Back in 1994, before he was climbing the all-time scoring list or being named an NBA Finals MVP, Paul Pierce was a Kansas recruit and a crucial piece to Kansas’ recruiting puzzle.
“When we recruited Paul Pierce at Kansas, we had four starters coming back, but we had no small forward,” former coach Roy Williams said in his biography, "Hard Work: A Life on and Off the Court." "I asked my assistant Steve Robinson to make a little puzzle … We sent Paul the four corner pieces and then two days later, we sent the centerpiece in the shape of a star with Paul’s picture on it and a message that read, ‘You are the missing piece to the puzzle.’”
Pierce was Kansas’ prized recruiting win, and as a freshman averaged 11.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Despite his cemented status in Kansas history, if it wasn’t for another recruit choosing Duke over Kansas, Pierce would have never came to Lawrence.
Talent scout Bob Gibbons told the Lawrence Journal-World in 1995 that if it wasn’t for the Duke commitment of Ricky Price, Kansas would have never landed the future Hall of Famer.
"Last year, Kansas was sorely disappointed when Ricky Price chose Duke," Gibbons said. "Pierce appears to be a tougher, better all-around player than Price, so things worked to KU's advantage."
One of 32 Jayhawks with a jersey retired in Allen Fieldhouse, Raef LaFrentz garnered many awards as a forward. The All-American standout played under Roy Williams from 1995-98.
Pierce’s sophomore season was the first year of the fully formed Big 12 conference and also one of the best Kansas years in recent history. Pierce helped lead Kansas to a 34-1 regular season record before falling to Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.
Pierce wrote about the Arizona game in a 2015 Players Tribune column.
“The tournament is unforgiving,” Pierce said. “If you have one bad game, that’s it. Throughout my career I’ve had many losses, but all these years later, this is one that still stings.”
His commitment to the Jayhawks was evident when he returned for his junior year. Despite a disappointing loss to Rhode Island in the second round of the tournament, Pierce was named a first-team All-American after averaging 20.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
At the conclusion of his Kansas career, Pierce amassed 1,768 points and 676 rebounds, good for ninth and 18th all-time.
One of Kansas’ 28 All-Americans, Pierce entered the NBA draft and was drafted No. 10 overall by the Boston Celtics.
“It’s always been my dream to play in the NBA and hopefully this is a good opportunity for me,” Pierce said at his announcement. “I feel like it’s my time. I feel like I’m more than ready.”
In 2011, Pierce returned for the Legends of the Phog alumni game, and scored a three-pointer with five seconds remaining.
His No. 34 jersey was retired on Jan. 25, 2003.
"No place compares to Allen Fieldhouse and the rich tradition that is Kansas basketball," Pierce said in 2011. "When you are a Jayhawk, you're a Jayhawk for life."
— Edited by Frank Weirich