KU recruits Illinois better than Illinois
Growing up in Chicago, my first hoops love was Illinois. I suffered through many good Lou Henson teams with disappointing ends to the season. Lou was able to recruit the state of Illinois fairly well and was successful as a result.
After Lou left, Lon Kruger came to town, was fairly successful, making an elite 8 run.
Then Bill came in and kept the goods for himself. The Illini soared and if it wasn’t for the refs letting Sean May plow guys over in the lane, they might have had a NC. Illinois players made it happen. (This despite Bruce Webber actually coaching that team)
Bruce was a nice guy who could not get players from the state to stay home. Illinois banned Chief Illiniwek which further doomed the program and they’ve become irrelevant in college hoops.
And yet, the state has produced so many great college players through the last decade. I just looked at the rosters of McD’s all americans (http://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/mcdonalds.html) and players from the state are plentiful on the list. The last to play for Illinois that was a MCD’s AA was Jerome Richmond, an extremely talented head case who flamed out quickly. That was in 2011.
Meanwhile looking through that list and you see Illinois natives going to KU, like Alexander, Collins and Wright, not to mention all of the other productive players we’ve had like Jamari, Mario Little, among others. Kentucky, Duke and others have taken top talent as well from the state.
Just today, Illinois’ top 2015 recruit Jalen Brunson chose Villanova. I’m not surprised, but am saddened a bit by the demise of a once proud program that can’t recruit the top talent that comes from there.
When Illinois controls the Chicago recruiting ground, they are strong. When they don’t, they struggle. Chicago is just too important of a recruiting base for Illinois to not have those kids play for the Illini and have any hope of being good. There are really only a couple of programs that are absolutely dependent on recruiting a specific area in order to be good. Illinois has Chicago, USC has Los Angeles (because it’s tough for USC hoops to recruit nationally with UCLA across town), Washington has Seattle (because it’s tough to get non-west coast kids to come to UW, and its tough to get the California kids away from the California schools and Arizona schools) and Georgia Tech has Atlanta. When those schools recruit those cities well, they do well. When they don’t, they struggle.
And Illinois since Bill Self left has not been able to get Illinois kids.
Bill Self recruiting Illinois; thus the reasoning for adding Snacks to the coaching staff.
HCBS+Snacks=Alexander and more to come!
I took some time to think about your post. I wonder if there are some cultural diversity issues with perceptions of Chicago kids and UofI. I’m thinking those kids want to get further away from home. It really doesn’t make sense that they can’t land more in-state talent.
I certainly remember lots of talented teams built by Henson. The Illini developed a big reputation with talent but also there was disappointment. I always thought Lou was just too nice of guy to coach there and win it all, but he came dang close. Let’s face it, Lou’s heart belongs to the Aggies.
I believe good players will go where the better coaching is…or the money too tempting to pass. Why would players want to go to Waco, TX or Manhattan , KS, just to name a couple? Baylor has fine football coaching and probably money in basketball; it can’t possibly be because of Scott Drew. KSU has superior coaching in football so it attracts good player plus the staff is competent enough to spot potential where others don’t. Now that Frank Martin is gone, the basketball program will slowly descend into oblivion.
When Illinois had good coaching, it attracted good players. but once Weber took over it went down hill, John Groce is an average coach that got the job by virtue of one magical ride into the sweet sixteen, much like Turner Gill got the job at KU based on one decent season and the results were obviously not good.
Lou Henson had good success with Illinois recruiting. When he left the coach at University of Illinois Chicago wanted the job. (I forget his name) He was influential in the city and I think he was able to steer Chicago kids away from Illinois. Similarly an influential HS coach at King HS, Sonny Cox (a powerhouse in the 80’s and 90’s) didn’t like Ray Meyer’s son at Depaul who took over that program. Cox was so powerful that NO Chicago kids went to Depaul during Joey Meyers later years. That once proud program obviously has never recovered.
It really goes to show how tenuous a program like KU’s can be. If/when Self leaves, his replacement will most likely meet our high standards. But what if he doesn’t. What if he has a hidden character flaw like Mangino and suddenly we lose our lustre? Recruits begin to look at Lawrence as a place to go if nothing else works out? I don’t like to even imagine that it could happen, and maybe we’re just too darn good, prestigious, tradition laden for it to happen.
I just know an awful lot of Illinois fans who are tired of seeing top players leave the state every year.
@wissoxfan83 I have this dream that if/when Bill Self leaves Danny Manning and Joe Dooley team up, flip a coin to see who is head coach and who is assistant, and KU just keeps on rolling!
My hope is that by the time Coach Self decides to retire Brad Steven is tired of the prima-donas in the NBA and takes the KU job. I can’t think of any other coach that would come even close. At the risk of being pilloried, I will say that Gregg Marshall would also make a good coach but the existing animosity, mostly of his own doing, would prevent him from ever getting the KU job…although stranger things have happened.
