Yo, all you fans out there in KU land. This is radio Y-LAR comin' at you from Lawrence, Kansas, with our annual "Where Is He Going?" contest. Will it be to the new Charlotte Hornets in the NBA? Back to UCLA? To the Dole campaign? Guess coach Larry Brown's true destination and you win a free hayride up the interstate to the one place the Jayhawks coach probably won't go—the Final Four in Kansas City.
Even though Larry Brown's own daughter Kristy (a junior at North Carolina who was in Lawrence visiting her dad) was one of the fans holding up a banner at the Kansas-Duke game on Saturday that read WHY SHOULD THE WIZARD LEAVE OZ? LARRY IS STAYING, nobody believes it. Everybody, from informed NBA sources to the woman who cleans his office and bawls him out about the rumors, thinks his departure is a done deal. Even Dorothy left Kansas once.
No tears, no blood, no recriminations this time. Hey, the man has done his five years, coached the Jayhawks to 125 victories, put the school into the Final Four and back onto the basketball map. "This isn't about loyalty—it's about money and opportunity and a guy's future," says Jayhawks star Danny Manning. "But Coach can't say he's staying, either, because then if he does go, he'd be considered a liar or a traitor."
What Brown is above all—as he has proved anew this season—is a terrific teacher, motivator and charismatic leader. It isn't so much Manning as Brown who has carried the 17-9 Jayhawks through this season, patching and persevering after his team was wiped out as if hit by a Kansas tornado.
Consider the calendar of catastrophe. October: J.C. transfer forward Joe Young is ruled academically ineligible. November: Forward Chris Piper has knee surgery. December: Senior forward Archie Marshall, an NBA prospect, suffers a knee injury that may end his basketball career. Brown weeps shamelessly on the Kansas bench. January: Center Marvin Branch is declared academically ineligible.
The season hit bottom on Jan. 30 when rival Kansas State ended Kansas's 55-game home winning streak. But the Jayhawks got a measure of revenge last Thursday night when they upset—yes, upset—K-State 64-63 in Manhattan. It was the depleted Jayhawks' fifth straight victory in Brown's masterpiece coaching season. And on Saturday he almost had a sixth at home until Duke came from five points behind in overtime to win 74-70.
But the future is in limbo. In the early-signing period Brown lost out on all his recruits. "They were convinced I'd leave," Brown says. Says Piper, "People don't ask me anymore if Coach Brown is leaving. They just want to know where." Charlotte? Carl Scheer, the executive who with Brown put together successful ABA teams at Carolina and Denver, is in place as G.M. of the Hornets. Says Brown, "I don't know how I'd take losing. But Carl has told me I'm their first choice."
UCLA? The word out of Los Angeles is that Bruin alumni are ready to buy up the beleaguered Walt Hazzard's contract if they could get Brown to return. Other rumors have had him reemerging with the Houston Rockets, at Arizona State or even with his old Carolina roommate, Donnie Walsh—now the G.M. of the Indiana Pacers—who'd love to have him if Jack Ramsay retired. And there's always Brown's alma mater in Chapel Hill. The most untamed gossip of all has Dean Smith retiring as North Carolina's coach to become president of the Charlotte pro team while Brown takes over the Tar Heels.
"It's all very silly and hardly fair," says Brown. "Kansas has been wonderful to me. I don't anticipate leaving. Then again, nobody has the right to be definite about anything. But when Danny leaves and I'm starting my sixth year here, there won't be all this speculation."
C'mon, Larry. Sure there will. And c'mon, Kristy. Enter the contest. Where's Dad going? "Your guess is as good as mine," says Kristy.