Publish date:

Here today, here tomorrow?

Kansas coach Larry Brown is making his presence felt—at least for now

So far, only a few ill winds—a gale here, a squall there—have buffeted the Kansas basketball program. The fullblown tornado that some predicted when Larry Brown became the Jayhawks' coach last spring has yet to hit.

First, Brown fired his assistant, former Kansas All-America Jo Jo White, over "philosophical differences." No sooner had Brown named Ed Manning as White's replacement than Manning's 6'10" high school All-America son Danny announced he'd be joining the Jayhawks next season. Oh, that stirred up a storm all right, but it was felt mostly outside the Sunflower State. Next, in early January, 6'8" sophomore forward Kerry Boagni, who had once said Brown was the coach he most wanted to play for, decided to leave the team. The reason: the ever-popular "philosophical differences." Then last week the Kansas student daily published a professor's charge that Brown had tried to influence the professor to change the grade of the Jayhawks' starting point guard to keep him eligible.

None of these rumblings has developed into the big twister that would have Brown telling his black Labrador, Tatum, "We're not in Kansas anymore." After all, any newcomer in Jayhawk country by way of New York, various towns in North Carolina, Denver, Los Angeles and East Rutherford, N.J. might expect some storminess during a first season in venerable Allen Field House, hard by Naismith Drive. Hall of Famers Phog Allen and James Naismith, Kansas' first two basketball coaches, founded the eminent line to which Brown has fallen heir. In time he'll do the Jayhawks' hoary winning tradition proud—if he sticks around long enough.

Considering that Kansas' 79-69 win over Wichita State on Sunday gave the Jayhawks a 13-6 record, and that attendance has increased by 2,200 fans a game this season, who would want to leave?

If history is any guide, the answer might well be the 43-year-old Brown. In 11 seasons as a head coach, he has earned a reputation as the game's most brilliant—and mobile—malcontent. Since 1969 he has signed in—and signed out—as coach of Davidson, the ABA Carolina Cougars, the ABA and NBA Denver Nuggets, UCLA and, finally, the New Jersey Nets, whom he abandoned just before last season's NBA playoffs. He always won—except at Davidson, where he quit before coaching a game—but he always left, over reasons as various as ill health, too little money, too much pressure, differences with players or management and, his favorite: a feeling of being unappreciated. Still, he'll now fix his big, soft brown eyes on you and persuade you that Laurence is happy in Lawrence.

"Everybody says I'm a big-city guy," says Brown, who is sure of his four-year, $57,000 per annum commitment to Kansas. "I like being able to go to the same place every day for ice cream and have the people there know who I am."

Scuttlebutt has it that there's only one place Brown really wants to coach—the University of North Carolina, his alma mater. But he insists that isn't so. "Number One, Dean [Smith] has two loyal assistants there who deserve the job," he says. "And Number Two, I don't want to see Dean leave." Other rumormongers say Brown will forsake Kansas for the NBA if the money's right.

But Brown insists that it was his love for the student section, the teaching, the sense of family that lured him back to campus. Indeed, Brown would seem ideally suited to the rah-rah atmosphere of the college game. He cares, appreciates—Lord, he emotes. "People wonder how someone can be so sensitive and leave all the time," he says. "But when kids are my responsibility, I'll do anything for them."

Brown says it was that sense of responsibility that prompted him to join freshman guard Cedric Hunter in a Jan. 8 meeting with David Katzman, a history professor whose course, History of the U.S. Since the Civil War, Hunter had failed. Hunter had started hitting the books in the course a month late because, he says, he thought he'd soon be dropping it and enrolling in a psychology class. But the psych course turned out to be full. Forced to stay in the history class to keep up the required load of eight hours, Hunter found himself far behind. He says he sought—and got—Katzman's assurance that he should be able to complete the work despite the late start.

But Hunter flunked his final. When Brown suggested that Katzman give Hunter a D-minus, Katzman refused. The next day Brown wrote a letter to Katzman questioning his "compassion." Katzman sent Brown's letter to several university officials and replied to Brown, calling Brown's missive "insulting, intemperate and ill-conceived." Katzman added that the only conclusion he could draw from Brown's letter was that "compassion has only one interpretation: Award the student a passing grade."