Ahh, I didn’t think about Brad Stevens. He would be a good candidate.
I’ve had Joe Dooley on the brain lately. He brought something to the coaching staff here that I feel was missing last year. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. More to come later.
@JayHawkFanToo eeewwww Greg Marshall, just in the same breath w/Jayhawk makes me puke! I think we play Missouri before we would hire that guy!
There is no question that KU would have to go after a big name and coaching at Florida Gulf Coast is the start of a career and not necessarily a steppingstone to KU. Likewise, Manning has a long way to go and prove that he can lead a major program; a successful stint at Wake Forest would help. Coaches such as Mark Turgeon have a much larger resume than Manning and Dooley and even Turgeon would not be considered big time. Jerrod Hasse and Rex Walters are former KU players that have good experience and are slowly building a resume and some day might be candidates but not in the near future.
As I indicated, Marshall is not popular with KU fans, but it is also true that he can flat out coach.
@JayHawkFanToo “but it is also true that he can flat out coach.”
I’ve got to wait until he’s not in a Cupcake Conference to make that settle that statement in my mind. Just sayin…
The previous year WSU made it to the Final Four and came within a whisker of playing for the national title.
@JayHawkFanToo Point taken, but I hope we don’t need any of them in the near future.
I respect what Marshall has done at WSU. But I don’t think he would be a good pick for Kansas. Marshall feeds on the underdog drama, and that works great at WSU, where they can always claim that description. At Kansas, he would have a really hard time always being viewed as a favorite.
Players are drawn by different things.
For top players, the ability to play right away is important. However, once you get past the top 25 or 30 players in the class, the next most important thing is the talent of the team that they will play on, coaching, how much they like the school, campus and how close it is to home, family, girlfriend, etc. The exception is international players, who often come as a result of national or family influences (i.e. if a former countryman went to that school).
For example, you look at Baylor, almost all of their recruits come from Texas or Louisiana. Their first two big recruits under Drew (2005) were Henry Dugat and Kevin Rogers, both 4 star recruits. They were both Texas kids. The next year they signed two more American four stars - Demond Carter (Louisiana) and Josh Lommers (Texas). The next year they added another four star player from Louisiana (LaceDarrius Dunn). In 2008 the signed two more four stars - Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones, both Texans. In '09 it was Texans Nolan Dennis and Cory Jefferson to go with Mark McLaughlin from a prep school in New Hampshire. McLaughlin never played at Baylor. In 2010 they signed their first 5 star, Perry Jones, from Dallas. They also signed a four star (Gary Franklin) that actually stayed at Baylor from somewhere other than Louisiana or Texas (Franklin was from California). In 2011 they got high school teammates Deuce Bello and Quincy Miller, both from North Carolina. In 2012 it was five star Isaiah Austin (Texas) and four stars Rico Gaithers (Louisiana) and LJ Rose (Texas). In 2013 they landed Ish Wainwright from Missouri, Allerick Freeman from Nevada and Johnathan Motley from Texas.
So in 9 years of recruiting, Baylor landed 18 four star recruits. 17 actually attended Baylor. Of those 17, only 5 were not from either Texas or Louisiana and they didn’t sign any of those kids until 2010. They never signed a four star player from outside Texas or Louisiana prior to 2009. They have only landed 2 five star players and both those kids were from the Dallas area. Simply put, Baylor has built their program almost exclusively on kids from Texas and Louisiana. They are not a national recruiting force even now, but because Texas produces a lot of D1 talent, they are in on quite a few high ranked players. They are in on DJ Hogg (Plano) and have signed Kerwin Roach (Houston) for next year.
I doubt Baylor ever becomes a national destination, but for Texas kids, Baylor will always be a viable option, and because of the talent coming out of Texas, that means Baylor will always have access to lots of talent.
K-State has it a lot tougher because Kansas doesn’t produce tons of D1 talent, and KU draws a lot of that instate talent, anyway. But if you look at K-State’s roster, its heavy on juco kids and lower ranked players. Marcus Foster, for example, was a three star recruit. So was Thomas Gipson, and Angel Rodriguez, and Shane Southwell. For most 3 star guys, they aren’t going to pass on a chance to play at a major conference school.
Southwell picked K-State over Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, South Carolina and Xavier.
Foster chose the Cats over Cal, Creighton, Lehigh, Oklahoma and SMU. It’s not like these kids are choosing K-State over Arizona, UCLA, Duke and Kentucky. They are picking between a lot of middle ranked major conference teams or higher up low conference teams.
Do you believe any of the Baylor recruits actually selects Baylor because of Scott Drew? We have discussed the conference coaching situation before and I believe is pretty close to unanimous that Scott Drew is the twelfth best head coach in the conference…actually tenth. If you remember, Baylor played better when he was serving his two game suspension than when he was at the helm. There are many assistant coaches in the conference more talented than Scott Drew, which begs the question: why do players go to Baylor? Academics are very good but for elite players this would not be the primary concern…just saying.
