KJ’s  Basketball Journal                                  April 5, 2000

End of the Season Mumblings and Grumblings Issue

After a hiatus of seven years, I’ve decided to start publishing a basketball newsletter again.   Some of you may remember the KU Basketball Report I wrote and published in the early ‘90’s.  It focused solely on the KU Jayhawks, attempting to provide comprehensive coverage not generally available to the Jayhawk faithful outside the eastern Kansas area.  However, the proliferation of KU basketball-related web sites virtually eliminated the need for such a newsletter.

The new newsletter will be considerably different. First it will look at other teams as well as the Jayhawks, particularly those that some of my fellow bb junkies and I follow regularly (e.g. Drake Bulldogs, ISU Cyclones, Iowa Hawkeyes, Boston Celtics, etc,).  I’ll review some basketball web sites, offer some views on basketball issues, provide some historical information, and try to be personal and occasionally amusing.  

The Journal will be solely an electronic newsletter (an ‘e-zine’ in web parlance), issued only to those with an email address.  I won’t have a regular schedule, with deadlines and such.  Rather, I’ll just develop copy and zap the newsletter to the www whenever I feel like it.

So, if you don’t want this newsletter periodically ending up in your email, please send me an email at [email protected] , saying that you wish to UNSUBSCRIBE, and I’ll quickly drop you off the mailing list.  Also send me an email if you have feedback, comments, suggestions, want to give me hell, or know of others who might like to receive the Journal.

THE BIG DANCE………………………………What a strange one! 

After picking 29 of 32 in the first round, I was feeling HOT!  Then after getting only 7 of 16 in the second round, I was feeling NOT!  Three of my Final Four picks were toast.  I did pick Michigan State to go all the way though.  Things I liked:

·         Watching Kentucky and Arizona get beat early. 

·         Tulsa and Oklahoma State both played the weekend my daughter visited here from Tulsa.

·         KU looked pretty good.

·         ISU stomping UCLA (after the media had all but crowned the Bruins).

·         Former KU All-American’s sons (Brian Cook of Illinois and Scott Robisch of Butler).

Did you know?  Florida’s coach Billy Donovan, together with UCLA’s Steve Lavin and Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, have caused the current oil crisis.  Blame those slickbacked three for the high prices we’re paying at the pump.


OK, so they looked respectful at the Big Dance, making us feel a little better, but the bottom line is that KU’s season was most disappointing. 

Disappointment comes from high expectations.  At the beginning of the season, most of the Kansas faithful had every right to believe that this version would be a big improvement over ’99, likely ending with a conference crown and possibly being a contender for the national title.  Why not, with three outstanding freshmen and a proven transfer scorer coming on board a team with strong carryover credentials?  Word too was that the holdovers spent the summer getting stronger and better.

Breaking it down, disappointment by disappointment, it’s easy to start with Eric Chenowith.  Most everyone thought that he would contend with Texas’ Chris Mihm to be the best big man in the country.  I suppose we should have all taken a better clue from Coach Williams’ mild preseason criticism that Eric had spent too much of his summer at Dave Matthews concerts.  Apparently that’s all Chenowith did, because he sure didn’t work on his strength or skills.  Not only did he not show improvement, but he wasn’t nearly the player this year as he was in ’99.  He was expected and counted on to be the focal point of the ’00 team, and ended up being a mediocre sub.  Hopefully, he’ll take a clue from Mihm and see what hard work over the summer can do.

Next is Boshee.  I suppose we should have all known earlier that Jeff was better suited to the No. 2 position than the point, but the fact is that he was expected to be the floor leader, while still being able to fill the basket when needed.  Those expectations seemed to be fulfilled as he sure looked good early, and couldn’t seem to miss from the 3-point line (shooting about 65% for a while).  What happened though?  By midseason, he proved to be a risky ball handler and inconsistent shooter.  It will help that, with the fine development of Hinrichs, Boshee will be counted on next year to just be a shooter.

Then there’s Lester Earl.  It was disappointing that he had so many injuries (again this year), and even more disappointing that his conduct off the court gave KU much embarrassment.  I saw him play as a freshman at LSU, and could easily understand why Williams wanted him to wear the crimson & blue. He was so talented and athletic.  And, although he gave us some exciting moments on the court, hardly anyone could argue now that his transfer was worth all the trouble.

To me personally, the biggest disappointment of the year was Luke Axtell.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw Luke play as a freshman at Texas in ‘98, as surely some mad scientist had miraculously cloned Pistol Pete Maravich. After waiting an interminable transfer year, I was so excited about the possibility of seeing him provide the dramatic and athletic scoring power we sorely lacked last year.  I believed we could just put Axtell and Boshee out on the 3-point line and let them shoot away.  What few they might miss would be scooped up by our big post guys.  What a plan!  (By the way, Roy hasn’t ever asked for, nor used,  my advice on how to play).  Nonetheless, I just wanted to SEE Pistol Luke play, but hardly ever got the chance.  At first, Roy didn’t play him much, and then he was out for the remainder of the season with an ‘unexplained medical condition’  (which I hope doesn’t turn out to be something embarrassing).  Will he be that second coming for KU next year, or will he be another Lester Earl?

