KU alumni and fans still smarting from this year’s loss to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament may find some solace in recalling the thrill of victory in 1988, more than a quarter of a century ago. If that makes you feel old, just imagine how the players feel.
While ‘Danny and the Miracles’ have all gone on with their lives, the ’88 championship still unites them, especially this time of year.
Over the weekend, National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition featured interviews with three of the Jayhawks from that Cinderella team in their For the Record segment by Rachel Martin. Recalling how the championship changed their lives, Jeff Gueldner, b’91, Clint Normore, ’89, and Milt Newton, d’89, g’93, each offered their unique journeys since ’88. The full interview, which you can listen to below and online at npr.org, catches up with each Jayhawk, none of whom made it to the NBA. Well, at least not the way you might think.
Newton always wanted to be a professional basketball player, but when his prospects for playing in the NBA looked bleak after college, his father gave him some sage advice, encouraging him to pursue a career that kept him involved with the game he loved. Today, Newton is general manager for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
Normore, who also played football at KU before joining the Jayhawk basketball team, leads diversity programs at Oklahoma City University and still remembers the surreal feeling of being in the moment, when he could tune out the crowd and only hear his KU coaches and teammates.
But Guelder’s life took a few twists and turns since ’88, and after a cancer diagnosis, he discovered how meaningful his championship moment really was.
“As soon as the folks at KU found out,” Martin reveals in her story, “he was overwhelmed with notes and care packages from people he’d never met before. But it didn’t matter. Gueldner was part of that storied ’88 Jayhawks team. They rooted for him then and they were doing so again when he needed it most.”
All KU alumni have special memories of KU’s magical run to the 1988 NCAA Championship– even those who played in it. Danny Manning, now head basketball coach at Wake Forest, remembers exactly how it felt to “seal the deal” and secure the Jayhawks’ first NCAA title since 1952. The former NCAA Player of the Year and number one pick of the 1988 NBA draft opened up about his championship experience in The Players’ Tribune, a blog featuring the voices of professional athletes from a first-person perspective.
In Manning’s post titled “It’s Over,” he vividly recalls the moment he put the game away, hitting two free throws with five seconds left, and the euphoria that followed. Yet the most memorable moment for Manning came during a quiet moment after the celebration.
“Sitting in the locker room with my teammates after winning the national championship, we talked about our season, which was my senior season. We talked about the tournament. And that’s when it hit us: That was the last time we’d ever be together on the court as a team. It was a somber moment for me, but also a very satisfying one knowing that I was a part of a group that was able to win a national championship.”
Manning’s team finished the 2015 season–his first as head coach of the Deamon Deacons–with a 13-19 record, placing 12th in the ACC conference and will miss the Big Dance this year. But don’t count Manning out. He aims to be back, because he knows what it takes to get there, and he can still recall exactly how good it feels to reign supreme as NCAA Tournament Champion.
“It’s a gamut of emotions that hits you at that point, but lastly, there’s a sense of calm after the storm, and all that’s left is the joy of what you’ve accomplished with your teammates.”
Never fond of the moniker ‘Danny and the Miracles,’ Manning reflected on the sheer joy of playing with his teammates in what he emphasized is a team sport.
“We weren’t the most talented and we weren’t the most athletic, but we played together and we played for each other. That’s what made us great. It wasn’t “Danny and the Miracles.” It was just the Kansas Jayhawks.”
NCAA Champion magazine’s winter 2015 edition chronicles Clarkson’s long and prosperous career as a photographer. He made a name for himself by capturing unforgettable moments in just about any sport imaginable. But it seems that given a choice, Clarkson would take his camera skills to the court any day.
“Basketball is so unique in that, unlike football or some other sports, nobody is hidden behind shoulder pads or helmets,” he tells NCAA Champion magazine. “You get to see and experience the emotions of the game. You see it on people’s faces. You see it in their body language. You get all this in addition to the beauty of great athletic prowess and beautiful plays. You see the human element as well. To me, it makes basketball the most interesting of all the sports.”
To read more about Clarkson’s journey as a photojournalist and hear him describe his own favorite moments in NCAA basketball history, click here.
Watch a video of Clarkson recounting how he took one of the most recognizable photographs of his career:
A KU icon passed away this week, though many alumni might have missed it. If they’re not familiar with his name, they definitely know his work.
Professor Emeritus Elden Tefft, f’49, g’50, left his mark on campus by creating one of the most beloved (and photographed) sculptures on Jayhawk Boulevard: “Academic Jay” in front of Strong Hall.
His other works are equally notable, including the bronze “Moses” kneeling before the stained-glass depiction of the burning bush at Smith Hall, as featured in the university’s official seal. But the Strong Hall Jayhawk is much more meaningful to me, for very personal reasons.
For starters, Tefft’s Jayhawk was a gift of the Class of 1956. My father, Don Johnston, b’56, l’66, was a member of that class and took great pride in it. When his classmates celebrated their their 50th reunion, small paperweight versions were commissioned as commemorative gifts for attendees (pictured).
The ’56 Jayhawk, as I came to know it, has always been the symbolic (if not the geographic) center of KU. That was definitely the case in 1988, when KU’s improbable run to the NCAA Championship featured impromptu celebrations that flooded Wescoe Beach, with the ’56 Jay surveying the scene. I remember racing to campus after KU knocked off Duke to advance to the title game, where I climbed the base of the ’56 Jay, taking in the celebration from the Jayhawk’s lofty granite perch.
I returned to the base of statue ten years later, surprising my KU sweetheart as she took a seat, and I got down on one knee. We were engaged under the watchful eye of the ’56 Jayhawk, like so many others who have celebrated significant milestones with Tefft’s iconic creation.
Perhaps it is fitting that as we celebrate the life and contributions of Elden Tefft this month, the KU Alumni Association’s 2015 calendar features his ’56 Jayhawk for February. Photographed by Chris Lazzarino, it watches over campus with a timeless look and its signature half-smile, focusing its gaze toward the horizon, towering toward the blue.
See a collection of photos from Elden Tefft’s work on iconic KU landmarks on the University of Kansas’ Flickr page. Do you have a memory or special photo with Elden Tefft’s iconic KU landmark? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations to the NCAA outdoor track and field champions! Kansas Athletics has scheduled a welcome home celebration for the KU women’s track and field team today at 2 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse. The event is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 2 p.m., and the team is expected to arrive close to 2:45 p.m. Come out and support these amazing ladies and help celebrate KU’s first women’s team championship in school history. Meantime, meet the champs in this video produced by KU Athletics.