As far as recruiting only from Texas and Louisiana, your view is misleading. Because of its shear size. Texas along with other large states such as California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Florida produce by far the majority of elite basketball players and it is only natural that they would recruit the top players locally. Add Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and you have probably 90% of the top players in the country. Like many other schools KU recruits Texas and Illinois heavily as well. You go where the players area and Baylor does not need to go far, since most of the prospects are in-state.
Baylor currently has 7 players from Texas, 1 from Louisiana and 6 from other states. In comparison Texas has 11 players from Texas. 1 from Louisiana and 5 from other states. Texas Tech has 6 players from Texas and 8 from other states. TCU, 10 players from Texas and 5 from other states. Texas A&M has 10 players from Texas 4 from other states and 4 foreign players. SMU 6 players from Texas and 8 from other states. As you can see, all the major schools in Texas rely heavily in local players, the way the major schools in California get California players, so Baylor is not different than other schools. Kansas produces a handful of division I players every year and yet KU has 4 Kansas players in the team, including 2 that will see substantial playing time (Ellis, Frankamp), but mostly relies on out of state players. Even Kentucky has 10 out of 16 players from the states I mentioned above.
I do agree that playing time is an important issue for top players, but it is a given that top 20 players (one and done) will get playing regardless (well…almost) of where they go. Lower ranked players (not one and done) will look for programs where they can get playing time while improving their skills (coaching) for a potential NBA career. Unranked players that attend elite programs go there knowing that they will play mostly in practice and a few mop-up minutes here and there, but then the NBA is not in their plans and a degree and the experience is a much bigger factor.
Just my 2 cents.
I don’t think most of Baylor’s players select Baylor because of Scott Drew as a basketball coach. I think they pick Baylor because it’s close to home, they like Drew and the coaching staff personally and they know that Baylor will at least be good enough to play on Big Monday and get to the NCAA tournament.
If you’re a 4 star recruit like Rico Gathers and you have scholarship offers from Baylor, Syracuse, St. Johns and LSU, what would you pick? You’re a Louisiana kid. You can stay close to home at either Baylor or LSU. Syracuse is good, but it’s a long ways from home, and depending on recruiting, you may not play much there. LSU and St. John’s you will almost certainly play, but your teams may not be very good. At Baylor you can stay relatively close to home (a day’s drive, basically), play on a good team, play a lot and get some good exposure. If you like the campus and the people, why wouldn’t you do that?
As I pointed out, almost every single one of Baylor’s high ranked players came from Texas or Louisiana. It’s not like they were beating out Duke and UNC for a top ranked player from Tobacco Road. They were landing mostly four stars, and most of those four stars were kids that (I’m just guessing) thought about the things I talk about above with Rico Gathers.
When KU recruits in Texas, they are recruiting guys like Myles Turner, not Rico Gathers. Guess what? Baylor wasn’t even involved in recruiting Turner. Duke, Arizona, Kentucky, KU - all on his list. No Baylor.
If there is a top player, regardless of where they are, if KU wants in, they get in. Not so with Baylor. They recruit top players in Texas and Louisiana, and offer scholarships to lower ranked players elsewhere. You ask why players go to Baylor. For most of these players, they aren’t being recruited by the power schools. I would ask why not?
I guess we agree to disagree. There have been threads in the past (maybe in the other forum) where we have discussed why most of the top ranked players (5 stars) have Baylor in their lists. I agree that most do not end up going to Baylor, but then most do not end up going to KU either.
Baylor has currently 6 players in the NBA including Hesslip that just signed with the Timber Wolves and fully 4 out the 6 do not come from Texas including Quincy Miller who is from High Point North Carolina. There is no question that Baylor has been very successful recruiting high ranked players, particularly in Texas, and while it has had good runs, it has never achieved elite status; coaching probably has something to do with it.
BTW, according to ESPN ranking #1Emmanuel Mudiay, #4 Tyrius Jones, #9 Karl Towns, all 5 star players, had Baylor in their lists.
Again, a good number of the top players in the country come from Texas, so Baylor does not have to go out of state to recruit viable top players and can and does recruit locally the top state players, and has gotten a fair number of them, unlike KU that has to go out of state to recruit top players. As far as I recall, players from Kansas that have played for top division I programs in recent memory (in the 2000s) include Simien, Gray (OU), Reed, Cauley-Stein (UK), Ojole (UNC), Ellis and Frankamp (I might have forgotten a few including Nino Williams whom I don’t consider a top players) and of those KU got 4 of them. Compared this number to the number of players from Texas, or California, or Florida and so on that have played for top programs programs and it is not even close.
Again, we agree on some thing on others we just agree to disagree.
