—Andy Katz, ESPN reporter
"I never played in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. That is my favorite arena in the country (not counting Cameron Indoor Stadium). That place is incredible. It is the St. Andrews of college basketball."
—Jay Bilas, ESPN announcer
"I thought the atmosphere was unbelievable. I've been here before, but it's just such an unbelievable place. It has such character. I can't say I've ever been in a better arena."
—Jay Bilas, ESPN announcer
"I tell everybody there's not a place around—I know Chapel Hill, Pauley Pavilion, Cameron, you name it. They are pretty special, but there's nothing like this. All the guys who scout, I always tell them, 'You'll never have an experience like Allen Fieldhouse.' This is how a college fieldhouse is supposed to be."
—Larry Brown, former KU, UNC, UCLA, and NBA coach and Hall of Famer
"Best arena: Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas. Do you really have to ask? Few sports venues anywhere can match the tradition of Allen Fieldhouse."
—Jim Caple, ESPN, Journey to the Heart of Hoop
"Best Arena: Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas. A simply awesome basketball barn that never fails to inspire a bit of awe, especially when the sun is shining in through the end zone windows."
—Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
"Allen Fieldhouse, with its windows up on the walls and cozy size, is my favorite venue in college basketball. It has all the great atmosphere of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, with none of the pretentiousness."
—J.A. Adande, LA Times
It is early February on the grounds of the University of Kansas, where barren trees, swaths of dormant, beige grass and the pale, limestone buildings have created a monochromatic tableau that looks like a picture in an old, yellowed newspaper.
Indeed, arriving for a game at Allen Fieldhouse can feel like preparing to rummage through the dusty archives of college basketball. But after a 2005 renovation there's nothing musty about this old barn. And with the defending NCAA champions holding court inside, Allen Fieldhouse is about today as much as yesterday.
Take one step inside the steeply sloped seating bowl that rises off the prairie and ashen Kansas turns to Technicolor faster than it did when that twister swept Dorothy Gale off the family farm and into the Land of Oz.
Dead of winter might aptly describe of other parts of the Heartland, but the term does not apply inside KU's storied basketball cathedral, where the heart of college basketball beats alongside the court named for the man who invented the game.
Here fans fill red-and-blue bleachers from the floor to window-lined ceiling, creating an ambiance that is so retro-perfect it feels staged. The place couldn't look much more like the set of a Disney movie.
Allen Fieldhouse is named for Phog Allen, who coached Kansas for 39 years. Capacity, which originally was 17,000 when the facility opened in March 1955, was reduced to 15,200 when Ted Owens coached here (1964 to 1983). Since 1993, the facility has held 16,300.
The salt-of-the-earth Kansans who fill the place are not prone to braggadocio, but they are not above dropping a name or two, either.
After inventing the game, James Naismith launched the program at KU, coaching the Jayhawks from 1898 to 1907, and his name is on the floor. Wilt Chamberlain played two seasons for the Jayhawks, averaging 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds. His name tops a banner recognizing All-Americans and his No. 13 hangs from the rafters. Another banner recognizes the school's academic All-Americans, including Bud Stallworth, Darnell Valentine and Jacque Vaughn. Folks here are proud of the fact that legendary coaches Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith are both KU alums and protégés of the building's namesake.
The smell of popcorn wafts through the building's concourse, enhancing the high school gym feel of the place. Replace the Dippin' Dot concession with a Good Humor man and this place would be utterly timeless. Presumably, Kansas coach Bill Self takes a tape measure with him on the road to convince his team the dimensions really are the same in every building they visit.
Not much else is.
Allen Fieldhouse defies logic. It holds almost twice as many fans as Cameron Indoor Stadium, yet somehow feels just as intimate. And its five championship banners are six fewer than hang in Pauley Pavilion, but it has at least as much historical gravitas.
Conversely, things that once seemed incomprehensible suddenly become crystal clear amid the phog of Allen Fieldhouse. Like why Roy Williams stonewalled North Carolina the first time his alma mater tried to lure him home to Chapel Hill in 2000. Or why KU students camp out -- sometimes for days -- to get tickets. Or why peripatetic Larry Brown spent five of his prime, vagabond years firmly anchored in Lawrence.
"Kansas," Brown often said, "is special."
