It was not an actor or a rapper but a banner that stole the show at the 28th annual Late Night in the Phog on Friday night in jam-packed Allen Fieldhouse.
A 9:14 p.m. unveiling of KU’s 2012 Final Four flag, located in the rafters just north of the center videoboard, had 16,300 fans stomping their feet in a rumble that rivaled the 2008 Late Night when the NCAA title banner was unfurled.
“I thought it was pretty cool. To do the ‘Dream On’ video that long (prior to banner unveiling) and be able to highlight that kind of stuff ... I think that’s pretty nice,” said KU coach Bill Self, who was thoroughly impressed with the fans’ reaction throughout the three-hour, 15-minute show.
“The biggest highlight of the night was the crowd. That you could turn away people to watch that practice, I think, is pretty cool. People can talk about their respective schools and how good they’ve got it. Nobody’s got it as good as we do right here in Lawrence, Kansas,” Self added.
…He said he especially enjoyed a video of fans celebrating during games last season and postseason.
“We never get to see that stuff, how the fans get into it at the local bars. To me that was cool,” Self said.
(And yet I was unable to find ONE photograph of the new Big 12 Championship banner Or the new Final Four banner taken by any of the "professional" photogs. Amazing. I screen grabbed the above from my copy of the "Dream On" video.)
KC Star: Late Night Photos
UDK: Late Night Photos
LJW: Late Night Photos
TCJ: Late Night Photos
KUAD: Late Night Photos
KUAD: Late Night Mens Box Score
My Late Night Videos (Dream On, Jayhawks in the NBA, Intro Vid, Dance Mix)
6News Video: Late Night in the Phog kicks off season
There are many ways to ring in a new college basketball season. Kansas just happens to be a place where they do it with four seniors, decked out in pastel blazers and bow ties, dancing to a South Korean pop hit with more than 440 million views on YouTube.
Got all that?
That was the scene at Late Night in the Phog on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse. KU seniors Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Kevin Young appearing at midcourt, all riding an imaginary horse while 16,300 fans went into a frenzy, the sound of the Internet smash “Gangnam Style” blaring over the loudspeakers.
“Just big-man footwork right there,” Withey said.
This was the start of basketball season in Lawrence, a midfall break from reality and football, a reminder of what the folks at Kansas do best.
“There’s 2,000 people that couldn’t get in tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
…Last year at Late Night, Self took the mic and told a full house to enjoy the ride. The Jayhawks had lost so much talent, and it appeared they might be in line to take a step back.
You know the rest, of course. Another Big 12 title. Another Final Four. And so on.
One season later, with three starters returning, and a cadre of new freshmen to fill the gaps, Self strolled onto the floor and referenced his speech from last season.
“The process worked out OK,” Self said.
Self did his best to normalize expectations. The Jayhawks are going to be good, he says, but it may take a while.
It was cramped and campy and loosely choreographed, just like it always is when Kansas tips off a basketball season.
Late Night in the Phog, KU’s annual exhibition/variety show, drew a capacity crowd to Allen Fieldhouse, and they were the lucky ones who got in before the building met its fire code limit.
This is the time each year when KU’s seniors dress up in funny clothes and dance whatever dance happens to be popular with teenagers, the time when Bill Self takes a microphone and cautions the fans that KU has a bunch of good players to replace.
Self said the same thing last year, of course, and the Jayhawks only went on to play for the national title.
“Even though rosters change at Kansas, expectations don’t,” Self said.
That circle of life is obvious at Late Night, where yesterday’s recruits are on the floor and tomorrow’s Jayhawks are in the stands.
…Looking on were several notable prospects, including small forward Aaron Gordon (No. 5 player in the 2013 class according to Rivals.com), shooting guard Wayne Selden (No. 23) and 7-foot center Joel Embiid. KU commit Conner Frankamp also was there, as was Clayton Custer, a four-star point guard in the 2014 class from Blue Valley Northwest.
Those players got the full sales pitch: the unveiling of another Final Four banner, the celebration of eight straight Big 12 titles and a warm ovation from the crowd. Self’s highlight was a home-video compilation of fans celebrating KU’s big wins from last season.
“If I’m a recruit, that to me was the most impressive thing,” he said.
Kansas University’s basketball players were back on the court — for the first real practice of the 2012-13 season — a mere 13 hours after Friday’s festive Late Night in the Phog.
A few high school basketball recruits and their parents gathered with the Jayhawks at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the team’s practice facility, in stark contrast to the 16,300 who jammed Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night.
“I’d give it a ‘B,’” KU coach Bill Self said of Saturday’s two-hour session. “We had a good day, a good, spirited workout. They were alert, tried real hard, were enthusiastic like all first practices should be. We got a few things done, but, really, the real practices will begin after the weekend is over.”
Lawrence is filled with former Kansas University students. After graduation, some leave and come back. Others decide to stay in Lawrence.
For some KU men’s basketball players, it’s no different.
“I always knew, no matter what direction I went after I got done playing, I knew that’s the place I loved to live and retire in,” said former guard Jeff Hawkins, who now coaches high school basketball for Perry-Lecompton. “Living in Lawrence, in general — the people are friendly and nice. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Hawkins is joined by many others who played in front of fans in Allen Fieldhouse.
