Flash back to yesteryear. Owens is running the show at Kansas, and he and his staff fought hard on the recruiting trail for some top high school prospects like Darryl Dawkins, Sam Bowie, and Antoine Carr. And yes, Owens even landed some of the best players in KU history such as Jo Jo White, Dave Robisch, and Darnell Valentine.
However, inconsistency plagued Owens on the recruiting trail, and by the time he signed prep stars Ron Kellogg, Calvin Thompson, and Kerry Boagni in 1982 (Jeff Guiot from Chanute, Kan., was also part of that class with Wichita State transfer Greg Dreiling sitting out the season), it was practically too late to save his job. Owens coached this freshman class just one season before he was fired.
When Larry Brown arrived as head coach in 1983, he put Kansas basketball back on the national map. Brown received interest from some of the nation’s best prospects, and signed McDonald’s All-Americans Danny Manning, Mark Randall, and Mike Maddox, plus future NBA players Kevin Pritchard and Cedric Hunter — who played one game with the Charlotte Hornets on a 10-day contract.
Then Roy Williams became KU head coach in 1989 and took Jayhawk recruiting to another level. He fed off KU’s increased national television exposure, and used his great work ethic and supreme salesmanship to pitch Kansas basketball to the premier players in America. He developed that strong California pipeline, and heck, in his first recruiting class, Williams even got commitments from high school stars Harold Miner and Thomas Hill before they backed out after KU went on probation. Williams may not have plucked a top five or 10 recruiting class each year, but he and his staff always attracted the best players in the country.
Some decided to come to KU; others went a different path.
Like McDonald’s All-Americans Jason Kidd of Alameda, Calif., and Jimmy King of Plano, Texas. First, we’ll start with one of Brown’s last recruiting targets, Anthony Peeler, who spurned the crimson and blue and picked the black and gold of Missouri. Peeler, King, and Kidd were all extremely interested in Kansas, but in the moment of truth, they just couldn’t pull the trigger and make KU their number one choice.
Anthony Peeler (Paseo H.S./Kansas City, Mo.) Class of 1988.
Several years before brothers JaRon and Kareem Rush made their name at Pembroke Hill in Kansas City, Peeler was wowing scouts and college coaches with his tremendous athletic ability and high-flying dunks at Paseo High and the prestigious summer camps like B/C All-Stars. B/C Super Scout Bill Cronauer called Peeler “one of top five sophs in USA,” a class which included the likes of Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens, Stanley Roberts, Shawn Kemp, and Chris Jackson. One of the greatest high school players in Kansas City history, Peeler was even billed as “Michael Jordan II.”
Prior to his senior year, Van Coleman’s National Recruiter’s Cage Letter described the 6-4 guard as an “awesome athlete who can sky or pull up and stick the 3-point range jump shot. Returned to form of his sophomore year this summer dominating play from the backcourt. Out of the (David) Thompson/ Jordan mold, he can handle and pass in transition and loves to dunk over you.”
Peeler’s sensational summer camp performance followed his junior year, where he averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists, while shooting 54 percent from the field and 78 percent from the charity stripe. His list of schools included Kansas, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Nebraska, K-State, Kentucky, and North Carolina.
Peeler strongly considered Kansas and could very well have landed in Lawrence, but reportedly backed off since he was afraid — like so many other prepsters — that Brown would leave. Peeler nixed the Jayhawks and signed with Missouri. While Brown lost out on Peeler, he did sign Van Coleman’s No. 68 rated prospect — guard Sean Tunstall from Vashon High School in St. Louis, Mo.
Brown actually turned down one other guard who wanted to be a Jayhawk named Rex Walters from Piedmont Hill High School in San Jose, Calif. Walters, who went to Northwestern and later transferred to Kansas and became a standout guard and NBA player, was rated as Van Coleman’s No. 16 shooting guard prior to his senior season. Walters was not mentioned in Van Coleman’s postseason list of the top 121 seniors.
Peeler wound up having an outstanding career in Columbia. He is the school’s third all-time leading scorer at MU (1,970 points) behind Derrick Chievous and Doug Smith. Peeler, who averaged 23.4 points per game his senior year, was the 15th overall pick of the first round in the 1992 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. He played 13 years in the NBA and averaged 9.7 points per game. Peeler also led the league in three-point field goal percentage as a member of the Washington Wizards in 2003-04.
Plagued by academic woes, Tunstall played just one season at Kansas in 1990-91. Tunstall, who averaged 5.7 points per game, was a key cog and defensive standout off the bench for that Final Four team. Tragically, Tunstall was shot to death in St. Louis after leaving Kansas.
Jimmy King (Plano East High School/Plano, Texas) Class of 1991.
In just three years at Kansas, Roy Williams had established himself as a top-notch recruiter. He went hard after King, a consensus top 12 player in the 1991 senior class. Williams loved King’s unselfishness, great character, and of course, his outstanding athletic ability. A 6-5 high riser who could stroke the outside jumper, King was considered the No. 1 big guard prospect. King, who averaged 25.5 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals per game his senior year at Plano East, was also regarded as the best senior in Texas and received the Gatorade Circle of Champions award for the Southwest Region.
