When your program’s first coach is the inventor of basketball, then it’s only natural that Kansas would exude the sport’s history and tradition. A perennial national power, the Jayhawks are responsible for showcasing some of the most important names in college basketball history. Here’s our list of the best — listed in chronological order.
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Paul Endacott, Guard (1921-23)
University of Kansas
A hometown product from right there in Lawrence, Endacott was a key cog in the Jayhawks machine that won national titles in 1922 and ’23 (as recognized by the Helms Athletic foundation) under legendary coach Phog Allen. A versatile athlete, Ednacott was a two-time consensus All-American and the Helms Player of the year in 1923. It must be noted just how good the Kansas program during this time period — one that others would desperately try to emulate.
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Charlie T. Black, Guard (1922-24)
University of Kansas
Playing alongside Paul Endacott in the Jayhawks’ backcourt, Black was an important piece to those back-to-back national championship teams in 1922 and ’23. He was a two-time All-American and recognized by the Helms Foundation as national player of the year in 1924. Black, whose No. 8 jersey was retired by the school, went on to coach the Nebraska men’s basketball team.
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Tusten “Tus” Ackerman, Center (1923-25)
University of Kansas
At 6-foot-3, “Tus” Ackerman was the “big man” for Allen’s successful teams of the early 1920s. According to hoopszone.net, Ackerman averaged a career 9.2 points — career-high 10.2 in 1924-25 — during his three seasons at Kansas, where he was named a two-time All-American in 1924 and ’25 (as recognized by the Helms Foundation). Like Paul Endacott and Charlie T. Black, Ackerman’s jersey (No. 7) was retired by the school.
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Bill “Skinny” Johnson, Center (1931-33)
As we move into the 1930s, the Jayhawks were not winning national championships, but Kansas still produced some legendary players when it came to the program’s history. At 6-foot-4, “Skinny” Johnson made guys like “Tus” Ackerman look like an ant by comparison. Another All-American, Johnson was known as a tremendous leaper and was a major reason the Jayhawks won three consecutive Big Six championships during his tenure at the school.
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Howard Engleman, Forward (1939-41)
University of Kansas
As the 1940s dawned, Kansas returned to the national championship game but finished runner-up to Indiana during the 1940 season. Engleman, a three-time All-Big Six selection, was among the stars on that team, scoring 39 points over three tournament contests. He was even more dominant during his final collegiate season of 1940-41. During that campaign, Engleman averaged more than 16 points per game and was named a consensus first-team All-American.
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Charles B. Black, Guard (1942-43; 1946-47)
After attending Wisconsin, Black enrolled at Kansas, where his time on the basketball court was interrupted by a military stint during World War II. Black eventually returned to Kansas and continued his excellence on the court. A two-time consensus All-American, Black was the first player in Kansas history to record 1,000 points for his career and finished with 1,082.
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Clyde Lovellette, Center (1950-52)
When it comes to Kansas’ first great college basketball superstar, many can argue that Lovellette is the man. He helped Kansas win its first NCAA national championship in 1952, when he was named Most Outstanding for posting a then-record 141 tournament points.
Playing along legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith at Kansas, Lovellette ranks fourth in school history with 1,979 points and among the school’s all-timer leaders in scoring average (24.7). The Helms National Player of the Year in 1952 — and two-time consensus All-American — also averaged more than 13 rebounds during his career. Lovellette has the distinction of being the first basketball player to win a college national championship Olympic gold medal (1952) and an NBA title.
What more can be said about Wilt “The Stilt”? One of the greatest players in the history of this grand game, Chamberlain totaled 1,433 points and 877 rebounds in 48 career games over two seasons for the Jayhawks. He’s responsible for three of the five highest-scoring games in Kansas history — highlighted by his school-record 52 points versus Northwestern during the 1956-57 season. He was the Most Outstanding Player in that season’s NCAA Tournament, which concluded with Chamberlain and the Jayhawks being upset 54-53 by North Carolina in the national title game.
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Jo Jo White, Guard (1966-69)
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One of the more popular players in Kansas history, White averaged 15.3 points and almost five rebounds spanning parts of four college seasons. He’s regarded as one of the great leaders at Kansas over the years for his overall effort and attitude. In both 1968 and ’69, White was named a consensus second-team All-American. His No. 15 uniform was retired at Kansas, as was his No. 10 by the Boston Celtics, with whom he won two NBA titles and named a seven-time All-Star.
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Dave Robisch, Center (1969-71)
University of Kansas Athletics
At 6-foot-10, Robisch certainly had his moments of dominance for the Jayhawks. He averaged 21.1 points and 9.8 rebounds during his three seasons at Kansas. He was a first-team All-Big Eight performer in each of those campaigns. He was also the league’s player of the year in 1970, when he posted career highs of 26.5 points and 12.1 boards per game, and again in ’71 (averaging 19.2 points and 10.1 rebounds). Robisch’s No. 40 was retired by the school.
