Nick Collison put up a nasty double-double; taking James Thomas to school, before fouling out after the game was already in hand. It is as beautiful now as it was to watch live.

#3 The Nick Collison Game part 2

With Duke’s weak ass front line that year, I knew the Jayhawks would do well in the paint, but how many people expected Collison to put up a 30-20 night? There were many reasons to hate Duke back then. Dahntay Jones (who I’m shocked to find had one of the highest scoring averages in that tournament–look it up if you don’t  believe me. It was something crazy like 24.6 pts) was a star on that team.

Sheldon Williams was a poor man’s Carlos Boozer (that isn’t meant to be as harsh as it sounds. Boozer was pretty nasty in college and was a big reason why they won it in 2001). J.J. Redick was always great until he got to the big stage and had to play against taller and faster players. Anyway, Collison carried them to victory that game, because Hinrich didn’t play all that well in that game.

#2 The Carmelo Anthony/ Gerry McNamera Show

Despite the outcome, this was a good ass game. Kansas had no business being as far behind as they were. I feel like Roy Williams got outcoached in this one. After Keith Langford picked up his second foul guarding Carmelo Anthony, I would have switched it up, gone zone or put Michael Lee on him.

Langford was too important for their offense going against Syracuse’s 2-3. He made it a lot easier for them to get buckets with his passing and penetration. Sure he picked up a phantom foul that disqualified him during “winning time”, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.

The Jayhawks also shot less than 50 % on the free throw line. Everyone on Syracuse had big moments in the biggest game, while the moment seemed a bit too big for Kansas. Even though Syracuse was slightly deeper, I still to this day think that if the teams played a best of 7 series, then KU would have won 5 of those 7 games.

This is also why I cannot in good conscience put this as # 1. Its a shame that this was the last college game for Hinrich and Collison, because I’d have liked to have seen them go out winners. Even though Kansas lost the title game, they were anything but losers. They came out of arguably  the toughest conference that year, and the road they took just to get to the title game was extremely difficult.

Which brings us to #1 The Arizona Game

Arizona was the best team all year that season, and they were heavy favorites. They had beaten Texas and Kansas already that year and they were deep. Future NBA champions Andre Iguodala and Luke Walton were key cogs on that unit, along with Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire, and Rick Anderson. Plus, Lute Olson was doing some of his best coaching.

This was the game to be nervous about. Kansas played a great team game and pulled it out, but it was a nail biter. It was a good ass game (Just one of many good ass games that tournament). If I were to recommend any of these five, I’d say jump on this one first. But they all good ass games if you ask me. This was a special year, and you could look up at least 20 games from that year’s tournament and by halftime you’ll be saying, “Damn. This a GOOD ASS GAME.”

Peace.

BM

@clickpicka79

bobbymickey@gmail.com

WHAT’S GOOD?!!

What’s Good?

Everythang!!!

There were a slew of Good Ass Games last week, including a B-Ball watching extravaganza on Friday. Six straight hours of watching basketball on a Friday night, and I couldn’t have been happier. Of course, once those games are over, reality sets in, and I realized that I made no plans for the late night tip. #poorplanning

Since I’ll be going to the Florida-Kansas game on Friday, let’s start with some college hoop. Kansas clearly has a lot of talent, but some of the pieces are not fitting. Bill Self recruits the guys to fit his system, and he always has talented big men, but there is only one basketball. If the ball is distributed evenly each player gets to touch the ball 20 percent of the time. The other 80 percent of basketball involves things other than scoring.

Obviously the Jayhawks are talented, but there is always someone bigger and badder on the block. Kansas ran into the big and bad Wildcats and got stomped. Part of that was talent (Kentucky is clearly the most talented team in the country), but Kansas also didn’t play that smart—which also contributed to such a lopsided score. Kentucky will be impossible to beat if a team is depending on isolation sets and one primary ballhandler. Kansas is not a very good passing team, and Kentucky just waited on the Jayhawks to drive to the rack so they could block their shot.

Michigan State didn’t fare as well defensively against the Jayhawks strategy. They fouled Kansas and put them on the free throw line. Every time the Jayhawks got fouled taking it to the rim, you could see an extra pass leading to an easier bucket. Kansas has to learn how to make that extra pass. Svia Mikhailhiuk gets it, and Frank Mason is looking more comfortable with each game (I really like that backcourt combo–I think they have good on court chemistry).