King was very interested in Kansas and would have loved to played for Williams, but committed to Michigan over the Jayhawks on Nov. 8, 1990. He picked Michigan a week after Chicago prep star and friend Juwan Howard announced he was headed to Ann Arbor. King and Howard visited Michigan on the same weekend. Williams said the deciding factor for King was actually when his mother read in U.S. News and World Report that Michigan was ranked higher academically than Kansas.
The day after King announced he was attending Michigan, KU received a commitment from 6-6 swingman Sean Pearson of Nazareth Academy in LaGrange, Ill. Pearson chose KU over Michigan and Marquette. At the time, Pearson’s high school coach Tom Richardson said his player would not go to the same school as King. However, when I interviewed Pearson in 2000, he told me he would have been happy to attend Kansas with King since the two played different positions. (King was a shooting guard, while Pearson played primarily small forward.)
“It really didn’t matter if Jimmy went to Michigan or he went to Kansas, and I went to the same place,” Pearson said. “I think if coach Williams could have got both of us, he would have loved it. It just didn’t work out that way.”
Michigan coach Steve Fisher was ecstatic to land King.
“Jimmy is going to excite Michigan fans in years to come,” Fisher told the 1991-92 edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. “He’s a truly gifted athlete who plays with the type of enthusiasm that coaches and fans love to see. He’s a multidimensional player...He’s a solid student who will fit in well with our program.”
“Probably his greatest strength is is he is a great competitor and very unselfish,” added Plano East coach Steve Adair. “He creates a lot of situations and has a lot of God-given abilities.”
King was part of the famed Fab Five Michigan recruiting class with Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Ray Jackson. That group advanced to the NCAA title game in their freshman and sophomore seasons. King had a solid four years at Michigan, and averaged 11.9 points for his career (career-high 14.7 ppg as a senior). He was a second-round NBA draft pick by Toronto in 1995, and played 64 games in the League.
One can only wonder if King would have signed with Kansas. Would Michigan have found another top player to fill its fifth scholarship? And if the Wolverines didn’t get a top-ranked recruit, would history now refer to that recruiting class as the Fab Four?
In any case, we do know that Pearson — a long-range bomber — wound up averaging 6.2 points during his KU career and started his junior season (career-high 9.6 ppg).
Jason Kidd (St. Joseph Notre Dame High School/Alameda, Calif.) Class of 1992.
Kidd was a huge priority for Williams from day one. Williams, like so many other college coaches, was mesmerized with the 6-4 guard’s uncanny toughness, tenacity, and will to win. Kidd was regarded as the best senior guard and one of the top two high school players in the 1992 Class with Othella Harrington from Murrah High School in Jackson, Miss. Kidd had major colleges interested in him before he entered high school, but truly rose to fame in the summer of 1990 before his junior year.
He was even featured in Sports Illustrated.
“Little kids mob Jason for autographs before and after games,”Kidd’s high school coach Frank LaPorte told the magazine. “And he gets letters from people of all ages all over the country: ‘Jason, I just want to tell you how much I admire you.’ ‘Jason, will you send me an autographed picture?’ Girls have T-shirts with pictures of him.’”
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook reported that scouting expert Frank Burlison of the Long Beach Telegram “called Kidd the best high school player ever from Northern California.”
“Jason’s greatest asset is the attitude he brings to the game,” Ed Broderick of the Nike/ABCD Camp told Blue Ribbon after Kidd dominated the camp’s all-star game among top seniors with his defensive prowess. “If you stripped off his shirt, a ‘W’ for winner would be tattooed on his back.”
Kidd, who had originally narrowed his list of finalists to Kansas, Arizona, Arizona State, Ohio State, and Kentucky, shocked the college basketball world when he canceled all visits and committed to California in September 1992. Kidd chose the Bears over Kansas. While Kidd loved Roy Williams, he wanted to stay close to home and revive basketball in California. Kidd added later he also considered the Jayhawks because his dad used to live in Plattsburg, Mo., which is just about 85 miles from Lawrence.
Of course, Kidd’s commitment to California was a big blow to Williams and the five other schools who thought they might land this prep phenom. The Bue Ribbon Yearbook said that new Arizona State coach Bill Frieder reportedly called Kidd before his introductory news conference and said that recruiting him “would be his top priority.”
So Kidd went to California and teamed with backcourt mate Jerod Haase to lead the Bears to the Sweet 16 his freshman season in 1993, where the Bears lost to, yes, Kansas, which advanced to the Final Four. The ‘Hawks were led by standout senior guards Rex Walters and Adonis Jordan. So if Kidd had signed with Kansas, he would have either been used in a three-guard lineup his freshman year or came off the bench, just as Jordan did his frosh season in 1989-90 as a backup to Kevin Pritchard.
As predicted, Kidd became a college superstar and was the second pick in the 1994 NBA draft behind Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson. Kidd is now starring for the New Jersey Nets, and will one day be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
While KU didn’t get Kidd, Williams scored big when Haase transferred to Kansas after his freshman season in Berkeley. He was a stellar three-year starter at KU, and one of the toughest competitors to ever don the crimson and blue.
Of course, there’s really only one Jason Kidd. We’ll never know just how many Final Four berths and national titles Kansas might have won if Kidd, King, and Peeler had signed a letter of intent with Kansas.
But the Jayhawk Nation can always dream a little and ask: