Born: March 28, 1918 – Kansas City, KS
Died: March 18, 2000 – Lawrence, KS
Rosedale H.S., 1936
University of Kansas, 1940
University of Kansas head coach, 1956-1964
Turn to Page 126 of the book, “Portraits of Excellence,” and a simple sentence from one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time tells how those who played for and coached with Dick Harp felt about his knowledge of the game.
“Dick is one of the most brilliant basketball minds I have ever known.”
That comment came from Dean Smith, a native Kansan, who played at the University of Kansas when Harp was an assistant coach and later hired Harp as an assistant at North Carolina.
Or, how about this one from former KU player Bill Hougland?
“Everyone of us who played for Dick really cared for him,” said the Beloit native, and two-time Olympian. “He never got any of the credit, but he got us ready to go and got us going.”
Harp, who remains one of a handful of men to both coach and play in an NCAA basketball tournament championship game, now has something in common with both Smith and Hougland. All three are members of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
“It means a great deal to all of us who played for Dick, all of us,” Hougland said of Harp’s induction.
Harp, who died in 2000 at the age of 81, spent nearly three decades of his life connected to the tradition-rich basketball program at KU. He was the school’s head coach from 1956-64 and posted a 121-82 record. Harp’s 1957 team finished second to North Carolina, losing in triple overtime to the Tar Heels in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament. In 1960, the Jayhawks won the Big Eight title, but lost to Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional.
Harp was an assistant coach under Phog Allen at KU from 1948-56 and was credited with helping the Jayhawks win the NCAA title in 1952 and finish second in 1953, losing by one point to Indiana.
As Allen's assistant coach, Harp played an important role in the Jayhawks' national championship season, according to Jerry Waugh, who played under Allen and later was Harp's assistant coach.
"Doc Allen received most of the credit, and rightfully so, but Dick was very instrumental," Waugh said in a 2000 story. "In the middle of the season, that team was struggling a little bit. Doc said to Dick, 'We gotta change something.'
"Dick came up with a half-court pressure defense, and that really seemed to pick up the offense as the team went on to its championship ways. Those of us who played knew what Dick meant to that team.”
Harp lettered three years at KU as a player from 1938-40 and was a starting guard on the Jayhawks’ 1940 team, which finished second in the NCAA Tournament. He then served over four years as a master sergeant in the Army during World War II and was coaching basketball at William Jewell College when Allen asked him to return to KU.
Harp served as the director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for 13 years after leaving the Jayhawks. He later was an assistant coach under Smith at North Carolina from 1986-89. It was at North Carolina where Harp first met Roy Williams, a coach he later helped persuade to take the KU coaching position.
"I don't think I'd be at Kansas if not for Dick Harp," Williams said at the time of Harp’s death in 2000. "I worked with him for two years. I heard so, so many Phog Allen stories and stories about the University of Kansas, his love for Kansas.
“At that time, you're talking about a guy who grew up dreaming of playing at North Carolina and didn't think there was anyplace else in the world where people had those feelings about their school. Because of Coach Harp, I realized there was some other place out there.
"Kansas lost - to me - probably the closest guy to being Mr. Kansas Basketball."