The problem with recruiting the “one and done” player is the constant turnover messes with cohesion. This is still a young Jayhawks team and the learning curve is almost as steep as last year’s squad. Roles have yet to be established and defined, and all the highly recruited cats come in thinking they are “the man.” Kelly Oubre has yet to look comfortable on the floor, and Cliff Alexander shows flashes of highlight reel potential, but they definitely play like Freshmen.

Cliff Alexander is definitely going to be ill, but I get nervous anytime the Kansas big men (outside of Perry Ellis)put the ball on the floor (do I have an affinity towards big men who can pass? Yeah you could say that). There are no “stretch fours” on the team and you see a lot of clogged lanes on the offensive end—not a good thing if your team doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter.

A basketball team is a community, and in a community different people take on different roles to make that community work. Some people do multiple things well. Some people are really great at one particular thing and mediocre at other things, but communities thrive when everyone is put in a position to succeed at what they are best at. By conference play, the Jayhawk players are going to have to figure out what roles to assume in order to help their team win.

Maybe Cliff Alexander decides that no one is going to outrebound him or get past him on defense, and whatever points he scores along the way is gravy (Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was the fifth leading scorer on that championship team but managed to control the game in every other aspect).

Maybe Wayne Selden decides that no matter how many points he gets on the offensive end (Can he be a “3 and D” guy in the NBA?) that his guy will get locked down on the perimeter. Maybe Frank Mason looks to drive and kick rather than drive and finish, with Svia Mikhailiuk there on the perimeter to keep defenses honest. And maybe Bill Self can get his guys to feed Perry Ellis 15-20 touches a game (he looked really good this weekend in Orlando).

Let’s switch gears and talk about that other team in Kansas–no not the Wildcats silly. I’m talking bout them Shockers. Despite losing Cleanthony Early to graduation last year, Wichita State is just as fun to watch this year. Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet is the best backcourt combo that no one is talking about.

The way those two guys get their teammates involved is beautiful to watch. Van Fleet had 21 points on 6-11 shooting, 9 assists and ZERO turnovers. As a matter of fact, Ron Baker didn’t have any turnovers either, and he shot 6-14 with 19 points. Of Wichita State’s 25 made field goals, 18 of them were assisted.

People hate on the Shockers for playing in a less renowned conference against “inferior” competition, but if you like smart, beautiful basketball, then catch a Shockers game. They are a real treat to watch and play against Utah on Wednesday. I’ll be watching them play as much as possible this season (and possibly next if both Baker and Van Fleet come back to play with transferring guard Conner Frankamp).

GOOD ASS GAMES OF THE WEEK

Tuesday
OKC vs. New Orleans Would you believe it if I told you that I haven’t watched an OKC game since Russ Westbrook broke his hand. It feels good to put the Thunder on the Good Ass Games list again (for however long it lasts).

Toronto vs. Sacramento Damn. Demar Derozan……I hope he gets well soon. A groin tear sounds really painful, and I was just coming around to enjoy watching the Raptors play too. If you happen to catch this particular game, try to imagine playing an updated version of NBA JAM with these two teams. Which 3 players would you go with? I was thinking about this when I was watching the Hornets the other night (another good NBA jam team). You gotta admit, it’d be fun to play.

Memphis at Houston
Before the season began, both of these teams were my “bubble” teams. I’m still not sold on Houston’s role players just yet and I think they’ll come down to earth by March. As for Memphis, I’m not surprised by how well they are playing at all–Gasol has kicked it into another gear this year. What does surprise me is that they are healthy. It is a loooooooonnnnnggg season, so who knows what will happen.

But Memphis has been looking really tough. I also like that former Michigan State sharpshooter Shawn Respert is an assistant coach there, while Brevin Knight is a color commentator for the organization. It is little things like these that make me realize how fucking old I’m getting.

Chicago at Charlotte
I’m not crazy about the Hornets this year, but there is something very comfortable and relaxing about their announcing team of Steve Martin and Dell Curry. Listening to their play-by-play makes me want to eat Bojangles Chicken and drink sweet tea (or maybe I just had the munchies).

Also, how did no one tell me how hot the dance team was for the Hornets? I’ve been to Charlotte so maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise but damn! i mean peep this photo from Carolinablitz.com, MAH LORD I DO DECLARE!!! ITS GETTIN

I just may peek in on Lakers vs. Wizards, if only to see that Washington backcourt knock Kobe and co. back to earth. But again, that may be a case of “doing too much.”

