The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the history of the sport. The Jayhawks rank third in highest program win percentage (.725) and second in overall total program wins with 2,274 at the end of the 2019 season. They have also won three NCAA titles (1952, 1988, 2008), finished as the national runner-up six other times and have made 15 total Final Fours.
Their excellence can be summed up in one word: consistency. They hold the record for most consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances making the tourney in 30 straight seasons, they own the record of all-time consecutive Big 12 titles too with 14 between 2005 and 2018, and they have the second-longest streak of being ranked in the Top 25 for a total of 211 consecutive weeks!
Their programmatic success is virtually unmatched. They have also excelled in preparing their players for the next level of the game, which shows in the overall success of former Jayhawks in the NBA. Let’s take a look at some notables, both of yesteryear and current pros.
James Naismith and Kansas
The creator of the sport of basketball, James Naismith was actually the very first coach in Kansas’ illustrious history. In fact, the Jayhawks have only had 8 coaches in the 120 years they have been playing basketball. That is impressive a feat as any of their wins because of the frequent turnover that occurs within the college coaching carousel in the sport.
Naismith set the standard of excellence at the school and, while he is actually the only Jayhawk coach to post a losing record at the school, he was the originator of the sport. That will never be taken away from him or from the history of Kansas Jayhawk basketball.
Former Historic Kansas Players in the NBA
The current NBA players from Kansas are impressive, but so are the historic ones too. We will touch on a few below. Some other notables, however, include Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, Raef LaFrenz, and Jacque Vaughn.
Danny Manning (1984-1988)
Highlights at Kansas: 3-time conference Player of the Year, 3-time Consensus All-American, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Naismith Award Winner, Wooden Award Winner, 1988 NCAA Champion
Manning did it all while at Kansas. The Jayhawks during his senior year, dubbed “Danny and the Miracles”, overachieved and Manning led them to a surprising national title. He averaged over 20 points for his career at Kansas and left the school both the leading scorer in the history of Kansas and the Big Eight Conference (renamed to the Big 12 after conference expansion).
Manning was the #1 pick in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. Manning played for 15 seasons and made two All-Star teams. His pro career never reached the high expectations put on him after college but he had a lengthy career in the pros.
Paul Pierce (1995-98)
Highlights at Kansas: Consensus All-American, 2-time All-Big 12, 2-time Big 12 Tournament Most Valuable Player
“The Truth” Paul Pierce, was a legend at Kansas during his three years under coach Roy Williams. He averaged 16 points per game while there and ranks seventh overall in all-time points and eleventh overall in all-time rebounds.
His skills and potential led him out of Kansas after his junior year, where he was selected 10th overall by the Boston Celtics in 1998. While in Boston he became one of the most respected Celtics to ever step on the parquet floor in Boston. He played for the team for 15 seasons where he was a 10-time All-Star, 4-time All-NBA member, and won the NBA Title in 2008, snapping Boston’s 22-year title drought, their longest in franchise history.
Wilt Chamberlain (1956-58)
Highlights at Kansas: 2-time Consensus All-American, NCAA Tournament MVP
While Chamberlain played for the Jayhawks, he was one of the most dominant forces the sport had ever seen. While at Kansas, the center averaged 29 points and 18 rebounds per game. He left Kansas after his junior year, something that wasn’t as common during his time, and went on to bigger and better opportunities in the pros. By the age of 21 Chamberlain, because of his polarizing nature, had been featured in Time, Life, and Newsweek magazines.
Wilt’s skills earned him a spot among the NBA elite during his 14-year career. He was named an All-Star in every year of his career except one because of injury. His career is defined by his dominance on the court. He won 2 NBA titles, 4 MVP Awards, and ended his career averaging an eye-popping 30 points and 22 rebounds over 14 seasons.
Current Kansas Players in the NBA
Currently, Kansas is represented by 12 total NBA players. We will dig a bit deeper into some of the more notable ones, but the comprehensive list is below:
- Cheick Diallo – Phoenix Suns
- Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
- Devonte’ Graham – Charlotte Hornets
- Josh Jackson – Memphis Grizzlies
- Frank Mason – Milwaukee Bucks
- Ben McLemore – Houston Rockets
- Marcus Morris – Los Angeles Clippers
- Markieff Morris – Detroit Pistons
- Svi Mykhailiuk – Detroit Pistons
- Malik Newman – Cleveland Cavaliers
- Kelly Oubre Jr. – Phoenix Suns
- Andrew Wiggins – Golden State Warriors
Joel Embiid (2013-14)
Highlights at Kansas: All-Big 12 selection, Big 12 All-Freshman, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year
Joel Embiid’s career at Kansas was short-lived but very productive nonetheless. He made a huge impact on the defensive end, winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and showed promise and potential offensively, averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds. Unfortunately, his college career was cut short when he suffered a stress fracture in his back causing him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament.
That summer, he was selected third overall by the 76ers. His professional career started slow, as he was dealing with remnants of the back issues he dealt with at Kansas, but once he was healthy he quickly cemented himself as one of the best big men in the league. He currently averages 23 points and 12 rebounds per game while helping lead the Sixers as one of the favorites to win the NBA Title.
Andrew Wiggins (2013-14)
Highlights at Kansas: Consensus All-American, Big 12 Rookie of the Year, #1 Draft Pick
Andrew Wiggins was another one-and-done Jayhawk, but put up highly impressive numbers while there, averaging 17 points, and 6 rebounds. He scored 17 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in a January game against Iowa State, becoming the second freshman in 15 years to put up a double-double against a ranked opponent. He also scored 41 points that year, the second-most points ever scored by a Big 12 freshman.
Wiggins’ freshman year led him to become the #1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he spent the first five and a half years in the league before being traded to the Golden State Warriors.
The jury is still out on whether or not Wiggins is a superstar, but his new atmosphere in Golden State could change all that. Even if he isn’t at the top level of talent in the league, he still boasts a career average of 20 points per game.
Other Notable Kansas Jayhawks
Not only have the Jayhawks produced greats to go on and excel in the professional game, but three others who excelled in other avenues, even though two stayed in the sport and made their mark coaching instead of playing after college.
- Bob Dole – Former politician best known for his 1996 Presidential Campaign. Dole played under Adolph Rupp at Kansas and also lettered in track and football.
- Dean Smith – Coached the University of North Carolina and won 879 total games over 37 years. Won 2 national titles and appeared in 11 Final Fours.
- Adolph Rupp – Coached for the University of Kentucky and won 876 total games in 41 years and posted a .822 win percentage; good for second place ever in the history of the sport. Won 4 national titles at Kentucky.
The Kansas Jayhawks are one of the greatest sports programs and have been consistently great for over a century of playing competitive college basketball. Those players that have racked up the second most overall wins in college basketball history have gone on to amazing accomplishments in both the game of basketball and within our country. Their history is unmatched as well and you can see that in their prestigious alumni and former coaches.
Are you a Kansas fan? Who is your favorite Jayhawk to ever play in the pros? Let us know in the comments below!