Allen Fieldhouse is so special it cannot contain all its own history. Outside, a statue depicting Allen -- "the Father of Basketball Coaching" -- welcomes visitors to the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a 26,000-square-foot celebration of all things Kansas. The museum, which was dedicated in 2006 and came with a price tag of $8 million, is divided into six terrific exhibit areas and is highlighted by the building's original center court floor. When it was in use, the ref threw up a jump ball after every basket, as per Naismith's original rules.
Inside, the banners that commemorate NCAA championships from 1922, 1923, 1952, 1988 and 2008 are as stark as the prairie landscape that envelopes Lawrence. Blue, block lettering on white. Just the words "National Champions" and the year the title was won. No mention of Kansas is necessary. Is there anyplace else? Not to these people.
The KU band adds to the nostalgic feel, playing 1980s hits like "Africa," "Come On Eileen" and "Living on a Prayer" as the Jayhawks warm up. History is in the air. A Russell Stover Candies ad adorns the overhead scoreboard and outsiders get the feeling that slow-paced Lawrence is the kind of place where chocolates and Hallmark greetings are still preferred to Starbucks gift cards and text messages.
More than two-dozen banners dangle from the girders and catwalks inside the building, but one stands out above all others: "Pay Heed All Who Enter: Beware of the Phog." Set in a gothic font, the greeting reads like a sign on an amusement park ride, the kind that warns visitors they are about to embark on a harrowing thrill-a-minute ride.
Which, of course, they are.
You don't watch a game at The Phog as much as you go along for the ride, the 4,000-person-strong KU student body at the controls much of the time. Celebrated KU miler Jim Ryun, who won the NCAA indoor mile championship in 1967, 1968 and 1969, ran at Allen Fieldhouse and, coincidence or not, the students here all go the extra mile.
The pregame fun begins with fans, arm-in-arm, singing the school's alma mater, "Crimson and Blue." Then comes the "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" chant, which is slow, methodical and chilling. "Rock chalk … Jayhawk … KU," is chanted five times -- twice slowly, then three times fast.
In a rare concession to modernity, the field house has a terrific scoreboard, upon which a stirring pregame video is presented. When Mario Chalmers hits "Mario's Miracle" from last spring's NCAA title game against Memphis, the crowd erupts the instant the game-tying shot goes through the hoop, as if they are watching it happen in real time.
No pain, no gain.
You do not come to Allen Fieldhouse for comfort. To grumble that you're going to be stuck on a flat bleacher seat for two or three hours watching the Kansas Jayhawks play basketball would be like complaining about having to hang upside down to kiss the Blarney Stone. Some things are worth not only the cost but also the price you must pay. Allen hasn't enjoyed the same sort of P.R. as Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, but there is no more delightful place to watch a college basketball game than KU's home court.
Allen Fieldhouse is a gym. It is not an arena. It is not a palace of 21st century excess. There are no luxury boxes. Luxury at Allen is one of the few chair-back seats that belong mostly to the big donors. If you purchase general admission tickets to a game through KUathletics.com, you will be warned: "Fans in general admission may have to stand to be able to see the court." That's just how it is.
You come to Allen for basketball.
Sporting News Mike DeCourcy
SI "Top 10 College Sport Venues"
Allen Fieldhouse is as special as advertised. I know because I went to a game there the other night for the first time. From the intimate feel to the "Beware of the Phog" banners to "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" to the Jayhawk logo that consumes half of the playing court, the place is unique. From the time you walk inside, it just feels different.
...But what makes the place special is not so much the setting, which certainly lives up to DeCourcy's story. What makes a game at Allen so different are the fans, who were as into a game as much as any I've ever seen -- and believe me, I'm old and have been to a ton of games.
What I'll remember is not the final score (the Jayhawks won by a bunch) or individual performances, but the atmosphere created at the soldout gym:
• I do not take Mike's advice and arrive hours early to stake a place in line for a decent seat in one of the four GA sections. Instead, we arrive at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. (central time) Big Monday tipoff. The GA sections already are packed and ushers already are asking those seated to squeeze together to make way for more. But it's not happening. Standing outside an upper-level entry there are at least a dozen of us holding GA tickets who appear to be out of luck. But the ushers assure us, "We'll take care of you." About 10 minutes before tipoff, one of them does just that. We show him our GA tickets and he trades us a set of tickets that apparently weren't going to be used. We make our way to the other side of the building where another usher leads us to section 9, row 11. I am smiling. We are at the top of the first level behind the basket. This is going to work out fine.