The Iowa factor.  Iowans have been extremely unhappy with Roy Williams’s success in taking the cream out of the Hawkeye state (LaFrentz, Collison, Hinrich).  Thus, they revel when one of their teams happens to beat KU – and they like to take out their frustrations on local KU fans – like me!  The occasional loss to ISU at Hilton has been tolerable for me (just barely) over the years, but the past two years, with KU losing to lowly Iowa home and away, and twice to the Cyclones this year, has been more than this old Jayhawk could endure.  Some would say I’m just getting what I deserve, having lorded it over the Iowa faithful for these 30 years I’ve lived here since graduating from KU in ’70. Nevertheless, Kansas’ recent performance against teams from the Hawkeye state has been most disappointing.

Another player that I thought surely was going to have a breakout year was Marlon London.  I saw a lot of Steve Woodberry in him, and believed he would develop into KU’s sixth man this year.  I just didn’t see any improvement over last year.  Rather than being the strong sixth man and potential starter, London disappointingly proved to be just another minor role player.

Kenny Gregory.  You might ask, “Why is Johnson getting on KU’s leading scorer?”  Well, I thought this might be the year in which Kenny finally developed the ability to create his own shot.  He’s always been very good at consistently getting his 10 to 20 points per game by taking and making open shots.  I believe he could add another 10-12 ppg if he could just muscle in and create.  Just didn’t happen.

Then there’s that depth factor, which should have been arguably KU’s biggest strength.  I don’t know about you, but my feeling all year was that while KU was long on talent, they were short on team play.  Ten-deep, no one playing much more than 25 minutes per game.  Maybe they just weren’t getting enough minutes with each other to learn how to play well together.  By contrast, the Big 12’s best team this year, the ISU Cyclones, basically played five guys, with 2-3 others providing a few quality minutes off the bench.  They reminded me a lot of the ’90 KU squad, a team that always seemed to know where their teammates were and what they could do.  On the other hand, Florida played ten and went to the championship game.   Rather than constantly substituting like Williams, Florida coach Donovan essentially plays two teams.  Who knows what the answer is?

Yes, the ’00 season was disappointing.  About the only things not disappointing were the super freshmen, Collison, Gooden and Hinrich.  Wait til next year!!!

THE CLONES………………So how do this year’s Cyclones compare to KU’s 1990 squad? 

For starters, Larry Eustachy, in his second year at ISU, surprised everyone as he took the Cyclones to a 32-4 record on his way to being named national coach of the year.  In 1990, Roy Williams was also in his second year, took KU to an astonishing 30-5 record, and yep, he too garnered national coach of the year honors.

No, KU didn’t have a national star like 6’8 junior C/F Marcus Fizer, but they did have junior C/F Mark Randall, who had a stellar year for the Jayhawks, leading them in rebounding (216) and second in scoring (13.3).  Both teams were led by outstanding point guards:  Jamaal Tinsley and Kevin Pritchard.  Fizer and Tinsley had a strong supporting cast (Kantrail Horton, Stevie Johnson, Michael Nurse, Martin Rancik, and Paul Shirley), while Randall and Pritchard had Ricky Calloway, ‘downtown’ Terry Brown, Jeff Gueldner, Mike Maddox, Pekka Markkanen and Freeman West.

And most importantly, both teams played exciting, fun basketball.  Man I loved watching these teams!  They ran, shot, scored.  They played tough gritty defense.  They looked like they were having fun, and … they both won, a lot, a lot more than anyone predicted. 

What’s the deal with Eustachy?  Very early in the season I saw Iowa State get beat by Drake.  Yes, DRAKE.  The Clones looked terrible -- sloppy and unmotivated.  Eustachy took that bunch of players and molded them into a team that cruised through the BIG 12 and absolutely crushed UCLA in front of a national audience in their Sweet Sixteen match up.  Impressive coaching.   In spite of losing Fizer to the pro’s and not getting that kid Brown out of Indian Hills CC, he’s got some great looking talent coming in next year, so the Big 12 had better count on the Clones being a contender again.

DRAKE BULLDOGS………………………………A tale of two seasons.   

Boy they looked good early, gaining a memorable intrastate win over ISU, followed by a fantastic win over Creighton, the preseason favorite for the MoValley title.  I sure thought, and hoped, that Coach Kanaskie had the Bulldogs fortunes turned around, and they marched to a 7-3 record.  I saw them quite abit through January and they looked strong and were fun to watch.  It looked like they would finish middle-of-the-pack.  Unfortunately, though, they seemed to hit the wall, lost some close ones as well as their confidence, and fell to 10-18, last in the Valley.

I like Kanaskie and think he has done some great things with the Drake program.  It was, of course, devastated by Rudy Washington, who was more interested in running the black coaches association than the Drake basketball program.   It may take awhile, but hopefully Kanaskie will bring quality basketball back to Des Moines.

