KJ’s BB Newsletter           April 29, 2001

·        CRIB SHOTS




Saw these on the Internet:  "Whatta ya call a pretty girl on the K-State campus?" Answer: A visitor.  "Whatta ya call a Manhattan guy in a three-piece suit?" The deceased.

Former Jayhawker Raef LaFrentz is getting married in Des Moines on July 21.  LaFrentz, the Denver Nugget’s center, finished the regular season on a high note, tying a career scoring high with 32 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in a victory over the Sacramento Kings.

KU Athletic Director Bob Frederick has announced his resignation effective June 30.  He won’t be leaving the University, though, as he’ll be teaching in the School of Education.  He was Kansas’ AD for 14 years.  Little known is that he was once on the basketball team, getting into one game during his junior season in 1961 (no points or rebounds recorded).  He also served two brief stints as an assistant basketball coach under Dick Harp and Ted Owens in 1963, 64 and 72.

The Lawrence Journal-World just reported that Kansas basketball assistant Neil Dougherty is on Xavier University's head basketball coaching wish list.  The Musketeers of the Atlantic Ten Conference recently lost coach Skip Prosser to Wake Forest.


This year’s trip to the Drake Relays brought back sweet memories of my youth.  Growing up in western Kansas in an era before television, USA TODAY, the internet, and all the other rich forms of world-wide instantaneous communication we have available today, I didn’t know much about pro or college sports. So my early heroes in the late ‘40s were the athletes of Ashland High School.  Primary among those was Wes Santee.  Wes lived on a dirt farm several miles outside Ashland.  He had to walk to school each weekday because his family was so poor.  In order to get to class on time, he started running.  By the time he entered high school, Wes could outrun anyone.  He was the star of our track team, winning virtually every race he ran in track meets throughout the state in his four years as an Ashland Bluejay, gaining a full ride scholarship to KU  -- something his proud father could never have afforded.

In 1950 my enthusiasm for sports was blossoming.  I loved basketball and track, and the University of Kansas excelled in both.  My uncles had all gone to KU (except for one black sheep who graduated from hated K-State), and with Wes going there, it naturally became the focus of my broadening sports attention.  All-American Clyde Lovellette was starring for the Jayhawks on the basketball court, and my father and I took a long trip driving to Lawrence that winter to see a game, which heretofore I had only heard on the radio.  My love affair with KU was beginning. 

In 1952, KU won the NCAA championship (big Clyde leading the way), and went on to win the gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics.  Back in those days, the “Dream Team” was composed of members of NCAA tournament winner and the AAU (a supposedly semi-pro league, now an anachronism in these days of big business sports).  At the same time, KU’s track team was on top of the heap, with Wes Santee chasing the elusive four-minute mile.  That spring, the nation’s media were focused on the Kansas Relays, everyone expecting that Wes might actually break that heretofore impossible barrier.  A second trip from Ashland to Lawrence was out of the question, so I had to be satisfied with reading about the Relays in the Wichita Eagle. 

The KU Relays then had become the nation’s premier outdoor track event of the year.  The Millrose Games, held earlier in the spring, were the most famous indoor meet.  Actually, the KU Relays were sandwiched between the Texas Relays and the Drake Relays.  All the great athletes throughout the nation vied to participate in those three great meets, and 1952 was especially important, being an Olympic year.  Wes won the mile and the 5,000 meters at each stop, and was selected to the Olympic team.  Just a sophomore, he didn’t medal, much to Ashland’s disappointment. 

In the next couple of years, Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Santee held center stage, coming ever closer to the four-minute wall.  Wes almost made it, breaking the tape at 4:00:05, before Bannister finally broke the four-minute barrier on May 6, 1954.  Unfortunately, Santee didn’t have another chance at coming in under four, as he was barred from further competition after admitting he accepted money for travel expenses  -- something they all did then but no one had publicly talked about before.  Hard to believe in this day, when ‘amateur’ track stars are paid thousands of dollars to participate in the Penn Relays.

KU’s track team had an illustrious history before that.  Actually, a little known fact is that Dr. James Naismith, yes the very same inventor of the game of basketball, was KU’s first track and field coach.  Naismith came to Kansas as head of the Physical Education Department and fostered the development of both basketball and track at the University in the late 1800’s.  Under his tutelage came Dr. John H. Outland, who excelled in track and became a football All-American. After graduating from Pennsylvania, he was the head coach of KU’s football team before going on to become a successful surgeon.  Through his efforts, the Outland Trophy was established and remains today as one of the most prestigious awards given in college football.

The concept of a major track and field meet at the University of Kansas was first espoused by Outland, who grew up in the East and became heavily involved with the Penn Relays. It was his urging to then-athletics director and basketball coach Phog Allen that a major Midwest competition could be successful.