@JayHawkFanToo I would think we would be all over Greg Marshall if our women’s team ever needed a head coach. We would have to insist he carry a towel with him at all times to wipe off the excessive sweat that pours out of every pore of his pudgy body. We would have to limit his appearances with the press so he won’t look as ignorant as he did last year, but if the Jawhawk gals need a coach, I suppose we could do worse.
@KUSTEVE I’m not sure - has he made any references to Chicken Hawkettes?
@nuleafjhawk it’s all the same thing!
@Crimsonorblue22 Ha! Ha!
Weber can’t find the camera???
Marshall likes the camera, maybe a little too much???
Self looks pretty confident that he could take both of them UFC style, at the same time!!!
@Crimsonorblue22 LOL - I might frame this and hang it in my living room !
I guess we see it differently, or just disagree. Of the Baylor guys in the NBA, Heslip was a three star player. Three star players go to school’s like Baylor all the time, regardless of where they are from. But among the four and five star players (the ones that have lots of college options), Baylor has almost all of its success in either Texas or Louisiana. They were on Towns’ list, but never offered him. They did offer Jones (from Minnesota) and Mudiay (from Dallas). They have never successfully recruited a five star player from anywhere other than Texas. Ever.
Yes, Baylor has lots of players in their backyard, which is why it is easier to build a strong program at a place like Baylor than it would be at a place like Idaho or South Dakota State, because you have the ability to convince some pretty good players to come play close to home, which is a recruiting advantage.
That’s my whole point on this Baylor thing - their primary recruiting success is tied directly to location. If Baylor were located in Wyoming instead of Texas, they could not lure the talent that they do because they couldn’t convince a kid like Perry Jones to leave Dallas and come to some random town in Wyoming. You can get a kid from Dallas to come 95 miles south to Waco. Baylor has not shown that they can consistently land top talent from anywhere other than Texas or Louisiana. They are a regional recruiter when it comes to top talent, with a chance to go national only for lesser (non top 50) players. Heck, even TCU can land a kid ranked in the 60s from their area, and they are terrible. I bet if that same player was from somewhere else, they wouldn’t even have considered TCU.
KU is different because KU is a national recruiting school. Just in the last 10 years KU has recruited guys that went on to be drafted in the NBA from the following places - Anchorage, Chicago, Kansas City, Russia, Dallas, Oklahoma City (x2), Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Jersey City, San Diego, St. Louis, Toronto, and Cameroon. They currently have NBA prospects on the roster from Boston, Ukraine, Houston, and Chicago. KU can recruit a kid from Miami County, Kansas just as easily as a kid from Miami, Florida, and they have as good a chance of landing either kid.
At KU, we see both sides of this, because in football, we can’t land top notch talent outside of the region. We go to Texas or Florida and land three star recruits. We get a three star guy from California or Arizona. A three star from Ohio or Illinois. When we get four or five star players, they are primarily from Kansas or Missouri because in football, KU is a regional recruiter.
Kansas and Texas are comparing apples to oranges.
Kansas population: 2.8 million Texas population: 26.4 million That is about 10 to 1.
So multiply the Kansas great players through history by 10 and see if it closely matches the great players coming out of the State of Texas. I’m guessing it would be close and we may even have an advantage!
Meteorologists and other scientists pretty much all agree that Kansas will one day become the center of a big desert. Demographically, it has already achieved desert status. From a sports media perspective, we exist in a cave buried in a desert!
Marvel at what Kansas has done even though it exists in a desert… yes… we are the High Plains Drifters. When I think about Kansas, this film is always right there!
I believe you are missing my entire point…and yet you make my point, Baylor recruits in Texas **BECAUSE **it is in Texas; if it would be in North Dakota, then it would have to recruit globally like KU does, but it is not
Why does Baylor need to go recruit 5-star players out-of-state when there are plenty near home? That is the equivalent of going to the grocery store to buy tomatoes when you are growing beautiful ones in your own garden in the backyard. Yes, occasionally you want a different variety but the bulk comes from your own garden. Coaches are always commenting that recruiting out-of-state is very expensive, exhausting, and more importantly, very time consuming and it takes coaching staff away from doing actual work, and you don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. I showed you numbers for all the other major programs in Texas and all of them operate much like Baylor; they are not the exception, they are the rule. All Texas programs rely on Texas recruits.
KU “HAS” has to recruit globally, it has no choice since the state does not produce enough players to even supply minor division I teams. The highest rated player in the state is currently ranked 3-stars and would not get an offer from KU (he might be asked to try as a walk-on), maybe Emporia, Washburn, Pitt State or even WSU (after all, they did strike gold with un-ranked Ron Baker) would offer, but definitely not KU.
I believe this topic has been beaten like rented Missouri mule and must mercifully come to an end…hopefully we can agree on this?
Reading this reply, I think we are actually making two different versions of the same point.
You are saying that Baylor recruits their home state because it is a fertile recruiting ground. I say that they are not a strong recruiting school, but have success because they happen to reside where there are lots of good recruits.