• Early in the game, Mario Chalmers is leading a fast break, speeding toward the basket on the left side. Brandon Rush has set up behind the 3-point line beyond the right elbow. Every fan on our end of the court seems to anticipate the same thing: Chalmers is going to leave his feet like he's going in for a layup, but instead he's going to pass to an open Rush. As Chalmers leaves his feet, so do the fans. By the time Rush releases, the crowd already is ready to erupt. The shot goes in. The crowd goes nuts. It's almost as if we are part of the play.
• About halfway into the first half, Kansas is applying some serious pressure to Oklahoma in the half-court defense. The shot clock is ticking down. Oklahoma can't find a passing lane. A Sooner trapped with the ball at the hash mark near half court has to pass away from the basket. The crowd goes crazy, showing its appreciation for a defensive stand that does not result in a blocked shot or a turnover, but "just" a bad shot.
• A couple of grandmotherly types are sitting in front of me, and from the way they are talking and watching, you know they are serious. Now it's halftime and the Jayhawks are up 40-20, partly because Sooners star big man Blake Griffin played only a few minutes before leaving with what apparently is a knee injury. Both grandmoms are texting away. I'm thinking, if they're texting at a basketball game, they can't be that devoted. When I turn my head just so, I have a clear view of one of their cell phones so I decide to sneak a peak and see just how into this game they are. The message, obviously being sent to someone at home watching on TV: "What happened to the big guy?"
Now that's a fan, the kind that makes a trip to Allen Fieldhouse an experience to remember.
Minutes before game time, when the student section led the crowd in the famous Rock Chalk Chant, I could have sworn we were in a place not of this Earth. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard, almost angelic, a 16,300-member choir chanting a deep tone in perfect harmony. ￼ Listen
Indeed, the first obstacle for visitors to Allen Fieldhouse is overcoming the intimidation factor.
When freshman phenom Blake Griffin won the opening tip, however, the 25-or-so of us Sooner fans tucked away just beneath the rafters in Section 13A saw a glimmer of hope. But before the raucous crowd even had time to catch their breath, KU's Darnell Jackson retrieved the ball in the backcourt and proceeded to drive in for a two-handed dunk. Score: Kansas 2, Oklahoma 0, approximately four seconds into the game.
...While it was a difficult game to watch as a Sooner fan anyway, this only added to the experience of one of the most intimate atmospheres in college basketball. Even my accomplice, a North Carolina grad who has witnessed numerous games at UNC, said none of his experiences at the "Dean Dome" could compare to this.
With all due respect to fans at Duke, UCLA, New Mexico and other programs with hallowed basketball arenas, my favorite venue is Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks since its doors opened in 1955.
Allen Fieldhouse isn’t much to look at from outside, but the inside turns magical on game day, perhaps with a ghost or two (“Beware of the Phog”) hovering overhead to guide errant KU jump shots into the basket.
Our trip began early Saturday morning.
At around 6:30 am, we pulled out of Stillwater, a city and university known for its rich history in basketball and Gallagher-Iba Arena, "The rowdiest arena in the country."
As we pulled away from the town recently nicknamed "Lob Stilly", we headed for north for Oklahoma State's matchup with the KansasJayhawks.
Their arena, known as Phog Allen Fieldhouse or "The Phog", is very similar to the Cowboys' home court of the past.
But there's only one difference between the past deafening GIA crowds and the ruthless Fieldhouse— Only one seems to still consistently exist.
I had heard stories of the legendary court growing up, and my mind raced with anticipation and eagerness as I prepared myself for the experience I was about to have.
After a four-hour drive that seemed to last forty years, we arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, located in the heart of the Sunflower State
We took a quick tour of the campus, but our minds were elsewhere. Eventually we headed into the arena to find something that seemed less like a 57 year old basketball gym and more like a scene from a movie.
We saw red stairs that seemed to stretch up from the court into forever, almost as if former Jayhawks Phog Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning and many others had literally climbed the worn, wooden steps until they reached the college basketball heavens.
Blue benches shaped the grandstands that would eventually hold a standing room only crowd, a crowd that showed up more than two hours early.
