The Jayhawks are of course making their first Final Four appearance since 2003. But take a close look and you’ll see that the three other No. 1 seeded teams all have Kansas ties. The site of the Final Four at the Alamodome even has a KU connection.
And the link all goes through Hall of Famer and former KU head coach
Brown, who coached KU to a national title in 1988, is a former star
player at ‘Carolina and assistant there under Dean Smith. He
has great respect for both Smith and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, who coached at KU for 15 years.
Smith is Brown’s mentor and the one who introduced Brown at
his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2002. Brown also tried to hire
Williams (then a UNC assistant coach) away from Chapel Hill as his
assistant when he first got the KU job in 1983. Eleven years later,
Williams served as Brown’s assistant on the 2004 U.S. Olympic
As for UCLA, Brown coached the Bruins for two years from 1978-80. He
led underdog UCLA to the national championship game in 1980. Then we
come to Memphis, which is coached by John Calipari, a former assistant
at Kansas under Ted Owens and Brown from 1982-85. Calipari is one of
Brown’s closest friends.
“(There’s) a lot of Kansas flavor,” KU
coach Bill Self said of the Final Four.
And wait, there’s more KU ties. Kansas will be playing in the
Alamodome, home of the defending World Champion San Antonio Spurs.
Former Jayhawk standout Jacque Vaughn is the Spurs’ backup
point guard, and San Antonio’s general manager is R.C.
Buford, a former assistant under Brown (1983-88) who also is one of
Self’s best friends and the father of Jayhawk freshman
walk-on, Chase. And don’t forget, Spurs’ head coach
Gregg Popovich did a sabbatical under Brown at Kansas in 1986-87 when
he was coaching at Pomona-Pitzer.
Brown will definitely be rooting for all four teams in San Antonio.
"I think coach Brown is a pretty smart guy,” Self said.
“Think about this: He played and coached at
‘Carolina, he coached UCLA to the national championship game,
he coached Kansas to a national championship and John Calipari is
probably closer to him than any other person. He's going to go 1-3 this
week, that's what he told me.
“So no matter who wins, he's 1-3 because three teams are
going to lose. I would personally think that he's really proud of all
the schools. He'll be a proud person watching the games and I bet he'll
be watching from a very neutral, tied in knots position because he
would want everybody to do well."
That, of course, includes Calipari, who got his coaching start under
Owens as a part-time assistant in 1982. When Owens was fired after the
‘82-83 season and replaced by Brown, Calipari stayed on the
staff and spent two years as a full-time assistant. He also coached the
KU Junior Varsity team in 1984-85. Calipari idolized Brown and used
many of his animated mannerisms as JV head coach, prompting the KU
students behind the Jayhawks’ bench to call him Larry Jr.
“Obviously, Cal is proud of his time at KU,” Self
Calipari came to Kansas after a standout career at Clarion State
College in Clarion, Pa. He started at point guard from 1980-82 and led
the team in assists and free-throw percentage. After his last year at
Kansas in 1985, Calipari moved back home and became an assistant at
Pittsburgh. After three years at Pittsburgh, Calipari was head coach at
the University of Massachusetts from 1988-96 before becoming head coach
and executive vice president of the New Jersey Nets.
In 1999-2000, Calipari was reunited with his mentor in Philadelphia as
an assistant with Brown’s 76ers. After one season in Philly,
Calipari was named Memphis head coach and has been there ever since.
Through all of their various stops over the years, Calipari and Brown
have stayed in close contact.
Brown has also kept a close eye on the Bruins since leaving UCLA in
1980. He used to say countless times that he never should have left
UCLA. In fact, Brown almost took the Bruins’ job again
immediately after KU won the national championship in 1988. However, he
changed his mind, citing the bad timing of the situation. He will no
doubt have mixed rooting interests in the UCLA-Memphis game.
R.C. Buford certainly won’t have any mixed interests when KU
and North Carolina battle on Saturday. He and Self have been close
friends for 28 years. Buford’s wife, Beth, is also a former
KU standout golfer.
R.C. and Beth will be cheering hard for their son and the Jayhawks.
“It’s amazing how things play out,” Self
said. “Chase decides to come here, and his (R.C.) whole deal
is, ‘You better make it to San Antonio’ because of
Chase getting to come back (home).”
Self talked about his longtime friendship with Buford.
"When I visited Oklahoma State on my official visit, he was a walk-on
at OSU and he was my host,” Self said. “I knew him
when I was a senior in high school and he was a junior in college. When
I went to Oklahoma State, he was still there and when he left to come
here (to Kansas in 1983 as a graduate assistant), we were obviously
still close friends and he basically got me to come work camp. Because
I was up here, I had the great opportunity to hurt my knee and get a
job (as graduate assistant at KU in 1985-86). But we've known each
other since I was 18 and been close since then.”
“Unfortunately, now that his son plays for us, I get to see
him too much,” Self added with a smile. “R.C. and
Beth will be there (in San Antonio) and I'm sure they'll be
entertaining a lot of Kansas people because they love KU, but I won't
spend much time with him. I'm going to hunker down and try to spend as
little time with people as possible."
Interestingly, Buford played at Texas A&M for two seasons
before transferring to Oklahoma State in 1980. His Aggies lost to
Louisville in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament in
‘80, the team with superstar Darrell Griffith which beat
Brown’s Bruins in the national title game.
Now, KU must beat North Carolina to return to the championship game for
the first time in five years. With Brown’s ties to all four
teams, it will likely be difficult for him watching the Final Four.
After all, Brown always said when he coached at Kansas that he
didn’t like playing friends.
But make no mistake, Brown will be smiling no matter who cuts down the
nets in San Antonio on April 7.
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