Thursday
Cleveland vs. New York It is always fun to see what Lebron will do when he steps onto the floor at MSG. Will his performance spawn inspiration for another rap tune?

Portland-Indiana This is the best I’ve seen Chris Kaman and Steve Blake play which leads me to conclude that Portland is a haven for white and light skinned players. Seriously, this demographic just thrives up in the Pacific Northwest. Imagine what Brent Barry’s career would have been like had the Trailblazers drafted him? then again it is too cold to surf up there, so maybe he wouldn’t have dug it.

New Orleans vs. Golden State This is going to be a good one, and I will probably only get to catch the highlights because I’ll be en route to Lawrence, Kansas. This one has “Good ASS Game of the Week” written all over it. in a couple of years, if Portland and Golden State play their cards right, these two teams could be jockeying for the Western Conference top spots for the latter part of the decade.

The Spurs will hit a small snag where they will be middle of the pack but still making the playoffs, and once Dirk retires, the Mavs will suffer a slightly worse identity crisis. There is nothing that anyone can say that can convince me that Westbrook and Durant are going back to OKC. Who will fill that power vacuum in the west?

Friday
Cleveland-Toronto Eastern Conference Finals Preview? Any takers? By the way, what’s up with this #mynorth commerical? #TorontoAINTHOOD

Memphis-San Antonio
Western Conference Finals Preview? Any takers?

Phoenix-Dallas You can tell Phoenix is really missing the spacing that Channing Frye (another light-skinned guy who flourished in Portland–he still has a home there) provided for the team. Everyone has to work just a little harder to get buckets. It’s so crowded that Gerald Green is throwing alley-oops to himself. Cue up the old ’05, ’06 playoff games NBATV. Those were the days!

Saturday
Clippers-Pelicans Two of the best power forwards. Going at it. ‘Nuff Said.

Golden State-Chicago No way in hell I’m missing this one. There are gonna be some sick dimes dished out in this one. The overused phrase of the night will be “Oooh Filthy!”

Sunday
Rest.

Basketball Movie of the Week:

Gunnin for That #1 Spot. Directed by Adam Yauch.

This is from the first Elite 24 game back in 2006. I first watched this movie back in ’08 when all these young cats were still in high school and college. Cole Aldrich, Lance Stephenson, J.J. Hickson, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler, Jerryd Bayless, Kevin Love, and Michael Beasley were all apart of this event as high school kids. I watched it again this past week, and was struck by how so much had happened in 8 years.

These guys are all NBA veterans now. It is always interesting to go back and watch that kind of stuff with the knowledge of what their futures hold. It’s kind of weird. Anyway, it is worth checking out. There was a bonus disc with my copy of footage of a 2-on-2 pick up game with Beasley and his coach vs. Yauch and someone else. MCA had a little bit of game. I bet he was fun to play ball with. By the way, what is up with Beasley? He must have some serious stuff going on if he hasn’t been picked up by a team. Damn.

Big week of hoops. The first week of December is off to a good start. Enjoy these good ass games.

BM

Warming Up As It Is Cooling Down [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 10/24/13]

There is an excitement here in Lawrence that is hard to describe if you are not here experiencing it. It’s been a quietly slow buildup in this sleepy little town, but you can see the excitement creeping onto the locals’ faces.

You’ll see people here wearing the Jayhawks swag year round–but they seem to wear it with a different fervor now that the basketball season is (nearly) here.

The first game against Pittsburgh State is next Tuesday the 29th. Jayhawks tickets have been notoriously difficult to obtain for non-students and non-big wig donors. I looked up a ticket for KU- Georgetown on Stub Hub and the cheapest ticket could be fetched for a little over 200 dollars.

I imagine a ticket to this first game will be nearly impossible to get if you don’t already have one. The first game I ever went to nearly two years ago, I paid 80 bucks to a scalper. That team wasn’t nearly as hyped as this one–with Andrew Wiggins and the other flock of new athletic faces on this year’s roster.

Over 3,000 people were turned away for “Late Night at the Phog”, an event where the town gets to first see the (both Men and Women) basketball team in action during scrimmages. It’s an open event that is free to the public, but it is first come first served seating. Many people waited in line for over 3 hours, only to get turned away at the door because the capacity was met so quickly (There are many accounts of people saying there was a large rush towards the building doors when they were opened–many people eschewing social courtesies and typical decency to cut in front of the people who were waiting in line).

In honor of the upcoming season (my first here in town) I’d like to reflect on some of the past Jayhawks who left their mark on the town and the team. These were guys who for one reason or another I had to watch their every move on the court. There was something about their game that made me pay attention to them and made me love their style of play.

