Still, Brown always said it was a struggle to get KU’s name out there to high schoolers, in large part, since the Big Eight was not yet a prestigious conference and featured on national television as much as the Big East.
Brown tried to recruit in the area, but said that was difficult since Kansas didn’t have a big population. However, there were some very talented junior college players in Kansas so Brown certainly sought out these prospects.
While only one of the following three players went on to have a long NBA career, these former recruits (two jucos and one high schooler) were winners and decorated junior college and high school All-Americans who could have played about anywhere in the country. Keith Smart, Harvey Grant, and Quin Snyder left a lasting impact on their college programs, and combined to play in five Final Fours and win one national title.
Let’s add, too, that for a man in Brown who has been constantly criticized for being disloyal and leaving so many schools, he showed how loyal he can be by developing some strong, lasting relationships with kids like Snyder, who would later become his son-in-law.
Quin Snyder (Mercer Island H.S./Mercer Island, Wash.) Class of 1985.
Larry Brown wanted this 6-3 star combo guard bad. Really bad. Snyder, who chose Duke, was a two-time player of the year in Washington, and teamed with Brian Schwabe in leading Mercer Island to the 1985 state championship. Mercer Island was ranked No. 1 by USA Today during this time. Snyder capped off a stellar high school career by being named the first player from the state of Washington to the McDonald’s All-American team.
Van Coleman’s National Recruiter’s Cage Letter wrote this thumbnail evaluation of Snyder before his senior season:
“Solid, smart, shoots it, plays ‘D,’ wins!”
Brown developed a very special relationship with Snyder during the recruitment process. He loved Snyder’s unselfishness and commitment to winning, and was heartbroken over losing him to Duke.
“It was one of the major disappointments of my coaching career,” Brown said at the time on his Hawk Talk radio show. “I was pretty close to Quin, and I thought he’d be an excellent addition to our program. I’m just going to have to deal with it. He calls me on a regular basis, and we’ve established a friendship, but it’s going to be from a distance.”
“Don’t call him collect,” radio host Bob Davis quipped.
Snyder indeed lived up to his winning label at Duke, and was part of three Final Fours in 1986, 1988, and 1989. He also helped lead the Blue Devils to two more Final Fours (1994 and 1999) as an assistant coach. Snyder ranks third all-time at Duke in career assists, and was named a GTE/Co-SIDA Academic All-American in 1989.
Interestingly, Snyder was a backup guard on Duke’s ‘86 team which beat Kansas in the Final Four in Dallas, and then started on the 1987-88 team which beat KU in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 20, 1988. Snyder was the hero with a team-high 21 points in 39 minutes, and made six key points in the last three minutes of overtime to secure the 74-70 win. However, Snyder’s Blue Devils came up short to Kansas in the Final Four a month and a half later on April 2 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. Snyder had nine points that game in KU’s 66-59 victory.
With Brown and star Danny Manning gone to the NBA the following year, Snyder and Duke hammered Roy Williams’ Jayhawks 102-77 on Feb. 18, 1989 in Durham, N.C. Snyder scored nine points and dished out a game-high 10 assists.
Brown showed his loyalty when he hired Snyder as an assistant coach in 1992-93 when he was head man of the Los Angeles Clippers. Snyder was actually married to Brown’s daughter at the time. And who was Brown’s star player then? None other than Danny Manning, the hero among heroes in KU’s 1988 NCAA championship run.
Snyder coached at Missouri from 1999 to 2006.
Brown didn’t end up with a guard in his 2005 recruiting class. Instead, he signed forwards Archie Marshall from Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma and high schooler Jerry Johnson from Omaha, Neb.
Keith Smart (Garden City Community College/Garden City, Kan.) Class of 1986.
Brown fell in love with Smart’s athletic ability and thought he’d be the perfect type of player for KU’s uptempo system. The former KU coach once quipped that KU’s chances of landing Smart didn’t exactly help when he fouled out of the junior varsity game between Garden City and R.C. Buford’s Kansas’s JV team in Allen Fieldhouse during the 1985-86 season. (Bill Self was Buford’s assistant.)
“From all indications I get, it’s Indiana, Alabama, or us,” Brown said that season. “With N.C. State involved a little bit. He’s going to wait until after the year. I don’t think there’s anything more we can do in terms of the recruitment of him, except show him the interest. He knows obviously we want him and he’ll be a credit to any program.”
Brown was hoping to fill a need at guard in the April signing period with either Smart, Kevin Pritchard (Edison, H.S. in Tulsa, Okla.), or Steve Henson from McPherson, Kan. Fess Irvin from Gonzales, La., and Todd Barnes from Independence, Kan., were also in the mix.