Brown doesn't dispute that. "The only way Cedric could stay eligible was to get a D-minus," he says. "He [Katzman] had to know that's why we were there." But Brown doesn't regret the visit—"I regret it was made public," he says—nor will he second-guess his judgment. After all, he says, he has yet to be reprimanded.

"There's nothing that prohibits [a coach meeting with a professor over a player's grade]," says Kansas vice-chancellor David Ambler, "though the university looks at the primary academic relationship as being between the student and professor. I do think it's inappropriate for a coach to contact a professor over eligibility."

Says Brown, "[Katzman] first told Cedric he thought he could pass. Then he said he didn't think he could do college work. Now everybody's looking at Cedric like he's a vegetable, and he's not."

Katzman shares Brown's regret that the Hunter case is now public. But he adds, "There are untenured faculty who might believe Larry Brown has the authority to influence them. He doesn't." Since the story broke, Katzman's family has received several abusive phone calls.

But last week's turmoil could not upstage the Wichita State game. The two schools hadn't met in regular-season play since 1955, and after their last postseason encounter—the locally storied Battle of New Orleans in the 1981 Midwest Regional semifinals, which Wichita State won 66-65—Shocker fans erected billboards all over Wichita with nothing on them but the score. Even after that loss, though, Kansas had remained the supercilious kings of the state's courts to Wichita State's arriviste pretender. But with new athletic directors at both schools, Monte Johnson at Wichita State and Lew Perkins at Kansas, all was ripe for a renewal of intrastate hostilities.

Perkins has revamped athletic department policy at Wichita State, which is in its third year of probation for financial abuses in basketball, and is in such frequent phone contact with NCAA gumshoes, just to make sure all is done by the book, that he jokes about having a hot line installed. This is no joke: The NCAA has taken seven separate actions against Wichita State's basketball and football programs since 1952, making it the most penalized school in the nation. Obviously, Perkins can't be too careful.

Nonetheless, 7'1" center Greg Dreiling transferred from Wichita State to Kansas before last season largely because he felt there was a "lack of communication" about the ramifications of the NCAA sanctions. Says Zarko Durisic, the Shockers' 6'10" Yugoslav center who had been Dreiling's backup, "He shouldn't leave when we have two years' probation. He lose some points in my mind there."

But after Wichita State knocked off No. 11 Tulsa 66-64 on Thursday night, Durisic seemed less concerned with Dreiling than with what he feels is the lack of ink accorded Xavier McDaniel, the 6'7" Wichita cornerman who led the nation in rebounding last season and this season was second, with a 13.2 average, through last week. "You guys never bring anything on X," Durisic said. "He chairman of the boards, offensive and defensive. I guarantee. Maybe not whole article, but at least bring one paragraph. Just one paragraph!"

O.K., Z: X likes to take a shower before a game. Says it relaxes him. "For real big games," he says, "I get a haircut." He was a high school teammate of DePaul's Tyrone Corbin, at A.C. Flora High in Columbia, S.C., which should be called A.C. Fauna, because McDaniel, like Corbin, is an animal. X plays in Peoria. Last season against Bradley, after Braves coach Dick Versace had suggested McDaniel's rebounding totals had been inflated by Wichita's home stat crews, X hauled down 16—in the first half.

On Sunday, McDaniel went for 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, but it was Hunter's replacement, 19-year-old birthday boy Mark (The Surgeon) Turgeon, who most dominated play. A 5'10", 140-pound freshman with braces on his teeth, Turgeon had to talk Brown into giving him a scholarship—and ask his grandmother to stitch up his jersey straps so his numeral wouldn't disappear in his trunks. With the Jayhawk offense in the capable hands of The Surgeon, who had eight points and four assists, Kansas bounced back from its Jan. 31 103-84 drubbing at the hands of Big Eight front-runner Oklahoma.

The victory notwithstanding, Brown isn't pretending Kansas is ideal—yet. "I've always looked for the best, something special that's not the real world," he says. "And I've always argued, why can't the world be perfect?"

It isn't, nor is Brown's new team. But, says Jayhawks guard Mike Marshall, "You either do it Coach Brown's way or it's Trailways." The real news is that those two ways may not be one and the same anymore.


Brown hopes to win a place alongside legends Naismith (top right) and Allen (top left).


Thursday, Hunter (22) viewed a tape with Dreiling (far left) & Co., but on Sunday he kept a lonely watch.