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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lineage Important to Success at Top Programs

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At most schools, a dream season revolves around a once-in-a-lifetime player, a team that has everything go right during a dream season, or a great coach that puts their program in the spotlight during his tenure, only to see the success fade when the coach leaves.

Three schools that are intertwined have withstood those barometers and have had success regardless of their coach, All-Americans, and superstars that have come and left early for NBA riches. Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina have a basketball lineage that dates back to the sport's founder, Dr. James Naismith.

Naismith founded basketball at Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1888. He was asked to come up with a sport to occupy students' time during the winter. After the sport became successful, Naismith migrated to Lawrence, Kansas in 1891 and became KU's first head coach. Remarkably, Naismith remains the only Kansas coach with a losing record. Naismith also felt that coaches were unnecessary. He theorized that basketball was meant to be played and not coached.


One of Naismith's pupils was Forrest "Phog" Allen. Allen was one of college basketball's earliest "celebrity" coaches. He was an innovator of the game, introducing the concept of recruiting and developed the matchup zone defense. He was also instrumental in pushing basketball to become an official Olympic sport and played a major part in the creation of the NCAA tournament.

Allen had a number of prominent former players and assistant coaches that made major impacts on the sport heading their own programs. Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, Dick Harp, Ted Owens, and Ralph Miller are among the notable coaches that either played and/or coached under Owens.

Harp succeeded Allen at Kansas and led the Jayhawks to the national runner-up in 1957. The 54-53 loss to North Carolina in triple overtime was one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA tournament history. Harp also coached the legendary Wilt Chamberlain during his tenure.

Ted Owens sat on the KU bench for 19 seasons following Harp. A .657 winning percentage, two Final Fours, and future NBA players Jo Jo White, Darnell Valentine, and Dave Robisch were part of the Kansas mystique with Owens in Lawrence. He led the Jayhawks to seven NCAA tournaments and two Final Fours.

Larry Brown became only the sixth coach in KU history when he took over for Owens in 1984. It took him only three seasons to get the Jayhawks back to the Final Four. Two years after that, Danny Manning and the Miracles had an improbable run to the 1988 national championship. His five-year stay in Lawrence was one of the longest stops in Brown's career and the '88 championship is still the last one for KU.

Roy Williams began his legendary career and continued the North Carolina/Kansas pipeline when he took over the top job from fellow Heel alum Brown in 1989. Smith recommended Williams to his alma mater after turning them down himself. Williams' first season at KU was difficult, as the Jayhawks were not given a chance to defend their title. The NCAA put Kansas on probation for violations under Brown. Two Final Fours in the early '90s put unfair expectations on Williams, It was nine years before Williams took KU back to college basketball's Holy land. He led Kansas to the Final Four in last two seasons. Future NBA stars that played for Williams at KU include Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, and Nick Collison.

As with Allen, Brown and Williams had a multitude of assistants that moved on to head their own programs. Any successful coaching tree in college basketball will likely lead back to Lawrence. Memphis' John Calipari and current Jayhawk mentor Bill Self were assistants under Brown at Kansas. Williams had former Florida State and Tulsa coach Steve Robinson, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings, Wichita State Chief and KU alum Mark Turgeon, former Oregon and Tennessee coach Jerry Green, and former NC boss Matt Doherty on his staffs. Williams' tenure might go down as the most successful run at a school without a national championship. His record was 418-101, with four Final Four appearances, including two losses in the national championship game.

North Carolina

Williams felt the calling to his alma mater to continue the North Carolina tradition. North Carolina has produced some of the biggest stars in the history of basketball — on the sidelines, NBA front offices, and on the court. Carolina has astounding tradition. Every coach but Doherty and Tom Scott has taken the Tar Heels to at least one Final Four since 1946. North Carolina made its first NCAA tournament in 1941 and advanced to the Final Four for the first time in '46.

When Frank McGuire took over in 1952, North Carolina's fate as one of the nation's best teams was sealed. He led the Tar Heels to the national championship and an undefeated season in 1957. At UNC, he coached future NBA executives and coaches like Billy Cunningham, Brown, Donnie Walsh, and Doug Moe. McGuire also brought on Smith as an assistant. When McGuire left to coach the Philadelphia Warriors, Smith took over in 1961.

Serving as an assistant to McGuire and playing for Allen at Kansas gave Smith credentials as close to the royal family that college basketball could have. In his first season, the Heel faithful hang Smith in effigy as Carolina went 8-9. The 1961-62 season would be Smith's only losing one in 36 years. Superstars under Smith included Bob McAdoo, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, and Vince Carter.

Smith retired after the 1997 season as the winningest coach in NCAA history. He reached the mark during the Tar Heels' run to the Final Four in the '97 tournament. His 36 years a North Carolina brought 879 wins, nine Final Four appearances, 15 ACC regular season championships, 13 ACC tournaments championships, and multitude of All-Americans. His legacy will always be felt throughout college basketball. His four corners stall tactic forced college basketball to adopt the shot clock in 1986.

Bill Guthridge succeeded Smith and had an extremely successful three-year run. He reached two Final Fours and posted an 80-28 record. Prior to his stint fronting the UNC program, he was Smith's top assistant for 30 years. Led by returning stars Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, the Heels advanced to the Final Four in Guthridge's first season. During his three seasons in Chapel Hill, North Carolina advanced to two Final Fours. The 80 wins and two Final Fours during his first three seasons tied a record.

Matt Doherty seemed like the perfect successor to Guthridge. He had both North Carolina and Kansas pedigrees, was a member of the 1982 national championship team at UNC, and coached under Williams at Kansas. Many Tar Heel faithful cried that Doherty was their second choice after Williams turned down his alma mater.

A 26-7 record and a share of the ACC championship began the Doherty era. It looked as though the UNC train would continue to roll. He was unable to sustain the success of the first season. The weight of two consecutive years missing the NCAA tournament, and a player revolt after his third season did Doherty in. The Heels finished 8-20 in his second season and then lost in the NIT quarterfinals following the end of year three. Players that he recruited turned against him.

The 8-20 season ended a string of impressive Carolina streaks. Thirty-seven years finishing in the top three in the ACC, 31 years with at least 20 victories, and 27 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament ended with the disastrous 2001 season. With the Tar Heels' future at a crossroads, Williams's felt the pull to return to Chapel Hill too great to turn down for a second time in four years.

Williams was out to prove that nothing was finer than Carolina. It took just two years to turn around the Tar Heels' fortunes. With holdovers from the Guthridge and Doherty eras, Williams had a ton of talent to return North Carolina to the nation's elite programs. Seniors Jackie Manual, Melvin Scott, and Jawad Williams remained from Guthridge's tenure. The seniors were the team leaders. Manuel and Scott were key role players, and Williams was the third leading scorer.

Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May were the cornerstones of Doherty's first freshman class. May became the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four. May, Felton, McCants, and freshman Marvin Williams were all first-round picks in the 2005 NBA draft. The 2005 Tar Heels will be remembered as the team that restored the pride in Chapel Hill and gave Williams his first NCAA championship. The title eliminated the stigma that Williams can't win the biggest games.


Any discussion about the history and success of Kentucky basketball must begin with Adolph Rupp. Similar to Dean Smith, Rupp was a Kansas graduate who played under Phog Allen. Rupp arrived at Kentucky in 1930 from Freeport, Illinois High School. Rupp is credited with developing the fast break and would become the winningest coach in college basketball history when he retired, a record that Smith eventually broke. Rupp achieved four NCAA championships ('48, '49, '51, and '58), one Olympic Gold Medal ('48), coached 23 All-Americans, and finished 879-190. Protégés that have headed their own programs and NBA teams include Joe B. Hall, Dan Issel, and Pat Riley.

Hall took over the UK program following Rupp's retirement in 1972. Under Hall, Kentucky advanced to Final Fours in '75, '78, and '84. The '78 team captured the national championship. His teams finished 373-156 in 19 years. Hall retired at the end of the 1985 season.

Eddie Sutton succeeded Hall. In four seasons, his teams went 88-39. His best season was a 32-4 finished in 1986, his first year in Lexington. Scandal, turmoil, attrition, and a 13-19 season in 1989 did Sutton in. He resigned after the '89 season. Sutton left the cupboard bare for Rick Pitino. Eric Manual was kicked out of school after allegations that someone took the SAT for him and Chris Mills transferred to Arizona with the revelation that someone associated with the Kentucky program had sent Mills' father $10,000.

Sutton left as the only coach since Rupp not to lead the Wildcats to a national championship. Scandal had occurred at Kentucky in the past. After a point-shaving scandal, Kentucky was put on probation by the NCAA and did not field a team during the 1953 season.

Pitino arrived at Kentucky having led Boston University and Providence to the NCAA tournament and the New York Knicks to the NBA playoffs. Pitino assured UK fans he would build a winner immediately. His first season, the 'Cats were on probation and finished 14-14. With the program still on probation in 1991, Kentucky finished with the SEC's best record and appeared to becoming one of the conference's most dominant programs again. Pitino had grander plans.

In 1992, only Christian Laettner's miracle shot prevented the Unforgettables from getting to the Final Four in their first season off probation. Jamal Mashburn helped get Kentucky to the Final Four in 1993. Another Elite Eight appearance in 1995 behind star freshman Antoine Walker had Pitino on the edge of a mini-dynasty.

Kentucky dominated the 1996 season, culminating with the school's sixth NCAA title. Walker highlighted a star-studded roster. His teammates included future NBA players Nazr Mohammed, Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, and Ron Mercer. Mercer, Anderson, and Mohammed returned for the 1997 season. In Pitino's last game at Kentucky, only an overtime loss to Arizona prevented a second consecutive national championship. Later that spring, Pitino was tabbed to become the head coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics.

Pitino's former assistant Tubby Smith was chosen to succeed him. Smith became Kentucky's first African-American coach. Kentucky captured its second national championship in three seasons during Smith's first year in Lexington. His 219 wins during his first eight seasons equaled Pitino in the same time span. He has been named National Coach of the year three times and taken Kentucky to the Elite Eight three times. The 1998 Final Four appearance is their only trip under Smith.

In the ultra competitive world of college basketball, sustained success is difficult. The formula of a star player or a decade of success during a coach's tenure is the norm for most successful programs. Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina have been the nation's elite programs since the inception of college basketball. The three have combined to reach a Final Four in every decade and capture a national championship in every decade except the 1960s.

KU, UK, and UNC have been able to sustain success through coaching changes, scandals, and star players moving on. High-profile coaches are always attracted to these programs because of their sustained success and star players want to play at the most prestigious schools. Kentucky, Kansas, and North Carolina represent the royalty of the college hardwood. The pageantry, loyal fan support, and a high percentage of nationally-televised games, along with their tradition, should ensure success in Lawrence, Lexington, and Chapel Hill for decades to come.

Comments on "Lineage Important to Success at Top Programs"

On January 25, 2006, David Blandford said...

It's interesting that you list Kansas first on your list when Kansas has the least impressive resume, and you list Kentucky third, which has the most success of the three.

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