Men’s basketball coach Bill Self on Wednesday was announced as a first-time nominee for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I certainly didn’t expect this,” Self said during preparations for Thursday’s game at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I’m proud, mainly because of the teams’ successes we’ve had in the various stops that put me in a position to be considered.”
Self, a Life Joint member of the KU Alumni Association, is 395-84 in his 14 seasons at KU, and his 82.5 KU winning percentage is the best in school history. Including his coaching stints at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois, Self is 602-189 in 24 years as a head coach. At KU, where he has taken his Jayhawks to 18-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, Self has recorded more conference titles (12) than home losses (9).
Finalists will be announced during NBA All-Star festivities Feb. 18 in New Orleans, and the hall of fame’s Class of 2017 will be unveiled April 3 at the NCAA Tournament’s championship game in Glendale, Arizona.
2016 was an eventful year that marked major milestones and gave cause for celebration. From our Jayhawks in Rio to our 27th Rhodes Scholar, KU alumni had plenty of reasons to be proud of their alma mater in 2016, so we’re recounting the most memorable moments and biggest KU stories of the past year. With help from our crack team of KU experts, a.k.a. your hard-working KU Alumni Association staff, we’ve assembled and ranked the top stories of 2016. So without further ado, we present the best of KU:
…How are we doing so far? Can you guess the biggest stories of 2016? Our final 15 feature some beloved KU buildings–both new and old–a few famous Jayhawks and some fond farewells. Keep reading while we reveal the rest of the best…
If you have ever thought to yourself that James Naismith bore a striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt, you’re not alone. In fact, KU’s very own Junior James Naismith, a.k.a. Harrison Leiszler, proved the point, and with the help of his industrious (and clearly creative) father, Chris Leiszler, c’01, little Harrison had a Halloween costume that truly rocked.
Dressed as Mount Rushmore, the bespectacled Harrison battled the Captain of the Titanic for the top costume at the KU Symphony Orchestra annual Halloween concert at the Lied Center of Kansas. The popular event hosted by the KU School of Music included spooky music, costumed musicians and an instrument petting zoo (where kids could toot their own horn, or try a violin).
As fate would have it, Mount Rushmore happened to celebrate its 75th birthday on October 31, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Pictures of Harrison became so popular online that the South Dakota Department of Tourism reached out to ask Chris and Anne Marie Leiszler, b’00, to feature him on their Facebook page. The proud parents agreed, and the rest is, well, history.
When Naismith’s original rules of basketball finally made their way back home to Kansas this year, a budding basketball fan dressed as James Naismith was on hand to witness the momentous occasion. We profiled the pint-sized impersonator, dubbed Junior Naismith by adoring fans, back in February here on the KU Alumni Association blog, where he (and his dad, Chris Leiszler, c’01) talked about the experience of being featured on ESPN College GameDay and skyrocketing to internet fame.
Turns out, that was merely prelude to what would come next.
The young lad, 7-year-old Harrison Leiszler, reprised his role in a video skit for Traditions Night to kick off the academic year. Alumni can count on Junior Naismith to capture your hearts, among other things, as he revisits the new home of the original rules in the DeBruce Center to stake his claim to the original rules of basketball. We won’t give anything away, except to say he steals the show.
“An experience our family will never forget”
We spoke with Chris Leiszler about Harrison’s experience shooting the video for Traditions Night.
“We had an awful lot of fun watching them shoot the video,” Leiszler told us. “The people in the KU Marketing Department and in the Chancellor’s Office were so kind. You can tell they really enjoy what they do. I was amazed at how much effort they have to put in to produce a 2-minute video, but it turned out perfectly. They even let us go into the Chancellor‘s office so Harrison could sit at her desk!”
After the video appeared on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, Harrison made his grand entrance to thunderous applause, walking hand-in-hand with Chancellor Gray-Little.
“Of course, these are some of the greatest fans in the world, so they made sure he felt the love,” Leiszler said.
