Published April 1st, 2022 at 6:00 AM5 minute read
Oak Park’s Agbaji up next
The Kansas Jayhawks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2018 and match up against the Villanova Wildcats in Saturday night’s national semifinal game, tipping off at 5:09 p.m. in New Orleans.
The No. 1 seeded Jayhawks are led by senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who joins a long list of Kansas City-area natives to play or coach in the Final Four with KU.
Before Agbaji, an Oak Park High School grad, takes college basketball’s biggest stage, let’s look back on a few of the local Jayhawks who paved the way.
A Kansas kid through and through, Rockhurst High School alum Conner Teahan represented Leawood and Kansas City in two Final Fours as a Jayhawk.
By no means a name circled in opposing locker rooms, Teahan became a fan favorite by his senior season and posed a legitimate threat from the three-point line.
Teahan’s younger brother Chris is a member of the 2022 Jayhawks.
A graduate of Rosedale High School, Richard “Dick” Harp both played under and coached alongside Forrest “Phog” Allen at KU.
As a player, Harp earned three-year letterman honors at Kansas and was a starting guard on the 1940 squad that fell to the University of Indiana in the championship game.
Harp was named head coach of the Jayhawks ahead of the 1956-57 season and swiftly led his alma mater to the Final Four following a 24-3 record as a first-year head coach.
Harp is the only Jayhawk to appear as both Kansas player and head coach in the Final Four.
One of the ultimate “glue guys” to wear crimson and blue under coach Bill Self, Bishop Miege High School alum Travis Releford reached the Final Four in his junior season at Kansas.
While Releford didn’t light up the stat sheet, he consistently took care of the basketball and was sure to find shooters and create angles for talented Jayhawk big men. Per 40 minutes, the former Bishop Miege Stag averaged 11 points, 5.4 rebounds and two assists in the Jayhawks’ second Final Four campaign under Self.
Releford dropped 15 points and came up with a clutch bucket in crunch time to beat Ohio State in the 2012 Final Four.
KU lost to Kentucky in the National Championship and future-NBA superstar Anthony Davis.
Kansas City’s own and Shawnee Mission Rural High School (now Shawnee Mission North) grad Gene Elstun was “one of the others” alongside Wilt Chamberlain on the Kansas squad that beat San Francisco in the 1957 Final Four to advance to the title game against North Carolina.
With loads of attention on Wilt “The Stilt,” Elstun and fellow Kansas City-native Maurice King dropped 16 and 13 points, respectively, as Chamberlain’s supporting cast members in the national semifinal.
A teammate of Kansas legend Danny Manning at both Lawrence High School and KU, Chris Piper notched a state championship as a Chesty Lion and a national championship at the college ranks.
Piper didn’t see much of the floor in the Jayhawks’ 1986 Final Four loss against Duke. In the 1988 rematch against Duke in the semifinal, Piper scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Two nights later, Piper swiped three steals and the Jayhawks won it all.
Kansas City, Kansas, native and one of the best to come out of Wyandotte High School’s storied basketball program, Calvin Thompson saved his best season at Kansas for last.
As a senior, Thompson joined three of his teammates averaging double figures, scoring 13.4 points per game. He was Kansas’ second-leading scorer in the nailbiter Final Four loss to Duke.
National Player of the Year finalist, Big 12 Player of the Year and the recipient of a handful of other individual awards, Oak Park High School’s own Ochai Agbaji will be the latest local legend to take the court at the Final Four.
In what is expected to be his final season at Kansas, Agbaji averaged 18.9 points per game in the 2021-22 campaign, scoring the ball both behind the arc and above the rim.
Agbaji has been relatively quiet in the tournament through four games. Look for Kansas City’s own to try to get going early Saturday night against Villanova.
Chasing its first NCAA title in 20 years, the 2007-08 Jayhawks rolled out a balanced attack full of NBA talent.
Choosing one “stud” off Bill Self’s best roster to date is difficult, but the nod has to go to junior guard and former Westport High School baller Brandon Rush. Rush, a member of the decorated Kansas City basketball family, followed in his brothers’ footsteps and played college ball at a high level.
In his final season on campus, Rush averaged 13 points per game for a third straight season and poured in 25 against former KU coach Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tarheels in the Final Four. Two nights later, Rush and the Jayhawks downed Memphis 75-68 in overtime. A national champion, Rush was picked No. 13 overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the 2008 NBA draft.
Yet another area Jayhawk to go to multiple Final Fours while at Kansas, Wayne Simien Jr. reached the promised land as a sophomore and junior, providing plenty of scoring under former KU head coach Roy Williams.
A native of Leavenworth, Kansas, Simien won “Mr. Basketball” in the state in 2001, before being named a McDonald’s All-American and stepping foot on campus. Before wrapping up his storied career in Lawrence as a consensus first-team All-American in 2005, Simien helped the Jayhawks reach the Final Four in 2002, where KU lost to the Maryland Terrapins 97-88.
A year later, the Jayhawks made it back to the Final Four, though a shoulder injury ended Simien’s junior season in late February. The Kansas kid watched from the bench as the Jayhawks crushed Marquette and future NBA Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade’s championship dreams with a 94-61 rout of the Golden Eagles.
The Jayhawks then fell short against Carmelo Anthony and the Syracuse Orange in the title game.
Extending the “Kansas City area” less than an hour’s drive west to Lawrence is a must to include all-time Kansas great and Lawrence High School grad Danny Manning. After all, the “Danny and the Miracles” 1988 National Champion squad won it all here in Kansas City at Kemper Arena.
Manning led the Jayhawks to a second Final Four during his Kansas tenure behind 24.8 points per game, shooting just under 60%, while averaging nine rebounds as a senior in Lawrence.
Manning scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted six shots in a massive effort to down Duke in the 1988 semifinal. Two days later, the Jayhawks beat the favored Oklahoma Sooners to win the National Championship.
Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1988 NBA Draft.
PG Ochai Agbaji
G Wayne Simien
G Brandon Rush
F Danny Manning
F Calvin Thompson
HC Dick Harp
Flatland contributor Clarence Dennis also is a social media manager for 90.9 The Bridge.