Hoopsters Enjoy Reunion

Russell Robinson is one of the most popular people in Lawrence, Kan. When the Kansas senior point guard arrives at a restaurant, patrons applaud. But Robinson is also a basketball fan well-versed in KU tradition, and he can't wait to meet the former Jayhawk players and coaches this weekend at the 110-year reunion of Kansas hoops.

And who does he most want to meet?
“JoJo White, Larry Brown,” Robinson replied. “I just want to take a lot of pictures and get as many autographs as I can.”

About 230 former players, staff, and managers will arrive in Lawrence this weekend for the celebration. In addition to the Colorado game on Saturday, where all the former Jayhawks and the 1988 NCAA championship team will be recognized at halftime, the ex-players, managers, and coaches will gather for a private brunch before tipoff and also break bread that night at the banquet dinner.

White and Brown will be there. Former All-Americans Bud Stallworth, Darnell Valentine, Dave Robisch, Walt Wesley and Clyde Lovellette will come. So, too, will greats of yesteryear such as Nolen Ellison, Jerry Gardner, Tom Kivisto, Delvy Lewis, Roger Morningstar, Calvin Thompson and Ron Kellogg. Former walk-ons T.J. Whatley, Scott Novosel, and Blake Weichbrodt will be there. And don’t forget KU managers Donnell Martin from the 1986 Final Four team and Bill Pope from the ‘86 squad and 1988 title team.

From All-Americans and celebrated coaches like Brown and Ted Owens to old-timers from the 1940s, 12th men, walk-ons, managers, and a guy like Travis Williams, who red-shirted yet never played an official game for Kansas, former Jayhawks will reunite for the grand celebration of Kansas basketball.

And Bill Self is as excited as ever to see history come alive.

While the KU coach said he’s really looking forward to spending some time with Lovellette (the two have never met) and Brown, he’s giddy about meeting everyone who’s ever been associated with Kansas basketball.

“I think the thing about this that’s really cool, I don’t think we look at the reunion of what players that’s had their number hanging in the rafters are coming back,” Self said. “I don’t think you look at it that way. I think you look at it as the guys who walked on and gave themselves to the school for four years, or the guys that were the backup point guards, or the unheralded guys, because when you get a bunch of guys in a room, they’re all the same. They’re just guys that gave their blood, sweat, and tears to a place that was bigger than them. It’s not about one person coming back, it’s about the collection of everybody being here. That’s what I’m going to get out of it as much as anything.”

Self said his players will get a lot out of it, too. The team has been well-educated in Kansas basketball tradition.

“Every video these guys have seen since they were recruited, every time we show a recruit a video on campus, the pre-game videos, anything we do video-wise, we tie in the past greats,” Self said. “So I think the guys have a respect and a knowledge of who they were better than what they would at a lot of places, because we emphasize it so much. They’ve been so well-schooled.”
“Our guys have so much respect of the past tradition and history,” Self added. “These guys have it really good playing at Kansas, and the biggest reason they have it really good playing at Kansas is because of all the people that came before them and made it better for them. I really believe there’s a respect there, so I think they’ll get something out of it.”

The Jayhawks will be especially pumped to play with all the former players and coaches in attendance on Saturday.

“It feels special to see the old players who’ve been here and represented KU,” said junior guard Brandon Rush. “It’s motivation for us to play our type of basketball.”

Rush said he’s most looking forward to seeing Valentine, who was coached in high school and at Kansas by ex-Jayhawk assistant Lafayette Norwood, Rush’s former AAU coach.

Sophomore forward Darrell Arthur said he’s looking forward to seeing “everybody.”

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience. We’re going to have the banquet Saturday night. That’s going to be pretty cool. ... (The former players) come back and do what they have to do for the program. I think it’s great for us to share the experience with them and just be here with them.”

As Self said, Arthur and his teammates certainly know about the great importance of KU basketball history.

“I think it’s a very unique situation here that when you get (to KU as freshmen), you don’t get it, but six months later, you’re starting to think, this is different, and I really think they feel it,” Self said. “I think Allen Fieldhouse lends itself to that because all the players have played in the same building, and it’s a traditional place. It’s not a modernized deal. What we take most pride in is the way it’s always been, and I think our players buy into that.”

The tradition is so deep in Allen Fieldhouse, that at the next 110-year reunion, former Jayhawks may likely still gather back in the Phog.

And what might fans say if they ever tore down the fieldhouse?

“That’s a hypothetical I don’t think we’re ever going to have to deal with,” Self said. “I don’t think people would be very happy, but that won’t happen.”

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