The Top 10 All-Time University of Kansas Athletes

The Top 10 All-Time University of Kansas Athletes
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

Many talented athletes have donned the crimson and blue since the University of Kansas’s founding in 1865.

While the men’s basketball program generates the most attention, the university claims over 160 conference championships and 12 NCAA team titles across all sports.  

With Kansas in the spotlight following their latest basketball title in April (think of the handle had Kansas sports betting been legal for that title game), figured it was time to rank the 10 best athletes ever to suit up in Lawrence. utilized a weighted system to award athletes’ points for each significant collegiate and professional achievement in their sport. The system attempts to equalize accomplishments such as an Olympic Gold medal and an NBA Championship, in order to compare between individual and team sports as fairly as possible.  

Active athletes were not considered, as they still have legacies left to build (sorry Joel Embiid).  

So, who made the cut?

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Our Top 10

Weighted Rank Athlete Sport Years at KU
1 Wilt Chamberlain Men's Basketball 1955-1958
2 Gale Sayers Football 1962-1964
3 Paul Pierce Men's Basketball 1996-1998
4 John Riggins Football 1968-1970
5 Al Oerter Track & Field (Discus) 1954-1958
6 Clyde Lovellette Men's Basketball 1949-1952
7 Jo Jo White Men's Basketball 1965-1969
8 Mike McCormack Football 1948-1950
9 Lynette Woodard Women's Basketball 1977-1981
10 Danny Manning Men's Basketball 1984-1988

Honorable Mentions: Billy Mills (Cross Country), Jim Ryun (Track and Field — Middle Distance Running), Pete Mehringer (Wrestling), Aqib Talib (Football), Bill Bridges (Men’s Basketball)

Basketball Heavy (Naturally)

Unsurprisingly, the list is littered with basketball legends. Wilt Chamberlain (No. 1) ranks as one of the greatest players of all time and holds dozens of NBA records, many of which look almost impossible to break.  

He was a two-time All-American at Kansas and took home the Most Outstanding Player award at the 1957 NCAA Tournament, despite the Jayhawks triple OT loss to UNC in the title game. In the NBA, he led the league in scoring seven times and in rebounding 11 times, while earning all-NBA honors 10 times and winning four MVPs, in addition to two championships. (With Kansas mobile betting apps now up and running, you'd be hard pressed to find a heavier NBA MVP favorite than Chamberlain in his prime).  

Paul Pierce (No. 3) left Kansas after an All-American junior year and went on to star for 19 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Boston Celtics. He made 10 all-star appearances and four All-NBA teams and also won MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals.  

Clyde Lovellette (No. 6) won the NCAA scoring title his senior season while leading Kansas to the 1952 national title where he was named tournament MOP. The four-time NBA all-star also added an Olympic Gold medal and three NBA championships, becoming the first of eight players ever to win an NCAA Tournament, NBA Finals and Olympics Gold.  

Strangely, KU never went farther than the Elite Eight when Jo Jo White (No. 7) was on campus, but he earned All-American honors twice in Lawrence. Like Pierce, the seven-time all-star primarily starred for the Celtics in the NBA, winning two titles with the team and the 1976 Finals MVP award.  

While Danny Manning (No. 10) did not have the pro success of the other men’s basketball players on this list, he is perhaps the most decorated collegiate player to ever play for Kansas. The 1988 National Player of the Year famously led the Jayhawks on a memorable championship run that year as a 6-seed. 

Manning also holds the school scoring record by 854 points and was both a three-time All-American and three-time Big Eight Player of the Year. 

On the women’s basketball side, Lynette Woodard (No. 9) scored 3,649 points at Kansas, which should make her the sport’s all-time leading scorer, though the NCAA does not officially recognize her accomplishment because it occurred while women’s basketball was still sponsored by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. 

The four-time All-American played before wide-scale professional opportunities existed for female athletes, but won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1984 and appeared in several foreign leagues and with the Harlem Globetrotters before joining the WNBA for its first two seasons at age 38 and 39.

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Now To The Gridiron

The Kansas football program has historically struggled, but all three Pro Football Hall of Famers to attend the university made the list. 

A first-team all-Big Eight selection in all three of his years with the Jayhawks, Gale Sayers (No. 2) also made two All-American teams before a short, but electrifying NFL career. He led the league in all-purpose yards three times and rushing twice, while winning Rookie of the Year in 1965 and making five All-Pro teams prior to his injury-forced retirement.

John Riggins' (No. 4) career did not have the highs of Sayers, but he was a consistent presence for 14 NFL seasons after three years as the Jayhawks’ leading rusher, including during their last conference championship season in 1968.

He only made one Pro Bowl but was the MVP of Super Bowl XVII and is one of just nine players to rush for over 100 NFL touchdowns.  

Though he was first team all-Big Seven in 1950, Mike McCormack’s (No. 8) best work came in the pros. The six-time Pro Bowler starred primarily for the Cleveland Browns, with whom he won two NFL Championships and where legendary coach Paul Brown considered him the top offensive lineman to ever play for him.

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Last But Not Least

Track and field is the other historically elite program besides men’s basketball at Kansas, but Al Oerter (No. 5) is the only representative of the program to appear here.  

He claimed two individual national championships as a Jayhawk but is best known for winning Olympic Gold in the event for four consecutive games.



Josh Markowitz is a freelance writer for He is a lifelong sports fan with an emphasis on basketball, football, baseball and the scouting/evaluation process. A graduate of Elon University's School of Communications, Josh also has experience in television production.

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