I think both points are valid and have been made. I enjoyed the back and forth banter.
Talking about Kansas is difficult, because very few persons understand and appreciate a steppe ecology, at least that is what I have come to call the Kansas prairie. The Native Americans understood it deeply and reputedly called it the ocean of grass that stretched from North Texas to Manitoba. The Native Americans of the ocean of grass appear to have viewed their world much as island peoples in ocean environments have viewed theirs. And when native Americans acquired horses, they began to view it much like island peoples acquiring better ship building and navigation skills; that is, they viewed their lives much as sea farers have through out history. They followed the buffalo herds first on foot probably for relatively short distances for thousands of years, then on horseback, when the Spanish brought horses (note: I have always secretly wondered if far back in pre history that Native Americans perhaps rode primitive variants of horses that became extinct for some reasons).
To grasp life on the ocean of grass–to break through our blinders of over-familiarity of its ploughed up, fenced, fracked, pipeline webbed, cattle ranched, irrigated, wheat and corn farmed look of today–it helps to think a bit more purposefully about seafarers. Sea farers have long set sail in search of fish to catch and eat and trade and sell. They often sailed great distances to follow the cod to catch and salt, or whales to slaughter and cook for oils, or what have you. Sailors have always been amphibians; that is, they have always lived on both the sea and the land. And they have always rightly said that land lubbers, those that did not go to sea, could not understand the majesty and scale of the sea; how one was changed by navigating the sea for a length of time out of site and out of reach of land. How its mysteries of the deep welling up, like ones own dreams welling up at night amidst ones waking days, connected oneself to something deeper, something more alive and transcendently savage and beautiful, than had one stayed at home on the land solely. But always the sailors have to come back to port and in time they always grow too old to go to sea, if the sea does not take them young in its fits of fury between its hypnotic periods of serenity.
The ocean of grass, the prairie and its legacy that lies behind the ploughed, farmed, ranched expanses we see now on occasional long drives through it, what geographers I believe also classify as steppe, also found in central Asia on even vaster scale, i.e., the ocean of grass that spans the heart of North America, is quite similar in its extremes and effects on persons to the sea itself on seafarers, if they ever actually live in the prairie and move around on it, rather than just keep their shoulders to the suburban wheel and work and shop in it. It is something that is mesmerizing in its magnitude and forces one to scope it down to something manageable and come into port frequently in what are called villages, towns and cities, but which are really just islands in the ocean of grass, or ports at its shore.
To be born on the prairie, either in a port city at its edge, like I was in Kansas City, or to grow up in one of its tiny island villages like McPherson, or Onaga, or Goodland–little refueling stations on the way to the western shore that is the port town of Denver, say, as well as places where the awesome harvests of the ocean of grass are collected and moved by diesel semi-trailer trucks, bearing company names and city names always half a continent or more away, and by graffiti covered railroad trains pulled by diesel electrics–the original hybrids–to the great, lonely elevators for shipment down diked, brown rivers that were once wildly circuitous coiling serpents reduce with poetic license to blue meridians and Moon Rivers flowing to the Gulf of Mexico for trans-shipment on oceans of salt water to mouths hungry for wheat bread and corn masa around the world, is to be irreversibly different from peoples from the mountains and deserts and wooded and jungled regions and especially those from big cities by oceans of water. It is to know on a deep level the vastness of nature is not limited to the rigid inanimateness of rock, or the shifting inanimateness of sand, or the eternally fluctuating inanimateness of water. The prairie, you see, is alive. It is animate. It is not the medium that life is in, as is the case of the ocean. Rather, it is the medium of life itself. It grows and dies before your eyes, if you stay awhile. It repeats. Vegetation myths still mean something if you know the prairie. When the amber waves of grain wave, it is life itself that is waving at you. When the corn leaves flutter dark green and avocado glints in hot, humid June wind it is life that undulates with infinite complexity on the rods and cones of the retinas of ones squinting eyes.
The same view of the awesomeness of life may be seen in the depths of deciduous forests clinging to the steep, dark river valleys of the Alleghenies, or under the green house of a stifling subtropical jungle in Louisiana, or Florida, but these are cramped, claustrophobic experiences of life’s fecund spectacle of rank indifference to one human being’s existence. One cannot see the forest for the trees in, say, eastern Pennsylvannia. One can barely see the stars inside or outside the tiny towns crowded onto green rivers winding like water moccasins through the mountains worn down by life strangling them for eons. And once in a swamp jungle one’s experience is even more constrained and localized.
But the prairie is the opposite experience. On the prairie, one can never not see the horizon; never not see that life stretches all the way to and fro, all the way to and far, far beyond what one can see. To stand on the prairie is to know, really know, the vastness of life on this strange, tiny green planet adrift in a universe of voids and rocks, and life killing radiation unfiltered by our tent of atmosphere; a universe where even the probability of other life remains an unverified mystery given hope only by stochastic abstractions.