Honorable Mention goes to :

Brandon Rush was a bad boy for sure. I remember him in two distinct games during his career at KU. One of them was the Florida game they played in 2006 out in Las Vegas (Still one of the best collegiate games I have ever seen–just for sheer number of future NBA players on the floor that night) where Rush hit some timely corner 3’s against that terrific Florida team (With Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Cory Brewer). The Jayhawks went on to win that overtime classic thanks to some big time play from Rush.

F Paul Pierce (1995-1998), G Jacque Vaughn (1993-1997), and C Scot Pollard (1993-1997)

While there is no doubt that three above mentioned players were ill. The reason they make honorable mention is because I was watching a lot of Wolverine basketball during these years. I was blinded by the flash and brash of the Fab Five. Kansas basketball was something I watched if nothing else was on. I remember being aware of Pierce, Vaughn and Pollard (seemed like every other week there was a human interest piece about Scot Pollard and his ‘wacky’ lifestyle).
There was a guy from Duncanville, Texas (also the birthplace of the late Elliot Smith) who had gone to Kansas, Greg Ostertag. This initiated some interest for me, but I really only remember three things during this time period:

1) Kansas having these incredible regular season records

2)Kansas getting knocked out earlier than expected

3) Tearful Roy Williams press conferences.

G Adonis Jordan (1989-1993), G Rex Walters (1991-1993)

This back court was my introduction to Kansas basketball. This was the first NCAA tourney I watched from beginning to end on the little black and white television that I had in my bedroom.These guys were ill. I remember Rex being kind of a grimey little guy–a hustler who could shoot, handle the rock, and a decent passer.

It was fun watching him match up against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, and Bobby Hurley, who was arguably the best point guard in the country then. Rex held his own. Adonis Jordan originally got lumped in because that was his back court mate. I honestly don’t remember any particular plays by him. I think I just thought his name was cool. I recently tried watching a game from that tournament on that NCAA website where you can watch past games. I had to turn it off because I couldn’t get past how archaic the film footage looked (and those awfully short shorts).

Now that we have the runner ups out of the way, let’s get to it.

G Kirk Hinrich (1999-2003), F Nick Collison (1999-2003)

This Iowa tandem re-piqued my interest in KU hoops and led me down the road to here. Watching them play together was a real treat. I can distinctly remember extending my treadmill workout an extra 20 minutes so I could watch Nick Collison put up a 23 point-20 rebound game against Texas. The game that stands out most to me was the 30-20 he put up against Duke in the Elite Eight. Collison impressed me with his footwork and at how easily he got to the rim. I remember thinking that he was going to be the second coming of Kevin McHale (I was 23 what did I know?).

Hinrich was a bad boy himself. Like Rex Walters 2.0 except he played the 2 guard.He had a sweet stroke and he was a hustler .

He could also get up and punch it on you too. Just ask Lebron.

G Keith Langford (2001-2005)

I liked Keith even before I found out he was a Texan. Bro could finish at the rim. He was fast and he a wicked left handed leaner that reminded me of Jalen Rose. While Collison might be my favorite Jayhawk of all time, Keith was the most exciting to watch. I still to this day think that if Roy Williams doesn’t leave Langford guarding Carmelo Anthony after getting 3 fouls that they win that 2003 championship. Langford was the only one who get easy looks against that Orange 2-3 zone defense.

SF Julian Wright (2005-2007)

Julian is another guy who I thought would have a better pro career. He had great hands, awesome court vision and was one of the best passing big men to come through Lawrence. He was also super agile and could get his own shot anytime he wanted. He could hit the jumper from up in the high post or he could feed it to a cutter along the baseline. If there is anything that will get me excited, it’s a big man who can pass the rock.

Julian also threw down some of the nastiest dunks in Jayhawks’ history.The 2006 Florida game I alluded to earlier was the first time I got to see him play. He put on a clinic that night. Unfortunately he has never been more than a 7th, 8th, 9th man role player off the bench at best. I think had he stayed through his senior year he would have had his jersey retired and been one of the best of all time.

Quick side note: If you ever see a photo of Mario’s miracle shot from the ’08 title game look at the spectators behind the basket and you will see Wright watching the arc of the ball like everyone else at the game. When I first saw this I thought, “Damn Julian got some premium seats. That’s what’s up.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute he should have been playing in this game. It wouldn’t have been that close had he been playing.”