All of the old-timey pieces of the arena were complimented by new touches. A few plasma screen's above the exits here, a four sided LCD scoreboard there, and eventually the 16,300 fans that had packed Allen Fieldhouse to the rafters rose to their feet to welcome their Jayhawks onto the floor.
Every member of press row cast a nervous glance at each other as we felt our eardrums vibrate at a nervous pace.
"This is the kind of atmosphere you want to play in," senior Keiton Page said. "It's the type of games you dream of as a little kid, coming into Lawrence to a packed gym as rowdy as it was."
For forty minutes, Allen Fieldhouse unleashed hell on the ears of everyone in the arena, living and dying by every call made on the floor.
They acted as if nothing else in the world mattered. Not one fan seemed worried about upcoming elections or blizzards barreling their way towards the middle of the United States.
All that mattered was basketball.
"Allen Fieldhouse is one of the most energetic places on earth," said Vince Gerstner, a mechanical engineering student at Kansas. "Even the older people who sit in the expensive seats are standing and screaming for most of the game. There's nothing like it."
Instead of going hoarse as the game carried on, the crowd's voices grew stronger.
Their Jayhawks scored, rebounded and blocked shots, and each time they did so the crowd exploded into a louder than the previous, crazed celebration of a small victory.
"We've talked about this place," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "You try to embrace it as much as you can, but it always gets to you a little bit. This is obviously one of the best arenas in the country."
Just as I began expecting blood to start dripping down my earlobes, the clock read 1:00. The Pokes were trailing 79-62, and the fans knew what to do.
Page, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash tried to desperately to somehow fill the 17 point void, but it didn't matter.
The fans, as if they had practice for hours the night before, began singing.
"Rock Chalk… Jay-hawk… K-U…"
Over and over again the chant rang out as if the masses were singing out to every former player who sat on their throne in college basketball heaven.
But it didn't just serve as a reminder of the crowd's overwhelming school spirit. It also served another purpose.
The hymn was a eulogy, escorting the Cowboys to the grave as they quietly accepted the day's defeat.
The final buzzer rang as fans celebrated and alumni hugged. The Jayhawks had recorded another chapter in the friendly rivalry between the two schools.
Blue and red filed out of the exits, sticking around for over an hour after the game for autographs and pictures by their team's locker room.
While this went on, I found a corner in the work room to go over what I had just experienced.
As I frantically tried to figure out how I was going to explain it, a memory popped into my head.
High above the five national championship banners displayed at the top of the arena was a sign, nestled among the rafters as if it were hiding from the chilling wind on the other side of the walls.
The sign, though small, perfectly explained the exposure I had just had to this phenomenon of a basketball game.
It read "Pay heed, all who enter. Beware of The Phog."
Well said, Allen Fieldhouse. I now understand.
Phog Allen Fieldhouse is an absolute must for any sports fan who loves to travel to different venues around the country. I witnessed a complete blowout and still walked away with one of the best sports experiences in my life. I can hardly imagine what this building would be like during a close game that goes down to the wire. In short, go soon to Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas fans have long claimed Allen Fieldhouse is the best college basketball arena in the country. At the very least, KU faithful can lay claim to having the loudest arena. ESPN The Magazine listed the top ten loudest arenas in the country in their upcoming issue. Allen Fieldhouse took the top spot.
The magazine polled ESPN analysts for their thoughts. They also had a team from Penn State University's acoustic program research construction data to estimate the loudest possible arenas for college basketball. The team took in to consideration factors such as the size of the crowd, the amount of students and the acoustic qualities of the building.
ESPN The Magazine's Loudest Arenas
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Allen is not a dome, nor a glittering jewel, nor some megaplex named for an investment banker who gave $10 million so he could be remembered in perpetuity. It is a "fieldhouse" in every sense of the word, named for a man who played under Naismith, then coached himself at Kansas for 39 years, sending others such as Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith into the coaching world. The coaches have their offices right in Allen. One morning when he was still coaching at KU, Roy Williams opened his desk drawer and showed me a large collection of chocolate candy he keeps there during the season but never eats. It's one of the ways he keeps himself disciplined and focused.