To really “see” life, to really experience its verdant scale, to really know its beauty, complexity and consuming indifference, one has to live on the prairie for a time, one has to walk it, one has to walk into its thinly distribute groves of trees along small rivers and come out onto its vast horizons, one has look up close at its dense weave of grasses and weeds and hear its cicada and catch its grass hoppers and feel its flies and bees whir by one’s ear, while at the same time never losing site of its horizons. It is this bothness of the prairie that defines it–its ever present, ever visible, simultaneous combination of the micro and the macro of life, if one will every once in awhile take off the blinders of work and recreation and media, or school if you are young as I once was living there, and stand alone in a pasture, or a rest area by an interstate, or a truck stop, or simply venture down a gravel section road off the beaten path and stop at a “high” spot and turn off the car and stand in the tall grass of the ditch by the road and just look and listen. You will see far and near. But unlike the mountains, or the oceans, where you can also see far and near, you will be looking far and near at life undulating sensuously in the wind and stretching to the horizon, not standing stoically like pines on mountains of stiff rock, not salt water smashing and cresting against rock encrusted with barnacles and anenomes and star fish and rock fish that you cannot see unless you run up so close you lose sight of the horizon, as you bend over and marvel at the reef life in the breakers at your feet.
On the prairie, you get both all the time, whether you want it or not. And even if you go “down in the bottoms,” where the rich soil is, you know that you are always within running distance, or a short drive if you are old like me, to the prairie above and the bothness you were born with and are accustomed to. You know you are never far from wonder of life both near and far–from the simultaneity of it all.
Ironically, I did not fully appreciate the American prairie until I left it and even then it took reading a strange, tragic book, of all things, to bring into articulate focus, what I had been born knowing on some sublingual level. I stumbled into a book, a World War II memoir, the title of which I now forget, written by a German soldier, and published posthumously by his family, in some small press. It recounted his harrowingly bad experiences on the eastern front in the mercifully failed Nazi invasion of Russia. If you have been to Germany it is country of diverse topography, but what sticks with one, at least what stuck with me, was that it was often a hilly country of forests. It is something like Pennsylvania, I suppose, or vice versa. The Romans did not invade much of it, because of its claustrophobic forests that vast, disciplined Roman legions quickly would lose tactical advantage inside. In any case, the man who wrote the memoir grew up in a small city of Germany. He was educated. He was destined to become a doctor. But he was conscripted into the Army and before he knew it he was a highly educated young private taking orders from ideological fanatics and often morons. (Note: I am told by many that have served that it is a rare army, like it is a rare corporation, and a rare government that is not this way much of the time, but I digress.) At the key moment that Hitler’s invasion might have succeeded the Germans stopped, likely necessarily, to solidify their supply lines and prepare for the dreaded Russian winter. It was then that things began to go dreadfully wrong for the author of this war memoir. It was then that the orders began to come down through channels that were being given based on assumptions about logistical and weather conditions and Russian troop concentrations that were not based on reality, but on speculation, because lines of communications had badly deteriorated. It was then, after a horrific winter of suffering that his division of soldiers were ordered to march south to the Caspian, rather than continue east, as if marching to the Caspian were like marching from Bavaria to Alsace. What they were marching into was a vast steppe, a vast prairie, of a scale as big, or bigger, than from Manitoba to North Texas. The word was they were to march south and meet up with German armies moving from the Balkans to Ukraine. And the march went on all spring and all summer and all fall and, though I can’t recall, maybe they camped and marched another spring and fall. They marched until all of their machinery had to be left behind in spring mud for there were no roads, just wagon ruts, and thousands of miles of grass, oceans of grass, and not cities, just villages and farm steads hundreds of miles apart. And they grew lost as they marched and died of exposure and starvation. And it was not until the last ideologically fanatical officer and last stupid sergeant had died of starvation, disease, thirst, or exposure, that this articulate would be doctor was finally free to lead a small rag tag band of German privates on a quest to survive rather than on a mad, quixotic quest to conquer the Caspian Basin for the fatherland’s oil and gas needs, and for access eventually to the Persian Gulf and the other mad, fanatical bastards from neo Shogunate Japan with their great Navy trying to stretch through the southwest Pacific to the Persian Gulf in hopes of joining forces with the Germans and the Italians, to take over the worlds oil and gas supplies and the eastern hemisphere’s global shipping lanes. In the vastness of the central Eurasian steppe, caught up in the intoxicating vision of Nazis back in Berlin and Bavaria backed by private oligarchs like Krupps in control of regional, would be global producer oligopolies and illegitimately in control of their own states, seeking control of global trade routes and global energy supplies, was this poor, pitiful, well educated, well mannered private and a dozen or so hapless German soldiers by then emaciated and in rags lost in the middle of an ocean of grass a half a world a way from the steppe I grew up on the edge of. And what did this doctor’s memoir of his war experiences recall as changing him profoundly? Was it hunger? Combat? The madness of war? Fanaticism run amok? Corporate military fascism exposed for the human dead end that it always is, regardless of where it rears its ugly head. It was his daily experience of the fantastic dimensions of the central Asian steppe that he marched through, and then hiked through, then staggered through, and then finally for a time crawled through, before finally finding their way into being taken prisoners and saved. He said it was the most remarkable, most awesome, most transforming expanse of geography he had ever witnessed, despite all of the horrors that befell him there.
