Kansas among the best - if not the best - basketball meccas

ASSOCIATED PRESS Kansas coach Bill Self says good players are the secret to success.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Kansas coach Bill Self says good players are the secret to success.
Posted: January 04, 2013

TRADITION FOR the modern college basketball player is the uniform his team wore last season. History is the last game, if not the last possession.

So how exactly do you account for the University of Kansas?

Smack in the middle of the country, hard by I-70, with its throwback gym right in the middle of campus on Naismith Drive, KU is as much a feeling as it is a place. But it is a place that has a longstanding love affair with its basketball team that shows no signs of abating.

Temple will be in Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday (4:30 p.m., CBS3). The Owls will be greeted by a respectful and reverential fan base. They will know that Temple just won its 1,800th game. They will know that Fran Dunphy is a terrific coach. They will know the Owls beat then-No. 3 Syracuse 3 weeks ago. In fact, they probably watched the tape before coming to the game.

And they will be there, 16,300 strong, just as they always are; filling the three-story building that looks so much like a classroom from the outside and feels so much like a museum on the inside.

"We haven't played to less than a sellout in well past 10 years," KU coach Bill Self said. "Exhibition games, nonconference games. Much like Philly and the Palestra, there are educated fans here. They know when to turn it up and know when to help the team."

Imagine the Palestra and then put a second deck on it. That is Allen.

Just before games begin and right as they are ending with another seemingly inevitable KU win at Allen, the students lock arms, sway to-and-fro and start to sing very softly, finishing with "Rock chalk, Jayhawk, go KUUUUUUU."

But it is not the fans or the tradition that has made KU so good for so long, nearly unbeatable at home.

"Most importantly, the reason why we've won a lot of games at home is because we've had good players," Self said. "The best homecourt is always the homecourt that has the best players playing on it. We've had a pretty good run of players here."

And coaches.

If you head a mile or so east from downtown Lawrence, such as it is, you arrive at Lawrence Memorial Park where, just inside the gate, there is a huge monument to Dr. James Naismith, the man who hung those peach baskets in Springfield, Mass., and eventually became the first coach at the University of Kansas and its only coach with a losing record.

Dr. Forrest C. "Phog" Allen played for Naismith and eventually became the KU coach. When he retired in 1956, he had won 746 games, more than any other college coach. Adolph Rupp played for Allen and broke Allen's record at Kentucky. Dean Smith played for Allen and broke Rupp's record at North Carolina.

Allen is buried across the street from Naismith. When Roy Williams was the coach at KU, he used to take runs by the cemeteries on big game days.

"I've been out by the cemetery before, but I'm not a big runner," Self said.

If you are looking for college basketball history, Lawrence is your town. There really is no place quite like it.

"I haven't been everywhere," Self said. "But it wouldn't take long to call roll because there are other places [with great histories]. It is different here . . . It is a way of life here."

Come inside Allen, which opened March 1, 1955, on a cold, winter night and you have no choice but to feel, smell and see the living history.

Wilt played there. So did Danny Manning.

There's a banner in the stands that reads: "Pay Heed, All Who Enter, Beware Of The Phog."

Three of Allen's players - Rupp, Smith and Ralph Miller (who won 674 games at three schools) - are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. So is Allen and so is John McLendon, who was the first black man to graduate from Kansas with a degree in physical education and went on to win 523 games at three of the South's traditionally black colleges. Williams is enshrined in Springfield as well. Self may be on the way.

Self gave up a great job at Illinois to come to Kansas. He left a team he recruited that played for the 2005 national championship. He was only leaving there for Kansas where he had already worked because he just knew what it was.

"I'd been here," Self said. "I'd seen firsthand how good it is. It was closer to family and I was a Big 8 guy . . . A guy from the Philly area who had a chance to go back to coach at Temple or Villanova . . . More importantly, I'm just the eighth head coach ever in 115 years. I've always been kind of an historian of the game."

You could make a strong case that KU has the best fans in college basketball. Not the most; that is Kentucky. Not the most inventive; that is Duke. Definitely not the meanest; a title shared by many. Just the best.

"They will get after officials every now and then," Self said. "When Missouri rolled into town or K-State or something, there is a little more of a bitter feeling. When Kevin Durant [of Texas] sprained his ankle and had to leave the game to get it retaped, they gave him a standing ovation when he came back. I don't know how many places that would happen."

The answer is none, or nearly none.

This Kansas team may have lost its two best players - Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor - from the team that made a strong run at Kentucky in the 2012 national championship game. No matter. KU is 11-1 and ranked No. 6. Its offense is as good as its defense, and both are about as good as anybody's. Big man Jeff Withey is a roadblock near the rim. Freshman Ben McLemore has been a revelation. Athletes, who know how to play and want to play, abound.

So how do they get all these players to keep coming to a state that does not produce top talent and is not really all that close to most of the major metropolitan areas that do.

"We actually have the same clothing styles they have on the East Coast or the West Coast," Self said. "Our stores actually sell the same things they do at other places."

And Kansas City is only 40 minutes away. And there are those 16,300 at every game. And those 14 Final Fours. And those three national championships (1952, 1988 and 2008). Whatever KU has done on the court or is about to do, the fans come early and stay late, close game or rout. They love their state. They love their team. They love the game.

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