IOWA HAWKEYES……………………………………….Strange year. 

Bumped off No. 1 Connecticut to start the year, had quality wins over KU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, but also lost a bunch, finishing 8th in the Big Eleven, er Ten, 13-15 overall.  Alford was a great choice though, and he’ll bring the Hawks back to prominence……. shortly, if his recruiting class measures up to the hype.


Unfortunately the KU women were as disappointing as their male counterparts.  Same with Iowa.  But what about those ISU and Drake women!  Looks like the Clones have locked up Fennely long term, but it sure looks like the Dogs might lose coach Lisa Bluder. My son-in-law, Tag Gross, a former quarterback for the Jayhawks, is the offensive coordinator for the Jenks HS football team in Tulsa, and his football team racked up their fourth straight Oklahoma 6A state championship. He's also an assistant coach on the girls basketball team, and, believe it or not, they also won the state championship.  Must be the coaching!!!


A bunch of former KU assistant coaches who cut their teeth under Larry Brown and Roy Williams did extremely well this past year.  The best and most surprising was Bill Self at Tulsa.  Bill, who coached under Brown in 1986 at KU, led the Golden Hurricanes to a 32-5 record, first place WAC finish, and lost to North Carolina in the NCAA final eight.  Jerry Green, who coached under Williams from ’89 to ‘92, led the Tennessee Vols to the SEC co-championship, and on to the sweet sixteen where they also lost to North Carolina and ended with a 26-7 overall record.  Matt Doherty, in his first year at Notre Dame after coaching under Williams from 1993 through 1999, took the Irish to an upper division finish in the Big East, and then to the finals of the NIT, where they lost to Wake Forest and ended with a 22-15 record.  Kevin Stallings, at KU from ’89 to ‘93, took Vanderbilt in his first year to 8-8 in the tough SEC, and then they lost their first game in the NIT, concluding with a 19-11 record.  So, if Roy ever decides to leave.……..we’ve got a stockpile of fantastic candidates to choose from!!


After being injured most of last year, Raef LaFrentz has been a force this year for the Denver Nuggets, averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. In a recent game against the New Jersey Nets, he tore up the place, scoring 22 while getting 18 rebounds, 7 blocks and three assists.  Paul Pierce is also having a stellar sophomore year with the Celtics.  Unfortunately, it looks like neither the Nuggets nor Celtics are going to make the playoffs this year.  Jerry Sloan, the coach of the Utah Jazz, continues to have no clue how to bring out the best in Greg Ostertag  -- preferring instead to keep him on the bench for extended periods.  Sloan doesn’t give very minutes to Jacque Vaughn either, even though Vaughn is finally doing a better job of scoring.  I think both former Jayhawkers would do better under a more enlightened coach.  Scot Pollard is getting some quality minutes and making some significant contributions on the exciting Sacramento Kings.


A great site to get KU and ISU info is the Home of the Big 12 Conference, www.big12sports.com.

The home page features headline news, with links to the full stories, covering the athletic waterfront in the Big Twelve.  It also has special sections, where you can order tickets for conference events, get into chat rooms, listen to internet radio broadcasts, buy Big 12 clothing, look at photos, etc.  You can select from over a dozen sports to get more specific information.  In the Men’s Hoops section, they have headline news items, team standings, statistics, rosters, recruiting news, tournament pairings, and other bb info of interest.  It’s a great site and easy to navigate.  Worth bookmarking for year-around reference.

ANOTHER ’57  HERO DIES………Donald ‘Gene’ Elstun.      <Reprinted from KUSports.com>

Gene Elstun, co-captain of Kansas University's 1957 NCAA Final Four basketball team, died Thursday in Overland Park of pancreatic cancer.  Elstun, 64, was the second-leading scorer and rebounder on the 1956-57 KU team that lost a triple-overtime thriller to North Carolina in the '57 NCAA title game.  "Even though he was only 6-foot-3, he played forward," said Jerry Waugh, who was an assistant coach on that KU team. "That was very unusual because we had other people who were bigger and better jumpers." Waugh described Elstun as a "very sound player who was not outstanding in any phase, but solid."  Elstun averaged 11.3 points a game during his senior season. Wilt Chamberlain led the Jayhawks in scoring that year with a 29.6 average. 

Elstun, a prep standout at Shawnee Mission High (now Shawnee Mission North) averaged 14.2 points a game as a sophomore for the Jayhawks in 1954-55, and 12.8 ppg as a junior in 1955-56.  After graduating from KU, he served two terms of duty in the U.S. Army tank corps. Also an accomplished golfer, Elstun later worked as a manufacturers' rep in the golf industry.  His son Doug also played basketball at Kansas during the 1990-91 season after transferring from North Carolina.

Author’s note:  The article didn’t mention that Gene was also survived by his brother, Bill, who also played at KU in the 1959-60 season.  And, it didn’t mention that the coach of the ’57 team, Dick Harp, also died last week. 

Next Issue (sometime after the final recruiting signing period in early May)