Jayhawks play to packed house in Midnight Madness

The lights dimmed inside 55-year-old Allen Fieldhouse and the

big crowd fell silent. With rapt attention, about 16,000 people

watched the giant video board replay the pep talk coach Bill Self

gave Kansas before it played Memphis in the 2008 NCAA title

game.

Then crowd watched the brief, emotional speech he delivered to

the players after they had come from behind and beaten Memphis in

overtime for the national championship.

”We are the best team in the richest tradition school of all

time,” he said.

Then, to tumultuous applause, Self walked slowly onto the court,

encircled by a spotlight and holding a microphone.

Basketball season had officially begun for Kansas, with another

sellout crowd for Midnight Madness, or as Jayhawk fans like to call

it, ”Late Night in the Phog.”

Self had to wait a moment to begin speaking because the crowd

came to its feet and gave him a standing ovation.

”Tonight for 26 years in a row we’ve packed the fieldhouse for

Late Night,” he said. ”It shows why this is the best place to

play and the best place to coach in America, right here. I’m

excited for the women’s team. They’re athletic and they’re going to

be very, very good. And to be quite honest with you, so will we.

Winning a national championship changed all our lives. We need to

cut down nets again in 2011.”

The venerable fieldhouse was packed to the rafters, as usual,

for the annual rite that marks the beginning of the sport which has

long defined this institution. The Jayhawks even have their own

name for the event, harkening back to Forrest ”Phog” Allen, their

legendary coach – ”Late Night in the Phog.”

In 26 years, the Jayhawks have turned this night into something

akin to a Las Vegas light show, with lasers, smoke, pulsating music

and reminders everywhere of the history and tradition of a school

that was once coached by James Naismith, the inventor of the

game.

On hand were about 16 recruits, including three high school

seniors, that Self wanted to immerse in the tradition and passion

of Kansas hoops. Josh Selby, last year’s No. 1 recruit in the

nation and now a Kansas freshman, said Late Night in the Phog was

what hooked him.

”A lot of kids growing up want to put on a Kansas uniform

because of the history of it,” said the 6-foot-2 point guard from

Baltimore. ”Trust me – if you’re a high school player and you’re

here for Late Night, this is where you want to play.”

No doubt with an eye toward the prospects scattered among the

crowd, the video board also played testimonials from every

ex-Jayhawk now in the NBA, professing their love for the school

that put them on the road to the big time.

Adding to the excitement, this year’s team enters the season

only four wins from the all-time record for consecutive victories

in Allen Fieldhouse. If they win their first four, they will break

the record of 62 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

The Jayhawks ended the night with a 20-minute scrimmage,

including Selby, who is awaiting clearance from the NCAA for

permission to play.

The crowd cheered when master of ceremonies Scot Pollard, a

former KU star, noted Kansas had won the last six Big 12 titles. It

booed when Pollard noted that conference coaches in this year’s

preseason poll ”picked K-State to win it.”

Later, the crowd roared when Self returned to the court as

Vanilla Ice, dressed head-to-toe in a gold jump suit and wearing a

blue Kansas hat backward.

”Yo, Allen Fieldhouse, what’s up tonight?” he said.