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The Kansas Connection that Transformed College Basketball: Dean E. Smith and John B. McLendon

picture is courtesy of blackathlete.netIt's a proven fact that the origin of humans can be traced back to Africa. As it pertains to basketball, the origins can be traced back to Springfield, Massachusetts to a gentleman by the name of Dr. James Naismith who invented this beloved sport in 1891 at Springfield YMCA. (Springfield College)

Naismith would later become the first head basketball coach at the University of Kansas and ironically, he's also the only coach in the program's history with a losing record. 

During his years at Kansas as their Athletic Director, Naismith mentored a young ambitious African-American male by the name of John B. McLendon from Hiawatha, Kansas. Back in that era, the vast majority of college basketball teams were segregated and McLendon wasn't allowed to play basketball for Kansas, but he quickly excelled into a great student of the game.

Mclendon would later become a great basketball coach on the collegiate and professional levels. His first stop was in Durham, NC at the North Carolina College for Negroes, which is now North Carolina Central University. He led NCCU to 8 CIAA Championships and would later lead  Tennessee State to 3 consecutive NAIA championships making him the first collegiate basketball coach to ever do so. 

In 1961, the late George Steinbrenner (Mike Cleary) hired McLendon to coach his Cleveland Pipers basketball team (ABL), making him the first African-American head coach in professional sports. Please reference note at the end of blog.

McLendon was credited with increasing the pace of the game of basketball from the slower tempo of its early years to the faster tempo that's present today. Ironically, he also found a way to contain what he helped to create by developing the full-court press and four corners. 

picture is courtesy of the huffingtonpost.com

Although some people believe that the late Neal D. Baisi (West Virginia Tech) created the four corners, it was Kansas native Dean E. Smith, who increased the popularity of this highly effective strategy.

Smith from Emporia, Kansas attended the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship and played on the varsity basketball team under Forrest "Phog" Allen, who was a protégé of Naismith. During his time on the team, the Jayhawks won the national championship in 1952 and were NCAA tournament finalists in 1953.

Shortly after serving as an assistant basketball coach under Allen, Smith accepted an assistant coaching position under legendary head basketball coach Frank Maguire at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, which is just a short distance from Durham. 

Of course, Smith would eventually replace Maguire as the Tar Heels head basketball coach and I think we all know the rest of the story! 

The University of Kansas presented to us the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, who then mentored John B. McLendon and Phog Allen. McLendon then created the four corners that Dean Smith utilized and made popular as head basketball coach of the UNC Tar Heel's. Smith finished his career with 879 victories, 2 NCAA National Championships and 13 ACC tournament titles.

McLendon (contributor) and Smith were rightfully inducted into both the Naismith and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and will forever share a common bond with the University of Kansas. Where in the world would college basketball and Tobacco Road be without this Kansas connection? I hate to even think about that! Thank you, Kansas.

The "B" initially placed as Dr. Naismith's middle name was done in error.
As first noted Dr. Naismith was not in his early years at Kansas upon the arrival of John B. McLendon.

Mike Cleary hired John B. McLendon prior to George Steinbrenner purchasing the Pipers, but history wasn't made for John B until GS moved them to the professional ranks.

2 Comments to The Kansas Connection that Transformed College Basketball: Dean E. Smith and John B. McLendon :

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John McLendon on Thursday, January 07, 2016 12:37 AM
James Naismith did not have a middle name (or middle initial). Some have mistakenly used "A" as his middle initial. That error snuck in because he used to sign his name as "Jas," which later looked more like "Ja." McLendon graduated from Kansas in 1936, which was near the end (not the beginning) of Naismith's tenure. Naismith went to Kansas in 1898, where he lived until his death in 1939. McLendon was already the coach of the Cleveland Pipers when Steinbrenner bought the team. The very recently deceased Mike Cleary was the team's G.M. who hired John before Steinbrenner was involved. Dean Smith graduated from Kansas in 1952. He was an assistant coach at Kansas in 1953, not a member of the team. McLendon was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1979 as a "contributor." This was really a slap in the face, as he was the fourth-winningest college basketball coach at the time of his retirement. Coach Mac is listed as a nominee for induction this year as a coach. He deserves to be enshrined as a coach.
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Herman Thomas on Thursday, January 07, 2016 11:17 AM
Thanks for your response. Due to some unprofessional responses to some post, I generally block comments and respond directly to readers that send information on our contact page. The middle initial B for Dr Naismith's middle name was done in error and I apologize. You are correct that Naismith was in his latter years while McLendon attended school being that he was in his 70s. Many state that McLendon was signed in 1962 to coach the Cleveland Pipers but it had to be 1961 since Coach Sharman replaced him in 1962 during the 1961-62 season. George Steinbrenner purchased the Cleveland Pipers in 1961 before entering the ABL and was in place during the hiring of McLendon. It is true that Cleary signed him, but Steinbrenner called the shots and approved of the hiring as the owner of the team. I think Steinbrenner proved that point making Cleary the first person he ever fired as an owner. Although there are no documents proving it, there is a possibility that Cleary (GM) signed him while they were in the industrial league, but they didn't become a professional basketball team until Steinbrenner purchased them and entered them in the ABL. Dean Smith was, in fact, a member of the KU 1952 National Championship team and 1953 Runner-ups to Indiana. I have provided 2 links listing him on the team rosters as a player. He became an assistant after his graduation in 1953 and was listed as one during the 1953-54 basketball season. Thanks for your input and Rest In Peace to Mike Cleary. http://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/schools/kansas/ http://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/schools/kansas/1953.html

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