When persons learn where I am from and ask me what the prairie is like I do not tell them about this book, because I cannot recall its title, or author’s name, and I do not want to introduce perfect strangers to the horrors of war, or make them suspect that I harbor any sympathies for the Germans regarding World War II.
What I do tell them to do is read a book I love deeply and frankly cherish my copy of. It is called “Prairie Erth” by William Least Heat Moon, who most unfortunately lives in Missouri and teaches at that dreadful state’s leading university. When I am far from the prairie, as I mostly am, and when I am struggling with meaning and purpose, and when basketball will not pull me through such funks, I often reach for that book and simply crack it open and re-read any random section of it and I am reconnected with that steadying experience of bothness that I was born with that has stood me so well in so many circumstances. And on the very rare occasions when even that does not suave my soul, then I get out the suit case, and catch a flight back to Kansas and hope there is still someone alive their I can go visit and, when their busy schedules require them to get back to their routines, then I go for a drive down to the old home place, where my great grand father raised a family in eastern Kansas at subsistence level after having tried and failed in the prairie of central Kansas. And if that does not work, then I drive as far out into Kansas as I can get and I drive to a gravel section road off the beaten path and I come to a stop at what an easterner, or a westerner, would barely notice as a high spot in the road, and I park the car and step out in the tall grass and look in every direction as I did as a child.
It works for me.
@jaybate-1.0 I was about to accuse you of plagiarizing William LH Moon until I got to the last paragraph. I too enjoyed the part of that book I read several decades ago, mainly because in my three years at Kansas I really fell in love with the Flint Hills. Amazing land out there which I hope to see again.
I heard a singer this summer up atop Rib Mt who sang a song with the line “When I look into my Grandmas eyes I see the beautiful Kansas skies” I almost lost it right there! Don’t know what this has to do with the original topic of this blog, but it takes on a life of its’ own sometimes.
ALWAYS TRUST YOUR JAYBATE 1.0’S ORIGINALITY AND JOY IN CITING SOURCES.
@wissoxfan83 @jaybate-1.0 Another perspective of Kansas was made by Alaska Airlines in a commercial that ran in the 70’s while I was stationed at Eielson AFB near Fairbanks. The commercial ran about a minute with no sound and just aerial views of the Alaskan landscape. At the end of the commercial a voice said, “Alaska, everything else looks like Kansas.” (beer)
Alaska. Everyone should visit at least once. Just the drive from Anchorage to Seward is a special experience. Much of the 120 mile drive is nothing but beautiful wilderness. Other than your vehicle and the road you are driving on there isn’t a hint of man or civilization anywhere around you. I drove an hour without seeing another car.
And as a tie in back to recruiting. I flew my father in from KC to join us. Mario Chalmers was on the plane with him having just finished a KU visit. We were very tempted to speak to him, but I was afraid it might violate some NCAA rule.
Totally enjoyed your read on Kansas.
I love the waves of wheat and high grass plains. I love watching some of my Native American friends perform as “grass dancers” at powwows.
I love the artwork from a generation ago (maybe a couple of generations) from the Prairie Print Makers.
I love the artwork of current Kansans that appreciate Kansas… like my good friend, Lyle Allen White, and his modern day interpretation of the plains and the people that live in this “ocean” through his book “Pioneer Spirit.”
I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else. I’ve traveled the world, and seen plenty of awesome places, people and culture. They are great, too, and I’m sure they are happy where they are from.
I’m happy being from Kansas!
I largely keep my happiness a secret because I’ve witnessed (first hand) how some other States to the west of us suffered from becoming “hot spots” by crowds of people looking for a new place to live because they were unhappy where they were. Consequently, these same people go with the herd and become unhappy in their new land and eventually leave, but not until they have largely destroyed key elements of that place.
So it is all of our duty to defend our State. Talk it down to everyone who doesn’t live here. We’ll be just fine and we will still get a healthy growth of incoming people who truly want to contribute to our State.
Let the crowds chase their own tails in other States. We’ll settle for a State that has steady, realistic real estate prices and cost of living, steady government and steady people!
I hope I didn’t offend anyone… that is not my intent. But I’d rather live in a quiet place and read all the loudness of other places in the newspaper.
