As a fractured nation lurched toward the Civil War, a band of abolitionists from Massachusetts ventured west in the 1850s and founded the city of Lawrence, Kan., intent on protecting the territory from slavery.
Their city of dreams and the school they founded - the University of Kansas - evolved into a basketball mecca where great coaches and players, black and white, launched memorable careers.
Just off Massachusetts Street, the city's main drag, Hall of Fame coaches James Naismith, Phog Allen, Larry Brown, and Roy Williams made basketball history mentoring a cavalcade of stars, including Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Lovellette, Jo Jo White, Danny Manning, and Paul Pierce, each of whom owes his experience in some small way to Amos Lawrence and the Massachusetts abolitionists who founded the city and university.
Tomorrow, the Kansas Jayhawks - 13-0 and ranked third in the nation - will make some more history when they play basketball in Greater Boston for the first time in nearly 60 years. The former two-time NCAA champions, returning to the Massachusetts roots of their city's founders, will face Boston College at Conte Forum at noon before a capacity crowd and a national television audience.
Kansas last played in Boston in 1949, when Bob Cousy led Holy Cross past Lovellette and the Jayhawks, 57-53, at Boston Garden. Cousy and Lovellette later won an NBA championship together with the Celtics.
"KU basketball started with the man who invented the game [Naismith] coaching the team," Lovellette said this week from his home in Munising, Mich. "Dr. Naismith taught the game to Phog Allen, who was the dean of college basketball coaches for so many years. From those beginnings, there's a rich history and a great tradition to Kansas basketball that has carried through to the present day."
Lovellette, who in 1952 led Kansas to the NCAA championship and the US to Olympic gold, said Kansas players have long been taught not only about Naismith, who invented the game in Springfield, but the Massachusetts settlers who formed the school.
"It's a special connection," he said.
The Jayhawks have run with it, winning 50 conference titles (the most in NCAA Division 1 history) and appearing in 36 NCAA Tournaments. They won championships in '52 and '88, reached the Final Four 12 times, and are returning four starters, including Wooden Award All-American Brandon Rush, from a team that went 35-5 last year and advanced to the Elite Eight.
The Jayhawks pose a special challenge for BC (10-2), which lost to Kansas last season in Lawrence, 84-66, despite strong performances from Sean Williams (19 points, 15 rebounds, 7 blocks) and Jared Dudley (14 points, 8 rebounds), both of whom have moved on to the NBA.
As BC's toughest opponent to date, Kansas should give the Eagles an idea where they stand as they prepare to face the brunt of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
"Right now, because of how well they are playing, Kansas is a quality opponent," BC coach Al Skinner said. "It's like playing a league game for us. Hopefully, our guys will be able to respond."
Kansas coach Bill Self said BC is a different team without Dudley, last season's ACC player of the year, and the 6-foot-10-inch Williams, an electrifying defender whose performance against the Jayhawks Self described as "unbelievable."
Though Skinner dismissed Williams from the team last January for disciplinary reasons, BC went 21-12 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Georgetown, 62-55. This year's Eagles, young and unranked, have relied heavily on junior guard Tyrese Rice and a trio of freshmen - Rakim Sanders, Biko Paris, and Corey Raji - in defeating every opponent but Providence (a 98-89 loss) and UMass (83-80).
Self indicated he was far more concerned about BC's ability to surprise the Jayhawks than his school's historical ties to Massachusetts. One of BC's strengths under Skinner has been its execution of the Flex offense.
"All I've thought about is how to defend the Flex and attack BC," Self said. "I know it will be a good game for us and I really believe our players are all excited to play BC."
Self indicated he is particularly concerned about Rice, who is averaging 19.7 points.
"He scores about as well as any point guard does in the country," Self said.
Though Kansas lost last year's sophomore sensation, Julian Wright, to the NBA, the team has sacrificed none of its luster. KU's four returning stars - Rush, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, and Sherron Collins - each was named a preseason honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press. With help from 6-11 center Sasha Kaun, they have outscored their opponents by an average of 25.1 points despite tight road victories over 22d-ranked USC (59-55) and Georgia Tech (71-66), and a 76-72 overtime win against Arizona at home.
Tomorrow's game will give BC a chance to beat a top-10 team for the first time since March 11, 2006, when the Eagles edged 10th-ranked North Carolina, 85-82, in the semifinals of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
"They beat us fairly handily last year," Skinner said of Kansas. "Hopefully, we'll have a better performance this time."
Despite the considerable history of both programs, BC played Kansas only once before last season, when Cousy coached the Eagles to a 78-62 victory in the opening round of the 1969 National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Cousy angered Kansas coach Ted Owens by slowing down his offense after BC's center, Terry Driscoll, fouled out with 11:31 to play.
"That's a disgrace to basketball," an indignant Owens told the Globe afterward.
Cousy, in a phone interview from his home in Florida, said this week he had no choice after Driscoll fouled out but to slow the pace and let his exceptional guards, Jim O'Brien and Bill Evans, control the ball. The strategy was a rare departure for Cousy, who coached his teams to play the uptempo game he mastered as a player.
Cousy said the win helped BC establish itself as a nationally respected basketball program. But a victory tomorrow would be no small feat.
"BC has had a lot of success since  and is very well-established at this point," Cousy said. "But Kansas has such a long, long storied basketball history that any time you can beat them, it's significant."
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.