How about that? If Julian stays an extra year maybe Mario doesn’t need to make that shot and becomes a second round pick without all the accolades from hitting that shot. Perhaps ends up somewhere besides Miami and perhaps he isn’t there to hit timely shots when the Heat need someone to step up. Who is to say this doesn’t affect how we look at Lebron’s legacy at this point? Maybe Lebron doesn’t get those championships after all? Who would have thought that Julian’s decision to leave school early could have possibly changed the landscape of the NBA? We could easily be praising Kevin Durant as the greatest basketball player on the planet (though he’s still a close second).

C Drew Gooden (1999-2002)

Drew Gooden is a pretty textbook case of someone who peaked out early. When he left college in 2002, his stock couldn’t have gotten any higher. He ended up being a number 4 pick and unfortunately ended up being a poor man’s Carlos Boozer. Who is to say what happens if he comes back his senior year. I’m sure there was just as much chance of him getting seriously hurt like Nerlen Noels and missing out on the season (and a fatter paycheck) as there was to him leading the Jayhawks to an ’03 title over Syracuse. I watched him destroy so many teams single-handedly that 2002 season where they finally lost to Maryland. That was a tough front line to face with Collison, Wayne Simien, and Gooden (really unfortunate Simien couldn’t stay healthy).

F Darrell Arthur (2006-2008)

Another Texas boy who went to South Oak Cliff High school in Dallas. The fact that he went to a DISD school endured me to Darrell. His game was fun though. He could get up in a second and mash it in someone’s face. I really liked that front line of Darrell Arthur, Julian Wright, and Sasha Kaun. They often had spacing issues in those days, but that high post through Julian was a money play. Darrell was often the recipient of a great pass that led to an easy layup or dunk. He’s in the pro’s now and is a valuable role player in the league. I think Memphis will miss him this year.

G Ben McLemore

The future is wide open for Mr. Ben McLemore. I think he can be a very good player if he can surround himself with the right people. I think at worst he can be a Rudy Gay type player, and at best? Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but I could see him having a Ray Allen type career. He will get his points for sure, but I’m curious how well he will play on the defensive side of the ball, and he will be able to do anything beside score?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play last year. When this little golden era of KU hoops is over, we will look at McLemore the same way Texas fans think of TJ Ford. Ford’s signing at UT opened up a nice stream of top recruits coming to Texas and making an impact (including the second best player alive, Kevin Durant).

McLemore was the only thing watchable about last year’s offense. No one else on the team could consistently create their own shot. If anyone else on that starting five had the ball in their possession for more than five seconds, it was almost a guaranteed turnover.

As disappointing as it was to see KU lose that heart breaker to Michigan last year, that squad overachieved (you can say that about the last 2 Bill Self led teams–a testament to his coaching ability).There were countless ugly brick-fests that KU would barely squeak out. They should have lost more games last year and finally their luck ran out when they couldn’t secure a 12 point lead with 4 minutes left. Most of those squeakers that they won was because Maclemore was the best player on the court (with the only exception being the game where Elijah Johnson went crazy and scored 41 points against Iowa State). Trey Burke was the best player on that March evening. Mclemore barely got any decent touches down the stretch and the buzzed went off as Elijah Johnson passed up a layup to throw an errant pass to Naadir Tharpe on the 3 point line. We all know how that ended.

McLemore’s season opened up a pipeline to blue chip recruits coming here to Lawrence and getting in on the action. KU”s stock as dynasty couldn’t be higher. KU has the number one player in the country. The guy anointed to be the “next Lebron and Durant”. There is so much hype surrounding this team and Self would have had his best recruiting class of all time had he not landed Andrew Wiggins.

Lawrence is going to be treated to a cavalcade of talented players during the next 2-4 years.

Wiggins is a one and done and maybe a couple of other players, but there are juniors in high school already eyeing some of the holes that will be left in the next year or two. Also some of the guys not as heavily profiled like Conner Frankamp (Rex Walters 3.0?) will probably be there for the full four years. Kansas will not only be solid for this period, but will be a top 5 team contender as well. We may be looking at a run of dominance that resembles the Roy Williams teams with Pierce, Vaughn, and Pollard.

Andrew Wiggins has already made his mark here and he hasn’t played a second of ball yet. He will undoubtedly be the major force this year but he will also have a lot of help. It will be interesting to see how many more of these impact players will live on in Jayhawks’ folklore.

One thing is for certain, the excitement is only beginning.