Monday was the day I have been waiting for my whole life. Most girls dream of their wedding day, but I have been planning my trip to Allen Fieldhouse since I was first able to discern a basketball from a football.
Most people are surprised I hadn’t visited the mecca of college basketball yet during my copious amounts of travels – more people are surprised by the fact that I am a die-hard Jayhawk fan to begin with. I didn’t go to school there, I don’t have any relatives from Kansas and until today, I had never even been to the Sunflower State.
I became a true Kansas fan the day Kirk Hinrich suited up. And then again when Bill Self coached his first game. My true love will always be Stanford – Brevin Knight remains my all-time favorite athlete to this day – but Kansas has nestled its way into my heart.
Prior to this trip, I had covered Kansas men’s basketball only in the NCAA tournament. Another highlight of my career was witnessing Stanford beat the Jayhawks in 2014 in St. Louis – a spectacular second-round upset. It was a win-win situation for me, being a fan of both teams. But the thing that amazed me is how Kansas fans turn those neutral site games into what feels like a home game. I knew I had to make a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to truly understand the program I had come to love.
Yesterday, that dream came true.
I was fortunate to experience Lawrence with a veteran tour guide: a former player from the 70’s family opened their home to me and made it their mission to show me the true meaning of being a Jayhawk fan.
They drove me around town, across the entire campus pointing out things of interest and regaling me with stories from the school in the 70’s. Many things have stayed the same, I came to learn. I saw the football stadium, the campanile and visited the bookstore, where I ran around like a kid in candy store.
Then came lunch at the Wheel, one of KU’s most beloved restaurants.
Not only did we dine next to Travis Ford, who is delightful, but I had the most delicious fried egg cheeseburger, like ever. (Sorry Gorcey, it beats Freehouse) They call it the “Wang” burger. We met the owner and he gave us a history lesson about the place, indluing the fun fact that it used to be the college bookstore. He even let me sign the wall.
Now this trip is forever immortalized – preserved for posterity with John Calipari and Danny Manning’s signatures.
After lunch, we toured the Fieldhouse museum. As I walked slowly through all the great moments in Jayhawk history, I couldn’t help but get emotional. I’m lucky the Naismith rules haven’t made their way home yet or I might have really lost it. I placed my palm on Cole Aldrich’s, gazed into the championship crystal ball and stood a stones throw away from a piece of the original center court floor.
And then, as if this day couldn’t get any better, I was fortunate to meet and chat with one of my favorite KU players – Brady Morningstar. We covered a lot of conversational ground – his new clothing line, Pac-12 basketball and of course choice moments in Kansas basketball history. All of this felt surreal, and I had to keep asking myself “where am I?”
Then came the game.
I have watched Kansas home games on television, but nothing prepared me for the energy that pulsed through Allen Fieldhouse from the moment the doors opened and fans and students poured in, to the cheers Bill Self received merely making his way to the media room for post game.
The introduction videos are chill-inducing – I can see why Baylor head coach Scott Drew pulled his team off the floor instead of letting them watch such dominant images.
The game itself was relatively uneventful – Kansas started slow, which was expected given the big victory over Oklahoma on Saturday. But Oklahoma State was severely diminished – a veritable “walking wounded” as head coach Travis Ford kept reiterating in the post game presser. They hung around until half, but Kansas came out revived, led by Wayne Seldon Jr., who finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists and Perry Ellis, who added 15 points, four rebounds and one assist.
But the guy who stole the show was junior forward Landon Lucas, who finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and one block. The change in his play has been noticeable, prompting questions from reporters regarding the reason. Lucas attributes his recent solid play to a growth in confidence both for him and for his teammates.. He added that he has been hitting the gym more, working on his jump shot because he says he’s “gotta make one here in a little bit.”
The players stuck around after the game to sign autographs for the fans clustered outside the locker room while I was gifted with a smile and “hi there” from Bill Self as he exited the media room. So there was that.
Lawrence is a truly unique place with special people. The media experience was phenomenal – from the helpful SID’s and athletic staff to the well stocked media room. And yes there was a media meal: chipotle burritos for everyone, which Seldon, Lucas and Brannen Greene “borrowed” after their interviews. Also, ice cream at halftime!
I was reluctant to leave for the Kansas City airport today, but I must be off for Game 4, a classic matchup between Florida and Georgia in Athens.
See you on the other side.