I love college basketball. The “Hawk” part of my title refers to the Kansas Jayhawks, the team of my alma mater and lifelong affiliation. Some of my very earliest memories in life are of going to Lawrence from Topeka to watch KU basketball and football games. I went to KU and continue to be a diehard fan (and it’s not always easy).
If you don’t know much about college hoops, KU has one of the richest histories in the sport. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, was the first coach at Kansas (1898-1907), even though he believed that it wasn’t really possible to coach basketball. In fact, even fans of college basketball might not know that he’s the only KU coach in history to have a losing record. Our court is named for him, and the place where the Jaywawks play is called Allen Fieldhouse, after Forest “Phog” Allen (who coached from 1907-1909 and 1919-1956; a banner inside reads, “Pay heed, all ye who enter: Beweare of the “Phog”). Allen Fieldhouse is considered one of the greatest venues for college sports.
KU has a rich history, with players such as Jojo White, Clyde Lovellette, and, most famously, Wilt Chamberlain. Current KU players in the NBA include Paul Pierce and Kirk Hinrich. Although KU has a great history and consistently fields excellent teams, we have a tendency to blow it in the tournament. For two years running, we’ve been upset in the first round. That’s painful stuff, so let me refer to the good stuff instead.
One of my greatest experience of all time was my freshman year at KU when we won the national championship, beating Oklahoma. I’d been to just about every home game, and my friends and I were feverish about the team (although we stopped short of the long-term camping out that many fans do). After KU, led by the great Danny Manning, won the game, campus erupted (in a good way), with fans driving through, hugging each other, kissing strangers, and so on. A great time to be 19.
Another great one was in 2003, when New Orleans hosted the Final Four, and KU made it. My brother, another alum, came over after I got tickets, and we had a fantastic time, handily beating Marquette in the first round and just barely losing to the Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse Orangemen in the final game. When Michael Lee’s last second 3-point attempt to tie was blocked, I literally felt the support come out of my legs and collapsed. It was great to get there, and a wonderful memory with my brother, but devastating to lose.
Then, our coach “Traitor” Roy Williams bolted for North Carolina. If you’re a Tarheel fan (and I was until he left), then you say he had to go and it’s his home, but ‘Hawks fans remember that when he considered moving on a few years before, he said that wherever he decided to be at that time, he’d retire. But he set a nice model for people like Nick Saban and retracted his words, some say because Dean Smith (also a KU alum) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
So now we have Bill Self, so far earning the description “good coach, great recruiter” because our teams have underperformed under him. Now, after a scintillating victory over Texas, we’re entering the Big XII tournament with a good chance to secure a #1 seed in the NCAAs. The first two days of the NCAA tournament are one of the greatest spectacles in sports, and I basically sit at my desk and hit “refresh” every 3 minutes or so to find out how a new score turned out. If you’re neutral, please pull for KU. My brother already has tickets for us in Atlanta, and I’d really like to see KU get another title. This could be the year, but it probably won’t. Still, I’ll be behind them.
If you’re not really a KU fan, let me offer this: On Saturday, Kevin Durant was having one of the greatest games I’d ever seen and lighting up our team. In the 2nd half, he injured his ankle and had to leave. Although KU fans are as rabid as they come, they gave the guy a standing ovation, recognizing greatness, even if it was at their expense.
If you’re a Missouri fan, not that I would ever wish ill upon a rival, let me just offer this from your game with KU a few years ago…