Kansas Athletics is celebrating the first McLendon Classic, a recognition of trailblazer John McLendon’s contributions to basketball and civil rights.
McLendon, born in 1915, was the first African-American to graduate KU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1936, according to a news release from KU Athletics. While at KU, McLendon studied the intricacies of basketball from James Naismith.
He launched his coaching career at what is now known as North Carolina Central, a historically Black university. He went on to become the first Black coach to win a national tournament in 1954; he was also the first Black head coach at a predominantly white university, according to the release.
“A pioneer for the integration of college basketball and the architect behind the fast break and pressure defense, the Hiawatha, Kansas native and member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians is a two-time inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978 as a contributor, and again in 2016 as the first African-American coach,” according to the release.
The McLendon Classic Community Event will feature a screening of “Fast Break: The Legendary John McLendon,” followed by a roundtable discussion.
“(T)he group will share their thoughts about the documentary while exploring the profound impact that John McLendon had on the University of Kansas, the game of basketball and society at large,” according to the release.
The roundtable discussion will feature KU professor and Emmy Award-winning director Kevin Willmott; KU director of equity and success initiatives Melissa Peterson (Diné); North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton; and KU coach Bill Self. KU professor Shawn Alexander will serve as moderator.
“In hosting this event and North Carolina Central, we get an opportunity to honor one of the greatest coaches our sport has ever known, John McClendon,” Self said in the release. “We want to create awareness for the McClendon Foundation Leadership initiative on our campus and in our building playing an HBCU institution associated with the great John McLendon.”
The McLendon Classic Community Event is free to attend and open to the public. It’s set for 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. Attendees may donate to the NCCU Black Student-Athlete Summit Experience Fund.
The Jayhawks face the NC Central Eagles at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6 at Allen Fieldhouse in their home season opener. The game will air on ESPN+.
“There will be recognitions throughout the contest honoring McLendon as well as moments to highlight current affinity groups at KU that are continuing McLendon’s legacy of inclusion, proactivity and perseverance,” according to the release.
As of noon Friday, tickets were “almost gone” for Monday’s game but available at this link.
Learn more about McLendon and the foundation in his name on its website.