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The cradle of college hoops

Posted by bcopple on March 7, 2010

Basketball inventor and KU prof James Naismith


Really nice read in today’s Kansas City Star. Headlined “The soul of basketball can be found in the small towns of Kansas,” it’s a pretty well-written, cleverly reported story that explores my home state’s deep connections to many of the game’s greats, starting with roundball inventor James Naismith, who taught at Kansas University and is buried in Lawrence.


The whispers of legends carry through the rustling Kansas prairie grass, along the pounding of freight trains that connect civilization with the nation’s outskirts, in dark gyms where boys and girls bounce basketballs because that’s what has been done for generations.

There’s a note of melancholy to Kent Babb‘s story, as he found those “whispers of legends” growing faint. Many of them are either dead — Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp, Ralph Miller — or retired — Dean Smith, Eddie Sutton, Gene Keady.

Babb does nod to Topeka native/KU alum Mark Turgeon, now coaching at Texas A&M. And Lon Kruger, the journeyman (not whore) coach who’s currently at UNLV. And of course he traveled to Claflin, home of the great Jackie Stiles, perhaps the best basketball player ever born in Kansas.

However, Babb fails to mention a promising young Division I coach who hails from “a place where grain elevators are skyscrapers and barbed wire gives an order to things.” Mark Fox is the head coach at the University of Georgia and a native of Garden City, Kansas–my hometown.

Not that there’s any reason to think Mark (back home we call him Mark) will ever be mentioned alongside those names above. But his star is on the rise, and that’s one sign that the “soul of basketball” is still alive out on the High Plains.


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