Almost Jayhawks

Phog.net's David Garfield takes a look at a number of former greats that seriously considered KU, but in the end opted to go elsewhere. More on the "what if" game, inside.

KU basketball coach Bill Self will certainly be hot on the recruiting trail these next several months looking to fill many needs for the 2008 Class. Kansas could lose up to eight players after next year with seniors Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Jeremy Case, Rodrick Stewart and Russell Robinson, plus the possibility of junior Mario Chalmers and sophomores Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins declaring for the NBA draft.

KU, of course, lost out on star senior Alex Legion from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, when the 6-4 guard (No. 33 rated senior by scout.com) dropped the Jayhawks off his list last month. (He just signed with Kentucky.) As great a recruiter as Self is, he obviously won’t be able to sign everyone on his wish list. The same was true for former KU coaches Roy Williams, Larry Brown, Ted Owens, Dick Harp, and even the legendary Phog Allen.

So with Jayhawk recruiting heating up and no games until November, I thought I’d flash back to yesteryear and reflect on some former KU recruits who decided to go elsewhere and never landed at Mount Oread. And in the process, we can all imagine what might have been had they ever signed with Kansas and donned the crimson and blue. We can also see in some cases who KU signed instead and what role that particular player had in the ‘Hawks fortunes.

In this three-part series, we’ll look at nine players who spurned the Jayhawks.

So let’s go back in time when every day was heaven growing up in Lawrence religiously following Jayhawk recruiting year-round, and later attending KU when I always waited with giddy anticipation for my prized Basketball Times and Van Coleman’s National Recruiter’s Cage Letter to arrive in the mail. They kept me up to date on KU’s recruiting prospects for the upcoming season and had me dreaming of the future when I stayed awake at night hoping those rising sophomores like Tito Horford from Houston, Texas (Marian Christian H.S.) and Alonzo Mourning from Cheapskake, Va. (Indian River H.S.) would one day make Lawrence their home.

First up today are three former high schools legends from the 1970s who could have dramatically altered KU basketball history had they signed with Kansas and head coach Ted Owens.

Darryl Dawkins (Maynard Evans H.S./Orlando, Fla.) Class of 1975.

Yes, it’s true. The first player (along with Bill “Poodles” Willoughby) to ever jump from high school to the NBA reportedly had Kansas among his top two schools along with Florida. It was the spring of 1975, and KU coach Ted Owens was in hot pursuit of the 6-11, 250 pound manchild who was throwing down four to five dunks each game and already calling himself “Chocolate Thunder from the planet Lovetron.” Dawkins averaged 32 points and 21 rebounds his senior season, and led Evans High School to the state championship.

In his autobiography, Chocolate Thunder, Dawkins talked about the recruiting process and how Kansas did it, as former KU coach Larry Brown would say, the “right way.”

“Throughout the season, several big-time colleges recruited me, and most made me illegal offers of money,” Dawkins said. “One coach from a big-name school took a wad of $100 bills out of his pocket and put it on the table between us. Wow! It was $3,000. “I can’t give this money to you,” he said, “but I can put it right here.” I’d already decided that if a college game me money, they couldn’t be telling anybody if I took it, right? So, sure enough, when the coach looked away, I picked up the cash.

“There were a lot of schools that ran the same routine. I was promised three thousands bucks every month, a car, a job for my mother and another car for her. Kansas was just about the only college that played it straight. Ken (Ted) Owens was the coach there and he said, ‘I don’t know what other colleges are offering you, Darryl, but what you’re gonna get here is a good education, room and board, $20 a month for laundry and a summer job.’ Most everybody else was crooked and, making the rounds, I wound up with about $12,000 in my pocket.”

Dawkins added: “I was trying to choose between two major schools and was on the verge to committing to one of them because they made everything seem so attractive. I mean, it was hard to walk away from what they were offering.”

In the end, Dawkins decided to go for the real money and chose to enter the NBA draft. He was selected by Philadelphia with the fifth pick in the first round, right behind Alvan Adams from Oklahoma. Willoughby was the second high schooler taken in the draft when Atlanta picked him with the first pick of the second round.

Dawkins said Philadelphia chose him “thinking that I could easily grow to be seven-foot-two or -three and become another Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”

No, Dawkins never became close to another Kareem. He did, though, play 14 seasons in the NBA and posted career averages of 12 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He gained celebrity status more for his gregarious personality and his naming of dunks. His most famous dunk came when he shattered a backboard against the Kansas City Kings in Kemper Arena on Nov. 13, 1979 while being guarded by Bill Robinzine. Dawkins named that slam:

“If You Ain’t Groovin’ Best Get Movin’- Chocolate Thunder Flyin’-Robinzine Cryin’ Teeth Shakin’-Glass Breakin’- Rump Roastin’- Bun Toastin’- Glass Still Flyin’- Wham-Bam-I-Am-Jam!”