@drgnslayr Slayr I’m with you. I enjoy my adopted state of Louisiana, it’s food, history and it’s got some real down home, down to earth people. However, I do miss Kansas. Although, as I’m getting older, shoveling snow is not something I miss. (beer)
Ha… I hear you! Snow is a bummer… but without a hard freeze the bugs go crazy the next summer! And the freeze helps sterilize the soil from unwanted bacteria. That’s why you don’t want to eat lettuce on your trip to Mexico, or you’ll experience most of your trip in a toilet! (been there, done that)
We live on a block that goes 3 blocks long and I probably know 90% of the people on these 3 blocks by name. The other 10% are new and I’m sure I’ll get to know them, too.
This morning there were two dogs running loose that were obviously someone’s critters so I chased them down with another neighbor and we located the owner.
The only way I can go to the grocery store and get in and out is to go late at night… otherwise, I’m bound to see several people I know and will chat it up while my ice cream melts and my pregnant wife is screaming for her ice cream!
That’s just the way it is here. I’m not some super social person… people are just downright friendly!
That’s the way I want to live my life.
I wish you would take a crack at a memoir in two parts. Part One would be your Odyssey from America to Europe. Part 2 would be your journey through Europe as player, soldier, and sports business man. Part Three would focus on your return to a life back in Kansas. This is a mythic and an underreported experience. I am not sure whether it would have much of a market or not, but it seems an important, revealing and under documented path of experience. I particularly like the angle of your devotion to gardening, small agriculture and healthy eating as a means of coping with the adverse side effects of your time as an athlete, plus the spiritual side of it as well. What appeals to me specifically is that it would be a non-fiction story of a modern Odysseus–the athlete, instead of the warrior–that went abroad. And if I recall correctly, you served in the military also. It would be a particularly interesting thread to include if you coincidentally happened to do any time as a military intelligence person inserted into European basketball either as a player, or a business person, to be a listener in the very complicated world of European professional sports ownership and European Big Gaming, which is reputedly used for laundering black monies and drug monies and terrorist monies and so on. But even without that flashy angle, I still like the human life phases that your story would demonstrate in a fresh way.
I know other Kansans that have moved back and have been very grateful that they did, but I don’t know any that have ever had the interesting combination of sports business and a return home to the kind of life you have apparently chosen to lead in Kansas. I tried to return a time or two, but the stars did not align to enable it. But I think your story would appeal to me even if I were not from Kansas.
A big market publisher might want Part I and 2, but not Part 3. I’m not sure. A small market publisher might want both. Surely there ought to be a small Kansas publishing house that would want to document your unique experience and its connection to the state. But I suspect the right editor might see a broader market for it.
You might try pitching the book idea to some publishing houses there in Kansas and see if you get a nibble.
Suggested Title: “Odysseus in Shorts: The Long Journey of an American Basketball Player to Europe and Back.”
Thanks for the flattering comments.
I didn’t serve in the armed forces, but I did have a period of working on DOD installations. My dad and uncles were all the brave souls who went to battle.
I have to tell you… in the 20 years I spent there I always came back for my Kansas summers. I just couldn’t live without it. And when I had a girlfriend, she would come with me. Also, several of my buddies visited me in Kansas, too. Every woman that came here cried hysterically when they left because they had never been somewhere where people were so friendly.
I do think people are attracted to their own familiarity. I just feel fortunate that I have embraced where I’m from and I feel a bit sorry for people who don’t embrace where they are from because no matter what, it is part of your identity!
One of the main nicknames I picked up abroad was “Kansas.” I kind of liked it!
"Odysseus in Shorts:
Or “Là-bas and Back Again”…
At 35 I left Kansas for an better career opportunity in my field. I was also motivated by the weather. A trip to Australia in January (summer down under) was enough to convince me to move to the sun belt. Oil & Gas work put me in California & Texas where I’ve been able to keep working. But I’ve always been back every summer to see family and friends. Kansas is a great place, and the people are wonderful.
I’m getting feeble and uncool. I did not recognize the reference “La-Bas”, so googled it and there were many possible references. Did you have one in particular in mind for our dear @drgnslayr ?
Sorry about recalling incorrectly about the military. Still think your story is worth telling.
And what the hell! I’ve accidentally given myself a good idea for a story: a American basketball player that falls into being an informant in, say, Berlusconi’s Italy, then gets wrapped up in fixing of Italian basketball games, and then has to run for his life with a beautiful woman, of course, to Locarno, and then perhaps cross over the border. Sort of Robert Ludlum in a jock strap! A Farewell to Arms in tennies. I like it.
@jaybate-1.0 Only the strange mind embedded in the jaybate cranium cavity could come up with a plot and title of Farewell to Arms in Tennies. (beer)
Uhm, I’ll take that as a compliment.
@jaybate-1.0 It’s just “There and Back Again” (of Hobbit fame) with “There” translated into French. Didn’t mean to be obscure.
Hobbits were the ultimate X-axis players in Middle Earth!
@jaybate-1.0 Since @wissoxfan83’s original thread has been totally hijacked, did you ever get the chance to read or watch Lone Survivor?