According to a story by Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star, the University of Kansas basketball head coaching job is rated as the fourth-best in the nation.
That was about as predictable as Donald Trump filling the airwaves every night as all the cable shows feature continuous “Trump TV.” Being a follower of conservative politics, just once I’d like to hear from one of the other candidates instead of the same, tired old line, “I’m going to make America great again.” I get it already, you don’t have to hit me over the head.
I digress. Not surprisingly, the KU job — currently in the more-than-capable hands of the uber-popular Bill Self — is ranked behind only Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke.
All four schools — along with UCLA and Indiana — have long been considered college basketball’s pre-eminent “blue bloods.” Those latter two schools, however, have fallen back some, especially Indiana.
Other consistent top-flight programs in the country are Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona, Gonzaga and Florida. Some schools have come and gone like Wichita State (coming) and Butler (going).
What separates Kansas (as well as Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke) from the other schools is staying power. I was at KU in the late 1970s when coach Ted Owens was there and I knew his tenure was near an end because he was no longer meeting the rarefied expectations.
KU had flourished in the mid 1960s and 1970s under Owens, but the program then grew stagnant. Also, Owens was regarded more for his recruiting prowess than his skills as a tactician. I don’t know how many times I thought that Jack Hartman got the better of him at Kansas State even though his teams didn’t have the talent level of the Jayhawks.
Larry Brown is the guy who got things rolling again at KU, including the national championship team in 1988, and from there it’s been all history. Roy Williams and Self have given KU fans more than a quarter-century of thrills and it’s hard to imagine the Jayhawks ever being just an average team. It’s like saying it’s hard to imagine the KU football team ever being a Top 25 contender every year.
Of course, the aura of Allen Field House figures into it. I spent a lot of time in the old barn as a student and I can tell you it certainly looks different in person than it does on television. Fortunately, a lot of cosmetic changes have been made that has made it more modern, yet kept that old-time feel. I always love those Saturday afternoon games when the light shines through the windows, that takes me back to some memorable times.
Just think about it. What other home courts in basketball have such history and charm, except maybe for Duke’s tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium? Rupp Arena is cavernous, while how many times has Williams complained of the “wine and cheese” crowd at the Dean Dome? The Carrier Dome in Syracuse is still special, but it lost its luster with the collapse of the old Big East. UCLA’s legendary Pauley Pavilion is sometimes half-full, a far cry from the Alcindor and Wooden days.
For my money, the survey was pretty much spot-on. Kansas basketball is much like McPherson High boys basketball in that it has set a gold standard. The Bullpups have won 13 state championships, have not had a losing season in 32 years and the Roundhouse is the high school version of Allen Field House. All that’s missing are consistent sellout crowds, though I’ve never tired of hearing stories about those games in the 1970s when there wasn’t a seat to be had, the little kids sat on the floor and people were five-deep around the top ring.