Smart, a former prep star at McKinley High in Baton Rouge, La., chose to play for Bob Knight at Indiana. He made the shot heard around the college basketball world with his game-winning baseline jumper vs. Syracuse in the national championship game in 1987. Smart averaged 12.1 points per game in two seasons with the Hoosiers, and shot 51.8 percent from the field.
KU, meanwhile, signed Pritchard, a two-time player of the year in Oklahoma who helped the Jayhawks win their own championship in 1988 over OU by making six-of-seven shots and running the point guard spot with aplomb.
Brown actually did get to coach Smart after all — in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. Smart played two games for Brown in the 1988-89 season, and scored two points in 12 minutes. Smart, who later played six seasons in the CBA, finished the 2002 season as interim head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is currently an assistant coach with Golden State, which originally drafted him with the 16th pick in the second round of the 1988 NBA draft.
Harvey Grant (Independence Community College/ Independence, Kan.) Class of 1986.
Harvey Grant’s road to greatness in junior college and college didn’t come so easily. This Sparta, Ga., native (Hancock Central H.S.) actually began his college career at Clemson in 1983-84, where he redshirted. After averaging 5.1 points as a freshman the next season, Grant transferred to Independence Community College. The 6-9 skinny forward blossomed and posted 23.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, while shooting a glossy 58.6 percent from the field. Now, Grant had transformed his game as a role player with Clemson into a rising superstar wooed by major college programs throughout the country.
One of those schools was Kansas. I found out firsthand that KU was in the running for Grant my sophomore year at Mount Oread in 1985-86. I was sitting a few rows behind KU’s bench at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 21, 1986 watching Independence Community College warm up before its 5 p.m. game against the Kansas Junior Varsity team. This was the first game that late afternoon in the Phog preceding the KU varsity matchup with Oklahoma at 7:30.
Mark “Dinger” Freidinger, the personable KU assistant coach, walked up to our student section and announced something loudly and boldly that you would likely never hear today’s coaches say:
“We’re recruiting Harvey Grant of Independence.” So “Dinger” told us to cheer loud for him and show him our great Jayhawk support. We tried our best as Grant scored 20 some points (I can’t remember the exact point total), but in the end, Grant decided Kansas was not the place for him to resume his major college career.
He chose Oklahoma over Kansas, Kentucky, UNLV, and Clemson. Grant had a standout career with the Sooners, averaging 16.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game his junior year, and then posted 20.9 points and 9.4 rebounds as a senior. Grant’s final game as a Sooner came in OU’s loss to KU in the national championship game on April 4, 1988. He scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds while playing the entire game.
Grant, who was selected with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 1988 NBA draft, played 11 seasons in the NBA and averaged 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He averaged at least 18 points for three straight years with Washington from 1990-93.
For the record, while KU didn’t land Grant, KU signed 6-10 Sean Alvarado from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, who actually teamed with Danny Manning on Larry Brown’s championship North squad at the 1985 Olympic Festival. Alvarado averaged 1.6 points per game for KU in 1986-87, and then redshirted the following national championship season. Alvarado closed his KU career in 1988-89 under Roy Williams, averaging 4.5 points and three rebounds in 30 games.
Grant certainly would have made a big impact at Kansas in 1986-87 complementing Manning in the frontcourt, and might have made KU a Final Four team. Big men Alvarado and Mark Pellock were not scorers, so Manning (23.9 points per game) had to carry a heavy load. Small forward Chris Piper only averaged 6.6 points.
However, for that 1988 season, Piper moved to power forward (with Archie Marshall and Milt Newton at small forward) and became an excellent complementary player to Manning. His scoring came down to 5.1 points per game, but he was a defensive standout in the post. If Grant would have have signed with Kansas, Piper likely wouldn’t have seen much time that season. And Piper was the unsung hero on the 1988 team. Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith even said Piper played the best post defense against OU in the national title game that he had ever seen.
So for his defensive wizardry, great team leadership, and being the ultimate role player, I’d take my former T-Ball teammate Piper over Grant for that one season. Piper, a player who was cut from his eighth grade South Junior High basketball team and was the 12th man on the ninth grade Cougar squad, received one major scholarship offer out of Lawrence High School.
That would be Kansas.
Yes, Jayhawk fans. Sometimes, the unknown recruits become the much needed role players a team so dearly needs to win a national championship. As Manning said, Piper was the “heart and soul” of the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks.
In Part III of this series, we’ll finish with one last recruit from the Brown era and enter the Roy Williams regime, where he came very close to landing a current NBA star and future Hall of Famer. Stay tuned.
Editor's note: If you missed part one of this series, you can find it here.