Instead of Chocolate Thunder ruling the pivot for the Jayhawks, Owens signed Paul Mokeski from Encino, Calif., a 7-1 center who was also recruited by every big-time program in America. KU assistant Duncan Reid played a huge role in landing Mokeski, who started his freshman season in 1975-76 (KU went 13-13) and was the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 10.6 points per game. “Big Mo” had a solid KU career despite being plagued with injuries, and became a second-round draft choice by Houston in 1979. Mokeski played 12 years in the NBA and averaged four points and 3.4 rebounds per game during his career.

Antoine Carr (Wichita Heights H.S./Wichita Kan.) Class of 1979.

KU fans believed this Wichita prep sensation was coming to Kansas when his high school coach Lafayette Norwood became a Jayhawk assistant in 1977. Norwood joined another one of his players at Heights —Darnell Valentine — at Kansas. The sophomore Carr and senior Valentine led Heights to a state title and perfect 23-0 record in 1976-77. Wichita Heights crushed Wyandotte by 40 points in the state finals, and is considered by many observers as the greatest basketball team in Kansas high school history.

As a junior, Carr averaged 23 points and 3.5 dunks per game. He even threw down seven slams in one game. Major college recruiters beckoned at his doorstep, and the 1979 edition of The Complete Handbook of College Basketball named him a fourth-team preseason high school All-American, joining the likes of Steve Stipanovich of DeSmet H.S. in St. Louis Mo., and Ricky Ross of Wichita South on that team.

While Ross eventually became a Jayhawk, Carr spurned the ‘Hawks and chose to attend Wichita State instead. Carr helped resurrect the Shockers’ program and led Wichita State to the Sweet 16 in 1981, when the Shockers knocked off Kansas (66-65) and his former high school teammate Valentine in the “Battle of New Orleans.” Wichita State wound up losing to LSU in the Elite Eight.

Carr scored 47 points in his final game at Wichita State in 1983, and was named a first-team All-American. He also finished his career as the third all-time scorer in school history. Carr, who was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, had a successful 16-year NBA career and averaged 9.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He averaged 20.1 points per game for the Sacramento Kings in 1990-91, and scored a career-high 42 points against Cleveland on Feb. 20, 1991.

It’s all conjecture, but if Carr had signed with Kansas as originally expected, he would have given KU a strong physical presence inside and may have been that missing link for a possible Jayhawk Final Four or national championship team in ‘81. KU went 24-8 and finished the season ranked No. 19 in the UPI poll.

As a sidebar, Carr is responsible for getting MC Hammer his start in the music business.

Sam Bowie (Lebanon H.S./Lebanon, Pa.) Class of 1979.

Former KU assistant and chief recruiter Bob Hill (he was recently fired as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics) was one of hundreds of college coaches enamored with this franchise center in high school. As Bowie entered his senior year at Lebanon High in 1978, Bob Lapidus wrote the following about him in The Complete Handbook of College Basketball:

“He stands 7-1 and weighs 215 pounds. He averages 29 points and 20 rebounds a game, is an 81 percent free-throw shooter and last season led his team to a 30-3 season and the Eastern Pennsylvania Triple-A championship.

Sam Bowie is his name, basketball is his game. He is the best schoolboy center in the country. Bowie...heads The Complete Handbook’s 1979 All-American High School team.”

And the other four players on the first team? Just some “decent” players named James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas, and Clark Kellogg. Heck, Ralph Sampson, all 7-2, 195 pounds, just made the third team after averaging 23 points per game as a junior at Harrisonburg (Va.) High.

Hill made many trips to Pennsylvania to see Bowie in action. Bowie actually had Kansas on his list of schools he was considering, but in the end, the prized center landed in Lexington to play for coach Joe B. Hall’s Kentucky Wildcats. After averaging 12.9 points as a freshman and then 17.4 points his sophomore season in 1980-81, Bowie sat out the next two seasons with injuries.

And he was really never the same.

But just think Jayhawk fans, if both Carr and Bowie had signed with Kansas, KU may have had the best team in school history in 1981. Imagine Bowie at center, Carr at power forward, Dave Magley at small forward, and then Tony Guy and All-American Darnell Valentine teaming in the backcourt. A possible team for the ages.

Bowie was eventually selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the second overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, one selection ahead of some guy named Michael Jordan. While Bowie never teamed with Valentine at Kansas, the two played together in Portland for one and a half seasons. Bowie, who could never shake his injury bug in the pros, played 10 seasons in the NBA and averaged just 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Still, the fact that Bowie was the premier player in the Class of 1979 and considered a true savior just shows the recruiting prowess of Hill and how Kansas and its great tradition was able to attract such a big-time recruit at that time in the Ted Owens era.


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