Oh, the things that have happened at "the Phog" as it's called, though I prefer Allen Fieldhouse. In Phog's final game against Oklahoma State's Hank Iba, another highly influential figure in the development of the game, the Jayhawks won a 56-55 thriller on Jan. 31, 1956. In December of that same year, Chamberlain, who had come all the way to Lawrence from the streets of Philadelphia as the most-recruited athlete of his time, announced himself to the college world by scoring 52 points in his debut, an 87-69 win over Northwestern. Forty-one Februarys ago, Ryun set a world record in the 880 in Allen a time of 1:48.3 in a dual meet against Oklahoma State.
A lot of good stuff that doesn't have cobwebs on it happened in Allen, also -- Manning played some pretty good games there -- but, to me, what Allen Fieldhouse is about is preserving the past. Let's hope that some future Board of Trustees or college president doesn't get the bright idea to start "modernizing" and "expanding" and turning it into some place that would have ol' Phog turning over in his grave. Whatever's wrong with Kansas, it's not Allen Fieldhouse.
Our panel of writers and contributors have been fortunate enough over the years to watch college basketball in the nation's finest, most historical arenas. Which provided the coolest experience for them?
Stephen Bardo: I love the history and tradition of Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas. The seats near the court are so close, you can see players changing their minds! The up-tempo style of play that Jayhawks coach Bill Self uses, coupled with an extremely knowledgeable and loud fan base, usually spells doom for the visitors. Many schools have coordinated cheers, but when you hear "Rock Chalk Jayhawk," it's lights-out. Oh, and how many other venues are located on Naismith Drive?
Jay Bilas: I was really lucky to play, coach and broadcast games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that venue always will be the most special place to see a game. But taking Cameron out of the equation, it is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and I'm not sure it is even a close call. One of my favorite parts of The Phog is the feel. I have sat there before practice when the place is empty, and it really seems to speak to you. That building just oozes history and tradition. There are no bells and whistles. It is about Kansas basketball, and everyone there is all-in. I have called it the St. Andrews of college basketball, and I believe that. Plus, the cherry limeade I usually get at halftime is pretty strong.
Hubert Davis: The coolest place I've ever seen and announced a game is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks. I've been to a number of arenas to play and announce, and nothing comes close! KU's atmosphere is the perfect storm -- it has great history, fanatical fans, legendary players and coaches and championship pedigree. I do not like announcing a game there, however, because I have to focus on the game. I'd rather be taking in the entire experience!
Five Stars Yelp
"I’ve been to Duke and I’ve been to New Mexico and played in The Pit. And I’ve been to Ohio State. I’m from North Carolina...and this place is unbelievable"
-Luke Boythe, UNC Greensboro Senior center
"All of our players on the plane ride back home talked about how loud Allen Fieldhouse was. The crowd simply overwhelmed us. It's the loudest building I've ever been in."
-UCLA coach Steve Lavin
"I think we were intimidated by the crowd in this building. It’s a special place."
- Holy Cross Coach Ralph Willard
MIKE VACCARO Published on August 27, 1997, Page D11, The Kansas City Star
LAWRENCE - Inside, the air is heavy with an eerie calm. This is always the strangest time of the college basketball season, just before it all starts, the noise and the color and the craziness that bubbles all across the nation for five months.
Nowhere does it bubble better than here.
We're walking along the baseline at Allen Fieldhouse, looking into the stands, amazed - as always - at what will happen here in the coming months. It seems smaller this way, when it's empty. Almost looks like a bloated high school gymnasium. Can they really cram 16,000 people in here? Can it really get so loud in here you can't hear yourself cough?
And it all starts tonight, a few heartbeats past midnight, when America greets the coming of a new season, a new chapter. College basketball will rise like a phoenix from the shadows of summer.
Baseball folks get goose bumps at the idea of pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training. For the hoops junkie, it's Midnight Madness.
Nowhere will this arrival, this homecoming, be greeted more warmly than here, where basketball shortens the Midwestern winter, where it kisses the coldest nights with the warmth of a hundred suns.
College basketball can do that. Especially here.
Here, anything is possible.
Roy Williams knows that, even if he still seems to be mourning a beloved senior class. He oversees what happens here, a marvelous communion of fanaticism and excellence. He has delivered to the truest believers what they always wanted: a program that is the equal of their passion, one that begins each year the way every other program in America does. Dreaming of March, of the final weekend, in this instance, of San Antonio.
There is one noticeable difference.
At Kansas, those dreams aren't far-fetched. They may not always come true, but they are surely worth the effort. Because it can happen here. You always have a shot.
