Allen won 590 games in 39 years at Kansas before retiring in 1956, and he's still fondly remembered, even by current students. One of them held up a sign on Sunday that read MINNEAPOLIS WEATHER REPORT: PHOGGY.
Even before Allen, however, the Jayhawks were coached by Naismith, who brought the game to Lawrence in 1898 and coached there until Allen took over. Thus the coaching bloodline at Kansas is as pure as any you will find in the sport: Naismith to Allen to Smith to Williams. "People always say that I brought the Carolina system to Kansas," says Williams, "but you could also say that I brought the Kansas system back to Kansas. Many times at Carolina, Coach Smith would say, 'Doc Allen would do it this way or that way.' He took what he learned here and put it with what he got from [longtime North Carolina coach] Frank McGuire and then added some of his own stuff. I'm not intelligent enough to have added too much."
Yeah, right. Williams uses the system—fast break whenever possible, motion half-court offense, switching pressure defenses, wholesale substitutions—so well that the more paranoid fans in Lawrence worry that he will catch the first flight to Chapel Hill as soon as the 61-year-old Smith retires. But with Smith seemingly bent on coaching until he's 70 or until he breaks Adolph Rupp's NCAA record of 875 victories, whichever comes first, Williams has settled in comfortably enough to spurn overtures from Florida, Maryland, Ohio State, N.C. State, Notre Dame and Virginia. "I remember Coach Smith saying that Lawrence was the kind of place that you would never want to leave," says Williams. "I've really come to feel at home here."
The Jayhawks seemed to be comfortable in a secondary role during the first half of the season, when Oklahoma State bolted to a 20-0 start and into the national spotlight. But when the Cowboys faltered in February, Kansas jumped into the breach. Its only home loss en route to building a 23-4 record came inexplicably to Louisville in January. After beating Missouri, which was ranked No. 11 in the nation, the Jayhawks remained No. 3 in the AP poll released on Monday.
One can only imagine how good Kansas would be with Peeler in its lineup—where he might well have been. The Jayhawks lost the recruiting battle for Peeler, who graduated from Paseo High in Kansas City in 1988, only because then Kansas coach Larry Brown wouldn't guarantee Peeler that he would remain in Lawrence for the duration of Peeler's college career. Peeler then turned to Maryland, hoping to play there with Alonzo Mourning. However, when Mourning chose Georgetown, Peeler settled on Missouri. "I wish Larry would have lied," says Williams.
With Peeler already at Missouri when Williams signed on in July 1988, the Jayhawks' recruiting prospects looked bleak. They got bleaker four months later when the NCAA slapped Kansas with a three-year probation for rules violations committed under Brown. Still, in his first year with the Jayhawks, Williams was able to sign Jordan, who flashes a star set in a gold front tooth whenever he smiles, which is often. "I was going to Seton Hall after I heard about the probation," says Jordan, "but Coach Williams seemed like a real honest man."
Under the terms of its probation Kansas could not pay for on-campus recruiting visits until the spring of 1990, so Williams had to make do with what he could accomplish on the road. Among those players he picked up was the catalyst of this team, Rex Walters, a mop-haired, superserious 6'4" junior guard from San Jose who went to Northwestern after Brown's staff refused to recruit him. One reason to like Walters, if you don't already, is that he got in Dick Vitale's face before a game against DePaul in December, because Vitale had criticized Walters on the air for having left Northwestern. After a heated exchange Walters apologized to Vitale, "not for what I said but the way I said it. I'm a little cocky and brash, and I've got to work on not coming off that way."
His outburst notwithstanding, Walters, who leads the Jayhawks in scoring with a 16.2 average, is as quiet and private as his roommate, Jordan, is personable and outgoing. They form an interchangeable backcourt combination. "I can penetrate and kick it off to Rex, or he can do the same for me," says Jordan.
As much as he likes Jordan, Walters thinks Jamison is the Jayhawks' MVP because he does it all—score, rebound, guard the opponent's best player and provide leadership. That's a remarkable accomplishment for Jamison, considering that he was once such a reluctant learner that he nearly drove Williams crazy. "There was a time that if he had stepped out in the middle of the street, I'd have accelerated the car as hard as I could," says Williams, kiddingly.
How have things changed for Jamison? On Sunday one student wielded a sign that read THE LAND OF OZ NOW IS THE LAND OF 'zo, as in Alonzo.