With the construction of Memorial Stadium in 1921, equipped with a quarter-mile track, plans were put in motion for the event. On April 20, 1923, the first Kansas Relays under the direction of Outland, Allen and Kansas track coach Karl Schlademan, were conducted. More than 600 athletes from across the nation competed. Outland became known as the "Father of the Kansas Relays."

Jim Bausch, often referred to as one of KU’s most versatile athletes, starred for the Jayhawks in track, football and basketball before going on to win the Decathlon gold at the 1932 Olympics, breaking the world record in the process.  Shortly thereafter, Glenn Cunningham gained national fame, breaking the world record in the mile twice in 1934, and coming in second in the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Olympics. 

The real rise in KU’s track fortunes, and the development of the KU Relays as the pinnacle of college track meets, resulted from the hiring of Bill Easton as KU’s head track coach in 1948.  Easton had coached Drake to three straight NCAA cross country titles.  Bill had previously headed the Drake Relays and brought his wealth of track meet experience to Kansas.  During Easton’s 18-year tenure, his track and field squads won 38 conference championships, including an eight-year stretch where Kansas won both the indoor and outdoor conference team titles.  After finishing second and fourth nationally two times each from 1955 through 1958, KU was the NCAA track and field champion in both 1959 and 1960, about the time I finished high school and entered college. 

I can’t remember exactly when I first got the opportunity to attend the KU Relays, but it was certainly after we moved to Topeka in 1956.  I do remember though, how ultimately exciting and brilliantly colorful it was.  At that time, Charlie Tidwell and Cliff Cushman were world-class sprinters for the Jayhawks, with Al Oerter the world’s best discus thrower and Bill Nieder the top shot putter, and Billy Mills was gaining fame as a long-distance runner.  Wilt ‘The Stilt” Chamberlain won the conference high jump championship in 1956, before he ever played on the varsity basketball team, and he competed in the shot and long jump too.

Oerter became the first athlete to win four golds in the same event, participating in the 56, 60, 64 and 1968 Olympics, maintaining his status as the world record holder in the discus for over ten years.  Neider was the first high schooler to heave the 12-pound shot over 60 feet, and the first collegian to break the 60-foot barrier with the 16-pound shot.  As a senior at KU, he won a silver at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and went on to garner gold in 1960, setting the world record in the process.  Mills, an American Indian who had attended high school at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, came to KU after having won three straight high school cross country titles.  At KU he won three NCAA cross country titles and went on to win a gold medal in the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Olympics.

The KU Relays, held in Memorial Stadium, was awash with every hue imaginable, every team bearing their school colors (KU, of course, in their readily recognizable pink shorts).  There was constant activity in every corner and throughout the field.  A relay race here, a high-jump there, athletes stretching and warming up everywhere.  Dave Sime and Bobby Joe Morrow vying in the sprints, Parry O’Brien competing with Neider in the Shot, Lee Calhoun and Ralph Boston going against each other in the hurdles, Rafer Johnson, Hayes Jones, Fortune Gordien, Charles Dumas and other greats, all within view.  Jim Ryun was all the rage then as a high school phenom from Wichita, breaking the four-minute mile as a 17-year-old junior. 

Ryun still holds the high school mile record of 3:58:3 he set as a senior. Six weeks later he set the American mile record and as a freshman at KU he set his first world record in the 880.  In 1966 Ryun was named Sportman of the Year (the youngest ever) by Sports Illustrated, after he smashed the mile world record with a time of 3:51:3.  Eventually he was the world record holder in the mile, 1,500 meters, half-mile, 800 meters and medley relay.  Even today, he is acclaimed as the greatest middle-distance runner of all time.    

Folks, with apologies to the great Drake Relays of today, it just doesn’t get any better than the KU Relays were in those years. 

After Easton retired in 1965, KU continued to have a modicum of national track success under his successor, Bill Timmons, and the Kansas Relays stayed awhile as the gem atop the Texas-Kansas-Drake triple crown for a few more years. In the early 70’s KU had a couple of track notables in shot putter Karl Salb and sprinter Cliff Wiley, but eventually KU track declined, and the KU Relays were even shut down for awhile before being revived last year.  Nowadays, KU doesn’t have world-class track stars like Santee, Oerter, Neider, Mills and Cushman.  And the nation’s track attention is now focused on the Drake and Penn Relays.

Those halcyon days are gone and so are the heydays of the great KU Relays (and, sadly to say, so are the Jayhawks' distinctively unique pink shorts).  To an old-time Kansas fan like myself, it’s a disappointment. Lucky, though, I’m a Drake fan and have the golden opportunity to visit the Drake Relays each year.  And this year the weather was perfect.


