🏀 John McLendon Recipient of the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) selected Kansas’ John McLendon with the association’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the association announced on Wednesday. The award presentation will take place at the NCAA Honors Celebration, held on January 13.

The Theodore Roosevelt Award, also called the “Teddy,” is the highest honor the NCAA may confer on an individual. In recognition of President Roosevelt’s concern for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics, the annual award acknowledges a distinguished student-athlete who upon earning a varsity letter and graduating, has demonstrated the ideals and purposes to which collegiate athletics programs and amateur sports competition are dedicated.

The award was named for President Theodore Roosevelt, who formed the NCAA in 1906. The award honors an individual “for whom competitive athletics in college and attention to physical well-being thereafter have been important factors in a distinguished career of national significance and achievement.” Recipients for the “Teddy” are selected by the NCAA’s Honors Committee, which is comprised of representatives from NCAA member schools.

McLendon becomes the third graduate from the University of Kansas to receive the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, joining track & field star Billy Mills, who won the prestigious award in 2014 and Bob Dole, who won the award in 1998.

A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon in 1936 became the first African American to graduate from KU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education before turning to coaching. McLendon was mentored by Dr. James Naismith and insisted that basketball be played at a fast-break pace offensively and defensively, a practice that still exists in today’s game.

McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African American coach to accomplish many feats, including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961).

McLendon was the first African American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABL (Cleveland), and would later coach in the ABA (Denver). McLendon was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame for the second time in 2016 as a coach, after being inducted in 1986 as a contributor.

McLendon died Oct. 8, 1999, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He was 84.

The 2021 NCAA Honors Celebration will be streamed via the @NCAA Twitter account and ESPN app Wednesday, January 13, at 7 p.m. Eastern.