And yet Williams sits, looking rather melancholy, as he greets reporters. It doesn't take much to jar his memory, to get him talking about Jacque Vaughn and Jerod Haase and the other members of the star-crossed Class of '97 that fell short of a championship.
``I still can't talk to them without knowing what they missed out on,'' Williams said. ``It's different for me. I'll have other chances. They won't. '' The lasting image of 1996-97 is Williams' emotional reflex to the season's sudden end. He had grown so fond of the team and the players that when it all vanished amid a hailstorm of Mike Bibby jump shots at the NCAA Southeast Regional in Birmingham, Ala., it hit Williams as hard as it did his seniors. Harder, maybe.
So Williams did a bit of soul-searching this summer. He talked to colleagues. He looked inward. He is too much the professional to wallow too long. But Thursday, just more than a day before it would all begin again, Williams seemed reluctant to cleanse his mind of the past. Not entirely. Not yet.
But he will. He should. These Jayhawks may not jump from the starting gate as the obvious championship favorite, the way last year's team did. But there are still plenty of reasons to await the start of practice the way a kid waits for Santa Claus. Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce are still here, after all. The Jayhawks still have more toys than all but a handful of programs in America.
``I want these guys to enjoy the journey,'' Williams said. ``You should enjoy college life. There isn't one coach I know that wouldn't trade spots with a player today. That includes me, and I know the kind of paycheck I'd be giving up to do that. '' He smiled then. He should smile. Soon, Williams would walk down to the bottom of Allen Fieldhouse and take a good look around, the crown prince admiring the vast expanse of his kingdom. It may not look like much now. Williams knows better. It will. It always does.
By Steve Weiberg, USA TODAY
The banner counters at UCLA won't like this.
Nor will the legions in the commonwealth of Kentucky who've sworn by Adolph "Baron'' Rupp, and Rick Pitino, too.
Complainers in Carolina blue, line up here. In royal Duke blue, over there. Right next
to those Hoosiers in the crimson sweaters.
We're here to identify college basketball's premier program-- not just for this season,
but for all time.
We're taking everything from sustained excellence and impact to game-day ambience to
decorum into account; and we're not stopping at Westwood, Lexington or anywhere
along Tobacco Road or Bloomington.
The call is: Kansas.
"Right in that building,'' Kansas coach Roy Williams says, pointing from his
office to adjoining Allen Fieldhouse," is the best place to play and coach in college
basketball. I truly believe that.''
Of course, you'd expect him to. His name's on the door. He'd like every hotshot recruit
in the nation to buy into the belief Kansas (KU) is hoops heaven on earth.
Williams, however, also might be expected to hedge. He was born in Asheville, N.C., and
graduated from North Carolina, where he played a season of basketball and later sat for 10
years at the right hand of Tar Heels coach Dean Smith. As Smith approaches retirement,
it's Williams who's almost universally speculated as his successor.
But he emphasizes: "I said best. I didn't say second-best.''
This is the program founded by James Naismith in 1898, seven years after he tacked a
couple of peach baskets to the walls and invented the game of basket ball in Springfield,
This is where F.C. "Phog'' Allen, who succeeded Naismith as coach, helped build
the game, selling it as an Olympic sport and helping get the NCAA tournament off the
This is the school with 13 Hall of Famers; a nation-high 12 Olympians; 10 Final Four
teams; two NCAA tournament champions; and two more teams recognized as national champions.
It's where the No. 1 ranking in the USA TODAY/CNN Top 25 Coaches' Poll rests at the
start of this season, where the winningest program of the 1990s (record: 194-44) is
expected to launch another run at a title Nov. 22 against Santa Clara at San Jose, Calif.
It's where Jacque Vaughn, the star point guard, is a devotee of poet Maya Angelou and
quotes Robert Frost at news conferences.
"To me,'' says Vaughn, one of six current players who migrated from California to
play in the Land of Oz, "it's the perfect place to be.''
Says a less biased observer, CBS' Billy Packer, "If you're talking about the total
history of the intercollegiate game, 100 years of basketball . . . the premise is pretty
Contenders' credentials fall short
UCLA has more national championships than anybody, 11. But that addresses just one of
the many factors in determining the nation's pre-eminent program. The Bruins are too
schizophrenic now, with as many coaches (seven) since John Wooden's retirement in 1975 as
Kansas has had in its 99-year history.
