[The following is an excerpt of a chapter from my upcoming book, Tao of the Passing Big Man, and other essays. Due out if ,and when we survive this global pandemic.]
The 1988 Final Four is remembered for many things, people have written ad nauseum about “Danny and the Miracles” besting OU and Duke to hoist up Kansas’ first national championship since 1952. I wanted to pinpoint and highlight a historical game from the national semifinal between Duke and Kansas, but not because of the score–or anything that happened in the game for that matter–, but because of all the players involved in this nationally televised piece of theater.
Not only was this a rematch of the 1986 National Semifinal (both teams had also played each other earlier in the a regular season game in Lawrence, Kansas), but this game was a confluence of different basketball minds who would impact the game in a variety of ways.
This was the first of five straight final fours for Coach K [Duke would go to 7 Final Fours in a 9 year span from 1985 to 1994. ] and the second time in 3 years the teams would face off in the National Semifinal. Larry Brown ( a Dean Smith protege) was facing off against Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a graduate of the Bobby Knight School for the Gifted Bullies.
The side stories turned out to be more interesting than the game itself. It was a pretty intense game (because of the stakes) but anything but pretty. It wasn’t a terribly entertaining game, one of many turnovers, and lots of stoppage in actual play. Kansas controlled the game for the most part, and Duke would have trouble getting loose against the Kansas defense. In fact, it would be a forgettable game if not for the names of the schools involved. If this had taken place during the regular season there would be very little reason to recall this event. The final score was a tepid 66-59.
Duke’s record was 28-7 for the season and at 26-11, Kansas would barely make the tournament. Neither team won their conference, yet here they both were in the Final Four; facing off for the chance to play against the Sooners.
The Game was played in Kemper Arena; in Kansas City, Missouri, which is only 45 minutes from the town of Lawrence the location of University of Kansas campus. So this was basically a home game for the Jayhawks. Anyway, enough background let’s get to it.
Duke Blue Devils
- The Duke Blue Devils were of course, coached by the legendary
- Future Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was an assistant coach on the bench, as well as future NBA scout Bob Bender.
- Coach K’s starting point guard was former Mercer Island standout, and future Utah Jazz head coach, Quin Snyder (before his stint in the NBA, Snyder would strangely enough become the head coach of Mizzou, Kansas’ biggest rival, for 6 years; perennially losing to first Roy Williams, and later Bill Self). Snyder would have stops in Los Angeles (for both franchises), Philadelphia, and Atlanta as an assistant coach before getting the head gig in Utah.
- Power forward Danny Ferry would not only go on to to play 13 seasons in the NBA, playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. Ferry would go on to gain notoriety as a GM for the Cavs and later the Atlanta Hawks (before famously get canned for speaking too freely about African free agents during team conference calls).
- Center Alaa Abdelnaby spent four seasons in the NBA, bouncing around the league; playing for five teams in that short span of time.
- Future Nets and 76ers GM (and Bill Simmons punchline) Billy King started at small forward for the Dukies. King would manage to last 18 years in the NBA as an executive before getting replaced during the Brooklyn Nets house cleaning period.
- Head coach Larry Brown would win this game and the next one, then proceed to take a 25 year break from coaching college; taking jobs on the NBA level for teams like the Sixers, Pacers, Knicks, Pistons, Clippers, and Bobcats (now the Hornets again). Brown would spend a little time in Dallas at SMU before leaving his position for suspicious reasons.
- Assistant coach Ed Manning (who played for coach Brown with the ABA Carolina Cougars) was also Danny Manning’s father. Many thought Danny Manning was going to go to University of North Carolina, but when Larry Brown hired Ed Manning to coach with him at Kansas, Ed moved the entire family to Lawrence, Kansas where Danny won the state championship at Lawrence High School, then four years later won the national championship less than a mile away at the local university. Danny’s father would go on to be an assistant for Larry Brown when Brown left Kansas for San Antonio, and later, to be an NBA scout.
- Ed’s son, Danny, would not only manage to play 16 injury riddled seasons in the NBA, but then would go on to coach at University of Tulsa and later Wake Forest. Of course, Jayhawks fans will remember Manning as a bench coach during Bill Self’s title run 20 years from Manning’s own title run in 1988.
- Future San Antonio Spurs executive RC Buford was an assistant coach on the Kansas bench, as well as Alvin Gentry, who would later be a head coach in the NBA for the Suns (Gentry was an assistant for Mike D’Antoni during the :07 seconds or less era), Pistons, Heat, Clippers, and Pelicans. Gentry would get his first NBA ring as an assistant for Steve Kerr on the Golden State Warriors.
- Starting forward, Milt Newton would go on to play overseas, before becoming an NBA exec, eventually landing as GM for the Timberwolves for a time spell.
- Guard Mark Turgeon would go on to have a successful head coaching career; most notably at Wichita State, Texas A & M, and currently Maryland.
- Guard Kevin Pritchard would be successful as an NBA executive and not a player, working as a GM for first the Portland Trailblazers (he was doomed the minute he selected Greg Oden) and currently the Indiana Pacers.
Aside note: Forward Scooter Barry happens to be the son of Rick Barry; who played with Larry Brown in the ABA for the Oakland Oaks.
The conclusion to be drawn from all this useless bit of trivia is that obviously your kids are better equipped to succeed in life if they choose to go to Kansas over Duke. Larry Brown would win an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Alvin Gentry would get a ring as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors in 2015. RC Buford would help the Spurs to develop enough talent around Tim Duncan, as the Spurs would win 5 titles in 15 years. On the Duke side, besides Coach K, no one involved in that game really won anything ( Danny Ferry did get a ring in 2003, playing sparingly on the Spurs). So mothers, don’t let your kids grow up to be Dukies.