School of Education & Human Sciences to honor pioneering coach John B. McLendon

A smiling man holds up a basketball, standing in front of a framed photo of James Naismith in the same pose.


The late, celebrated basketball coach John B. McLendon Jr., who pioneered the racial integration of the game, will be honored this October with the dedication of a special commemorative plaque from the School of Education & Human Sciences. A tribute to Coach McLendon’s life and legacy, the event will be available for all to watch online afterwards.

The School of Education & Human Sciences will host the event at 11:00 a.m. on October 8 in the main lobby area of the Robinson Center. Out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person attendance is invite-only.

“It is a great honor for the School to recognize Coach McLendon this way,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education & Human Sciences. “His groundbreaking career and innovative thinking changed the game of basketball while also impacting the efforts to strengthen diversity and racial equity across the country.” A man in a suite stands holding a basketball in his hands.

The program will run approximately 45 minutes and will feature a lineup of guest speakers, including Joe Weir, chair of the Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences; Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education & Human Sciences; a keynote presentation by Milton Katz, professor of American studies at the Kansas City Art Institute and author of “Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer”; Bill Self, current head coach of the KU men’s basketball team; Nolen Ellison, UMKC Schutte Endowed Professor and former KU ’63 point guard; Travis Goff, KU director of athletics; Chris Brown, master of ceremonies and director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences; and Curtis Marsh, associate director of development at KU Endowment. 

Born in 1915 in Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon became the first African American to graduate from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s in physical education in 1936. In 1937, he began a barrier-breaking, history-making career coaching basketball that would span over three decades.

McLendon was mentored at KU by Dr. James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, and is credited with shaping the development of the sport through the invention of the fast break, the full-court pressure defense, and the four corners delay defense.

A true trailblazer in American athletics, McLendon used basketball to advance Civil Rights causes and achieved many firsts during his career. He was the first African American coach to win a national tournament in 1954, three consecutive national championships 1957-59, and an AAU national championship in 1961. In 1966, he became the first African American head basketball coach of a predominantly white university. McLendon also broke barriers on the international level becoming the first African American basketball assistant coach of the USA Men's Olympic team in 1968, and again in 1972. He became the first Black coach to be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first as a contributor in 1979, and for a second time in 2016 as a coach.  

McLendon died on October 8, 1999 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio at the age of 84.

The McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative (MLI), part of the McLendon foundation, was launched in 2020 to provide minority administrators with an opportunity to gain practical experience early in their sports career. Four scholars were selected for appointments in KU Athletics under the initiative in 2021: Isaiah Cole, track and field/cross country specialist in Sport Operations; Blair Griffith, external relations assistant for the Williams Education Fund; Christian “Chase” Hancock, communications specialist in Communications; and Lucas Iouse, name, image and likeness specialist in Compliance. This first class of McLendon Leadership Initiative post-graduates will conclude their appointments in June 2022, and KU Athletics has committed to continuing the McLendon Leadership Initiative pathway program for the 2022-2023 academic year.

About the School of Education & Human Sciences:

The KU School of Education & Human Sciences is a nationally ranked school, preparing educators and human science professionals as leaders since 1909. With more than 40 academic programs offered among five departments, at two different campuses and fully online, the school serves Kansas, the nation and the world by preparing individuals to become leaders and practitioners in education and related human science fields. Stay up to date by following the School on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.