Keep in mind, too, that UCLA was a losing program (256-263) in its first 27 seasons,
not pulling above .500 until 1946-47. Wooden got there two years later.
Kentucky? There's simply too much uncomfortable history, from the racism of Rupp to the
point-shaving scandal that brought a one-season suspension of competition in the early
'50s to the more recent infractions case that barred the Wildcats from the NCAA tournament
in 1990 and '91.
Duke? Its history is backloaded, with 11 Final Four appearances and two national
championships since 1963 but nothing before that.
Indiana? The Hoosiers have ebbed. They last won a national championship in 1987, a year
before Kansas' last title, but have been back to the Final Four once. And they've lost in
the NCAA tournament's first round the last two years. Their 33 losses the past three
seasons are the most in that length of time in Bob Knight's tenure as coach.
North Carolina? Michael Jordan's alma mater comes closest to Kansas in all pertinent
categories. But by the time the school discovered the sport in 1910, KU had played 12
seasons and won three conference championships.
Moreover, where did Dean Smith come from?
Uh-huh. Kansas. Class of '53.
Building Jayhawks' case
The Jayhawks' resume isn't spotless. NCAA studies of players' graduation rates have
been less than flattering, with Kansas' most recent four-year average of 30% (for students
entering from 1986-89) seventh-lowest among the top 25 basketball programs ranked at the
end of last season.
While Wilt Chamberlain spent his two-year college career at KU, his recruitment from
Philadelphia generated questions of impropriety and helped draw a year's NCAA probation.
The Jayhawks also were slapped by the NCAA after winning the 1988 national championship,
barred from defending the title for recruiting irregularities under former coach Larry
In the latter case, however, Brown was gone and Williams hired by the time the penalty
was handed down. There hasn't been a hint of scandal since, to the point that only one
off-the-court incident (never officially spelled out) has warranted a player's suspension
since Williams' arrival. And that was in 1991.
Continuing to build the case for Kansas:
Tradition. There's Naismith, who's buried in Lawrence. (Ironically, he's the only
KU coach to post a losing record.) There's Allen, who in 1927 successfully led opposition
to a pending rule change that might have altered the course of the game, limiting
dribbling to a single bounce. There are three graduates among the six winningest college
coaches of all time: Rupp, North Carolina's Smith and Allen, and Ralph Miller ranks 16th.
Has any program left a more lasting imprint on the game?
"'ve never been able to sell a recruit on tradition,'' Williams says. "But
if you can get him here, either for a visit or you get him to come here (to play), it's a
feeling you have that you're playing in an awful special place.''
Current stature. The preseason No. 1 ranking speaks to that. So do four
appearances in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 the past four years and three regional final
berths in the past six seasons. The latter is matched by Arkansas, Cincinnati, Duke,
Michigan and North Carolina and bettered only by Kentucky (with four).
Critics point to the lack of a more recent national championship. "As players, we
do it, too,'' center Scot Pollard says. "I'm in that stage right now where I'm going,
'Geez, Sweet 16. It's not that great. I've been there, done that.' ''
But there's no bigger crap shoot in sports than the 64-team, single-elimination NCAA
tournament. And that '88 title is hardly ancient history.
The coach. Ask schools which coach they'd most like as their own, and the only
uncertainty is where in the top five Williams would be. At 46, he's a two-time national
coach of the year. He tied North Carolina State's Everett Case for the most wins in his
first eight seasons in Division I (with 213, an average of almost 27 a season).
The only question is whether Kansas can keep Williams when Smith finally steps down at
Carolina; to which Williams offers little more than a smile as a clue. "I never
even entertain those thoughts,'' he says.
The setting. Allen Fieldhouse is 41 years old and "isn't shiny, pretty and
new like some places we've been to and played in,'' Vaughn says.
But therein lies a charm that doesn't exist at North Carolina's
beautiful-but-too-pristine Smith Center, among other newer arenas. The game-time noise
level and electricity match that of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium without the
Listen to the unique "Rock, Chalk'' chant. Note the faded banner draped on the
upper north wall, cautioning, "Pay Heed, All Who Enter: BEWARE OF 'THE PHOG.' ''
As long as it meets fire standards and security standards,'' Vaughn says, "I
wouldn't change it for the world.''
We rest our case.