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Darnell Valentine, Guard (1978-81)
University of Kansas
The 1980s began Kansas’ time as a perennial national power, and Valentine helped lay the foundation for that to happen. A first-team All-Big Eight performer in each of his four seasons at Kansas, Valentine is the school’s all-time leader with 541 made free throws and 336 steals. He also ranks among the top-10 players in Jayhawks history for points (1,821) and assists (609), while averaging 15.4 points, 5.2 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 steals for his collegiate career.
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Danny Manning, Forward (1985-88)
No offense to Wilt, but Danny Manning is the best player ever to don a Kansas basketball uniform. The school’s all-time leader with 2,951 points and 1,187 rebounds, Manning started all but one of the 147 games he played for the Jayhawks. He averaged 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.4 blocks during his four collegiate seasons, and he was the focal point of the “Danny and the Miracles” run to the 1988 national title. A three-time first-team All-Big Eight pick, two-time consensus All-American, and the national college player of the year in 1988, Manning is also Kansas’ career leader in made field goals (1,216) and second with 509 made free throws.
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Raef LaFrentz, Forward (1995-98)
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Kansas is known for producing some of college basketball’s best big men of all time, and LaFrentz is part of that elite group. In the career annals of Kansas basketball, the 6-foot-11 LaFrentz ranks third in points (2,066) and second in rebounds (1,186). He averaged 15.8 points and 9.1 rebounds while starting all 131 games he played for the Jayhawks. He was twice named Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American. As a senior, LaFrentz averaged career highs with 19.8 points and 11.4 boards.
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Pierce laid the groundwork for his lengthy and stellar NBA career by improving in each of his three seasons at Kansas. A teammate of Raef LaFrentz, Pierce averaged 16.4 points on 48.1 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals for the Jayhawks. His 1,768 points rank 10th in school history. The two-time Big 12 tournament MVP, Pierce earned consensus first-team All-American honors during his final collegiate season of 1997-98, when he averaged 20.4 points while shooting 51.3 percent and 6.7 boards.
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Gooden worked his way to becoming one of the elite players in the history of the Kansas program. Mostly a key reserve as a freshman, Gooden averaged 10.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. By the time his junior season rolled around, he earned Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American honors while averaging 19.8 points and 11.4 rebounds. Gooden ranks sixth in school history with 905 career boards.
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Starring with Drew Gooden and feisty guard Kirk Heinrich for most of his Kansas run, the 6-foot-9 Collison was a fantastic overall court presence for the Jayhawks. He ranks second in school history for points (2,097), second in made field goals (858), third in rebounds (1,143), and fourth in blocked shots (243). Collison was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American in 2002-03, when he averaged 18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.
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Simien won 110 games during his four seasons at Kansas, and he was also part of the national runner-up squad from 2003. The 6-foot-9 Simien averaged 15 points on 55.8 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds for the Jayhawks, for whom his 884 career boards rank seventh in school history. As a senior in 2004-05, Simien was the Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American for averaging career-highs of 20.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.4 assists.
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While Collins ranks among the school’s top 10 in career points (1,888), assists (552), and was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection (2009, ’10) and consensus first-team All-American in 2010, he’s probably best known for his play in Kansas’ overtime victory against Memphis in the 2008 national championship game. The sophomore had 11 points, hit a key 3-pointer ,and made an important steal during the Jayhawks’ late second-half rally. He also delivered one of his six assists on Mario Chalmers‘ three-pointer that forced overtime. As a junior in 2008-09, Collins averaged a team-high 18.9 points.
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Frank Mason III, Guard (2014-17)
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Simply put, Mason was a special player for the Jayhawks. He started all 110 games played in his final three seasons at Kansas, where he ranks sixth in school history with 1,885 points. As a senior in 2016-17, Mason became the first player in school history to average at least 20 points (20.9) and five assists (5.2), when he was both the Big 12 Player of the Year and national player of the year. Mason also ranks among the program’s top 10 in assists (576), made 3-pointers (185), 3-point percentage (42.0), and made free throws (482).
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Devonte’ Graham, Guard (2015-18)
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When it comes to the best all-around players in Kansas history, Graham should be in the conversation — and perhaps near the top of the list. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and the league’s player of the year two years later, Graham ranks among the school’s top-15 scorers with 1,750 career points (12.3 points per game) and is second with 296 made 3-pointers. He also sits fifth with 632 assists — including a single-season school record 282 in 2017-18 — and seventh with 197 steals.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.