The experience must have been surreal–he received an ovation that might have made Bill Self jealous–but Harrison took it all in stride. He rarely broke character, except to answer a few questions, including the quintessential “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His answer? A dentist like his dad, or maybe … KU Chancellor. The crowd went nuts.
“Despite what a lot of people might expect, Harrison is actually a pretty shy and humble kid,” Leiszler said. “So, for him to speak into a microphone in front of a few thousand people at the age of 7, it was a big, big deal. When he was all done and joined us back in the bleachers, he whispered to me from behind his little mustache, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’”
Hats off to Harrison, who obviously comes from a true blue Jayhawk family.
“We were really proud of the little guy,” Leiszler said. “Being a part of KU Traditions Night was an experience our family will never forget.”
The official Traditions Night video will be posted on KU’s YouTube channel. Until then, check out this video and behind-the-scenes photos contributed by the Leiszler family.
The new home of Naismith’s original rules of basketball hosted a housewarming party when the DeBruce Center held its official grand opening celebration on Saturday, July 23. Hundreds of loyal fans and alumni made the pilgrimage to Lawrence to pay tribute to the game’s inventor and tour the new building connected to Allen Fieldhouse.
Visitors took in exhibit panels telling the story of Naismith and the influence he and Phog Allen, the “father of basketball coaching,” had on the world. Two of Phog’s former players, Bill Hougland, b’52, and Jerry Waugh, d’51 g’59, were among the first through the doors, eager to view the rules and relive their glory days playing basketball for KU.
“We only had one set of rules when we played, and those were Doc Allen’s rules,” Hougland shared. “You didn’t break those.”
Families enjoyed games and attractions for kids, including face painting, balloon animals, and book signings. Fans were able to view the star attraction, Naismith’s original rules, with a recording of a radio broadcast of Naismith being interviewed. The recording, in which Naismith talks about his invention, was recently discovered by a KU researcher and is the only known recording of Naismith.
Some of the fun and attractions were chronicled on social media by those who took time to visit the DeBruce Center, which you can check out below.
For those who visit, more sights and sounds abound, including a short movie presentation (in a small theater in Allen Fieldhouse), plus shopping and dining options at the Original Rules Gift Shop and the Courtside Cafe. The DeBruce Center is operated by the KU Memorial Unions and is open Monday through Thursday from 7am to 6pm, Friday from 7am to 5pm and Saturdays 10am – 5pm. It is closed on Sundays.
and the very same trick shot artist who declared his intentions to play for Kansas early, very early, has won the Internet–and our hearts–once again.
This time, with ESPN’s College GameDay in town ahead of a mid-season classic between Kansas and Kentucky, a pint-sized impersonator stole the show. The junior James Naismith became a viral sensation, earning more screen time than Coach Self while registering a new Fieldhouse record on the cuteness meter. Naismith’s original rules for the game of basketball were presented to KU during a halftime ceremony, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and fans ate it up, peach basket and all.
The young “mini-Naismith” is the son of Chris, c’01, and Anne-Marie Leiszler, b’00, and his incredible, shareable talents have thrilled fans of this blog in the past. We caught up with Chris to learn more about his son’s recent rise to fame and his GameDay experience.
“I’m not really sure how I came up with the idea to be honest with you, and it was a total coincidence that Naismith’s Rules of Basketball would be presented at halftime. But when I pitched the idea to him several weeks ago, he just put his hand on his forehead, shook his head, and said, “Oh Dad…” And then he looked up at me and smiled and said, “Okay, let’s do it.””
And the rest, as they say, is history?
“The entire day was an absolute blast. I got him up at 4:45 AM so we could get him dressed and get a good seat for the morning activities. We figured we’d get a few chuckles out of people and we were hopeful that he’d get on TV, but we never imagined that Jay Williams would invite him to sit at the desk with him for part of the ESPN College GameDay broadcast. And then, a while later, the wonderful people from KU’s marketing department asked us if we’d like two tickets for the game, and we simply couldn’t believe it! And what an epic game it was! It was certainly a day that our family will never forget. Rock Chalk!”
We couldn’t agree more, Chris! Here are a few more highlights from his College GameDay experience.