Monday, July 31, 2006

Spirit of '86

This year marked the twentieth anniversary of one of the all-time great Jayhawk teams, so I thought a commemoration would be appropriate during this slow news period.

The '86 Jayhawks have been overshadowed in the history books by the '88 championship team, but while '88 was a Cinderella story, '86 was a juggernaut. They were short on future NBAers compared to Roy's greatest teams, but there's no disputing that they rank among the best KU teams of all time, along with '52, '57, '97, and '02.

They went 35-4, winning more games than any other team in KU history, and they were the only KU team in the modern era to win the conference regular season and conference tourney and make the Final 4. They shot 56% for the season while holding opponents to 45%. See full stats here.

They spent most of the season ranked second behind Duke, to whom they lost, 71-67, in the national semifinal in Dallas. Duke lost in the final to Louisville, whom Kansas had already beaten twice during the season.

The star was sophomore Danny Manning, but the core of the team was made up of three seniors: Ron Kellogg (left), who shot mainly from the outside yet made 55% of his shots (LJW's Woodling speculates he would have scored a lot more points had he been born just a bit later--the 3-point line was introduced in '87); Calvin Thompson (right), a great shooter, slasher and dunker; and Greg Dreiling, a solid if unspectacular 7-foot center, ironically the only one of the three seniors to have any kind of NBA career.

The other starter was junior point guard Cedric Hunter, who was the all-time KU assist leader until Jacque Vaughn came along; he's now third all-time, but his 278 assists in '86 remains the KU single-season record.

Bench players of note included Chris Piper (left), who would be integral in '88 and who just this week was named as Max's successor on KU hoops broadcasts; Mark Turgeon (right), the backup point man who is now the extremely successful coach of Wichita State; Scooter Barry, son of NBA legend Rick and brother of current players Brent and Jon; and Archie Marshall (below right), a hugely talented sophomore forward who was badly injured in the Duke semifinal (which players afterward described as a "blood-on-the-floor type of game") and never fully recovered: two years later he would have to watch his team's championship run from the bench. Marshall was drafted that year in the 3rd round by the San Antonio Spurs, but it was only a sentimental pick--the Spurs' new coach was Larry Brown.

Which of course brings us to the coaching staff. Brown, despite the Knicks debacle, will go down as one of the five or ten greatest coaches in basketball history. The staff also included graduate assistants Bill Self (one day, all of this would be his ...); and R.C. Buford, who would follow Brown to San Antonio, where he is now general manager and is considered perhaps the best exec in the NBA. (Other notable assistants in the Brown era included John Calipari and Gregg Popovich, but they do not appear to have been present in '86).

The spirit of full disclosure requires that we mention the one black mark on the '86 season: the NCAA regional semifinal against Michigan State. In this game the underdog Spartans, led by an ill-tempered point guard named Scott Skiles, led Kansas by six with only about 2 minutes left in the game, when suddenly the clock mysteriously stopped for a full fifteen seconds of play, and the timekeepers never reset it. The extra time and MSU's resulting frustration allowed KU to claw back and win in OT. Oh, and did I mention the game took place at Kemper Arena? At the Final Four, someone, probably a Cameron Crazy, spraypainted "Don't let Kansas bring their clock!" on an overpass outside Reunion Arena, where the graffiti remained for years afterward.

Nonetheless, I have a special place in my heart for this team, because it was the first year I started following KU basketball--so it's an anniversary of sorts for myself as well. Also, we were living in Dallas then, and though we could not score Final 4 tickets, we did get in to Reunion to watch the public practices. Ahh, the lost days of youth!

PS. Documentation and photos of this team are scarce on the web, as you can tell from the rather ad hoc nature of this tribute. If anyone can point me in the direction of more photos or info. I'd love to add it to this post.


  1. Wow, great post Deron!

    I will comment whien I have more time.

  2. Thanks, SJ. I know I may be the only one of our group to remember this team. Chris?

    In other news, Barry Collier is out at Nebraska. No word on his successor yet. By my count that makes it a 50% coaching turnover in the Big 12 this year.

    And yet Ricardo Patton survives.

  3. I don't have much of substance to offer. But this was the first year I followed the Jayhawks as well. I don't know that I saw much of them before the tournament - we didn't have cable and at that time, KU wasn't playing any texas teams in conference.

    But I recall being a big fan of greg dreiling. dreiling's haircut in that photo looks very 2006 - was probably wildly out of fashion in the late '80s when i presume the photo was taken.

    I guess Ron Kellog wasn't the only '86 jayhawk born too soon.

  4. I could see it as an '80s haircut--it has a kind of early Kevin Bacon quality.

    Actually, my memories of '86 aren't all that vivid either. It took some research to augment them. One thing I do remember, but forgot to mention, was that Larry trotted out the red uniforms for that ill-fated semifinal, and they never appeared again until Self took over in 2003-4.

  5. and most of the players got flat tops. maybe because the last time the red unis were worn before '86 was in the '50s? i don't know.

    another sign that it was the '80s: flat tops. now they'd shave their heads.

  6. Flat tops? I'd forgotten about that. I guess it was in vogue back then.

  7. I too have little to add to this excellent post, except to applaud the Piper decision.
    He was always my favorite of the ESPN-Big XII guys, and Emily always enjoyed spotting him around town (ah, Lawrence). He should prove a good voice for our Jayhawks.

  8. Bad Keegan Quote of the Day:

    "Not that a new head coach needs to follow the pack in every way, but it does pay to stop and think about why they do what they do. There’s a reason Al Gore invented a round wheel instead of a square one. It’s a smoother ride."

  9. It's a personal pet peeve of mine when sports broadcasters and writers get in their(usually right-wing) little political jabs as asides under their breath.

    You can never reply because it's off topic, but they would nnot usually be able to defend the statement if you called them on it.

  10. Politics aside, that is one bad joke. And even if it weren't bad, it would be badly dated ...

    Ripping on Keegan is getting to be like shooting fish in a barrel ...