Kansas Sports Hall of Fame web site (www.kshof.org).

The Official Site of the University of Kansas Athletics (www.jayhawks.org).

The Complete Book of the Olympics, David Wallechinsky, Penguin Books, 1984.




Except for a hand slap in 1976, the NCAA had looked the other way and studiously avoided any investigations into Kentucky basketball during Joe B. Hall’s tenure as head coach, 1973-85.  However, shortly after Eddie Sutton took over the program, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported a blockbuster expose’ series about UK paying former players and recruits.

For years, ordinary fans have rewarded University of Kentucky basketball players with a loyalty that is nationally known. What is less known is that a small group of boosters has been giving the players something extra: a steady stream of cash. The cash has come in various amounts - as little as $20 and as much as $4,000 or more - and it has come often. UK players have received what they call ‘hundred-dollar handshakes’ in the Rupp Arena locker room after games.” 1

Mary Wilson shifted uneasily on a couch when asked about improper recruiting offers made to her son Ben, who before his death last year was widely considered the nation's top high school basketball prospect. It was the same couch in her South Side bungalow where Mrs. Wilson had listened intently as Ben wavered between picking a school that offered the most money or a school that offered the most in education and basketball."We're talking about a lot of money," Mrs. Wilson said recently.” 2

In spite of all the damaging evidence presented by the Herald-Leader, with public coverage of admissions by over 31 former UK players and some recruits, the NCAA continued to sidestep doing anything to the sacred Wildcats.  So, Kentucky basketball being what it was, and given apparent immunity by the NCAA, the tradition of breaking the rules continued under the Sutton regime.

Their misdeeds started publicly emerging in a couple of years, though.  It started with Eric Manual, a Wildcat recruit who apparently had copied “answer for answer” from another student while taking the ACT.  He was a top recruit in the 1987-88 class and had failed his ACT test a number of times.  On his final attempt, taking the test at Lexington High School (even though he was from Georgia), his score dramatically jumped from 14 to 23, making him eligible.  Although never proven, evidence suggested that Manual had been helped by the UK coaching staff. 

"We know there were lots of people with an interest in him being eligible," said Mark Hammons, the Oklahoma City attorney who argued Manuel's court case pro bono. "UK and its boosters and affiliates -- they had much more to gain by altering his test score than Eric did." 3

Manuel was barred from ever playing in Division 1, but again the NCAA let Kentucky off the hook. 

The next incident was harder for the NCAA to overlook, however, when it was found that a package from the University of Kentucky basketball offices to Claude Mills, Chris Mills’ father, contained approximately $1,000 in cash. Kentucky had been heavily recruiting the highly acclaimed Mills, and the NCAA determined that the package was sent by UK Assistant Coach and former player Dwayne Casey.   The book Raw Recruits by Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian (Pocket Books, 1991) has a fascinating and detailed account of what went on in this whole situation.

“Now, the NCAA was faced with Kentucky being caught once again red-handed and, naturally, denying, denying, denying. What would it [the NCAA] do ? Rex Chapman, the Boy King decided not to wait for an answer. On May 13th, he announced he was passing up his last two years of eligibility to turn pro. Chapman insisted the Mills investigation had nothing to do with his decision. If you believe in that then you believe in Santa Claus."  4

Many questioned whether the NCAA would do anything to the Wildcats.  Jerry Tarkanian, then coach of UNLV astutely cracked that “they’re going to find them guilty and then give Cleveland State three more years of probation.”  Despite that and despite an ineffectual investigation, the NCAA stripped UK of several scholarships, banned them from television and postseason play.  Head coach Eddie Sutton and Casey were forced to resign, and Casey was banned from coaching in the NCAA for five years.  Strangely enough, they didn’t do a thing to Mills, who transferred to Arizona.

In the aftermath, LeRon Ellis, Sean Sutton, Rex Chapman and Shawn Kemp all left the program over the next two years, leaving the school’s basketball program in shambles.

Given his record before and after his tenure at Kentucky, Sutton has run clean programs, notably at Arkansas and currently at Oklahoma State, so you have to give him some benefit of the doubt that he really didn’t know what was going on.  Clearly, though, his assistants did and were the definite perpetrators of the payoffs, and Sutton was responsible for the program.  More likely, Sutton chose to put on blindfolds at Kentucky, where the pressures to win at all costs were ingrained.  It’s a shame that the criminal traditions at Kentucky could override the principles of a fine man like Sutton.

1 Lexington Herald-Leader, October 27, 1985.


2 Lexington Herald-Leader, October 28, 1985.


3 "Odd Man Out," Sports Illustrated, February 11, 1991, Vol. 74, No. 5 pg. 175.

4 A Season Inside, by John Feinstein, Villard Books, 1988, pg. 460.