Bud Stallworth, the Kansas shooting guard who dropped 50 points against Missouri in 1972, lives in town and has a local sports radio show. Former All-American Wayne Simien is a campus minister at KU. Scot Pollard, former center, has an apartment downtown. Chris Piper, a guard on the 1988 championship team, operates Grandstand Sportswear. Roger Morningstar, the first generation of the Jayhawk Morningstars (his son, Brady, also played at KU), operates Morningstar’s New York Style Pizza in town.
The list goes on and on.
…While late night signals the long-awaited start of another basketball season for KU fans, it also serves as a recruiting tool for Kansas Athletics.
“I committed during Late Night,” Scot Pollard said. “When I got here, it was just amazing to be a part of it and be the one in front of the crowd.”
Pollard had verbally committed to Arizona, but after experiencing Late Night as a high school senior, he decided KU was the place for him.
“I remember being completely shocked that people cared that much about basketball,” said Pollard, who played at KU from 1993 to 1997 before joining the NBA for a career that spanned 11 years.
…“We shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears on that court,” Hawkins said. “When you can be around those guys that you went to war with, it’s always good to be close to them. It’s good to know that old heads like Bud are still around. They still choose to be around Lawrence, Kansas. That just lets you know how great the community has been to players in general.”
It is summertime in Lawrence, and Collins is standing in a hallway adjacent to the KU basketball facilities. He is back in town for a few weeks, surrounded by old friends and a support system that answers every call and text. He is talking about the future, about accomplishing dreams and goals that have been put on hold.
“The plan is to go somewhere and make some money,” Collins says. “The plan is to get into the NBA.”
In the two years since he left Kansas, Collins’ basketball career has been marked by a series of setbacks and delays — some self-inflicted, some bad luck, some out of his hands. At times, his body betrayed him. Other times, it was his own mind.
This month, NBA training camps have opened across the country. And Collins was given a momentary opportunity, a non-roster invitation to the San Antonio Spurs’ camp. Five days later, Collins was waived. Back he went to the pro basketball wilderness, where he’ll have to find another path back.
“I still think he can do it,” says former teammate Tyshawn Taylor, who spent two years at Kansas looking up to Collins. “I’ve seen him be out of shape and score 30 points in a game. He can do it. It’s just about wanting to and having that drive and hunger that he used to have…"
…Collins’ stint in Turkey brought some stability. He played well in spurts for a club called Hacettepe Üniversitesi. Made friends with some American military. Even managed to tag along for American food on the base. But a knee injury — a partial tear in his meniscus — cut his season short. And Collins decided to return home instead of risking further damage.
Worse than the missed time, Collins’ weight — a daily battle in his post-KU career — ballooned to nearly 30 pounds above his playing weight of 205 to 210.
“I think if I wouldn’t have had this injury, I’d be playing in the NBA this year,” Collins says. “But it slowed my whole summer up. It’s just basketball; it’s life, there are injuries that happen.”
As Collins says this, he rubs his hands together, imagining the possibilities. Life in the NBA. That always seemed like the next step — something so attainable.
Even at Kansas, on teams that featured future NBA guards such as Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Xavier Henry, Collins’ talents stood out. Old teammates still tell the stories. Sure, it was Chalmers who hit The Shot against Memphis. But it was Collins who made the pass, Collins who had put the whole comeback in motion with a steal and a three-pointer minutes earlier.
“He was the best guard on that team,” says Taylor, who arrived on campus one year later. “Mario’s been in the league four years now, and he’ll probably tell you the same thing.
“Sherron just had some (stuff) that nobody else had. You can’t teach what Sherron brought to Kansas.”
30 for 30 "There's No Place Like Home" debuts on 10/16
Kansas 2012-13 Schedule
Big 12/College News
1. Bill Self
2. Rick Pitino
3. Kevin O'Neill
4. John Calipari
5. Bo Ryan
6. Larry Shyatt
7. Matt Painter
8. Frank Martin
9. Thad Matta
10. Mike Krzyzewski
11. Brad Stevens
12. Anthony Grant
13. Kevin Willard
14. Bruce Weber
15. Rick Barnes
In case you're wondering, Leonard Hamilton is at No. 19. Larry Shyatt only has one year of observed data, but he absolutely turned Wyoming around on the defensive end last year. Rick Barnes doesn't get a lot of credit for what Texas does on defense, but keep in mind how young his teams have been over the last decade.
Now, the question is how much weight to put on these defensive coach effects. Most national publications put a heavy weight on the offensive talent on a team. If I ignored these coaching effects, my preseason rankings would look a lot more similar to those in most national publications.
I fit the data best with a model that gives a particularly high weight to the most recent season for each coach, but also some weight to all historic seasons. Again, while this fits the data better, it will mean that the model disagrees more frequently with the preseason top 25. For example these coach effects, particularly on defense, cause the model to love Duke ahead of NC State in the ACC in 2012-2013.
There may be no elite team with a bigger backcourt than KU, which is likely to use 6-4 Elijah Johnson, 6-5 Ben McLemore and 6-5 Travis Releford as the first three guards in its rotation. Big frontcourts have a stronger correlation to defensive success than do big backcourts, but one imagines that those guards combined with 6-11 center Jeff Withey and 6-8 freshman Perry Ellis up front will lead to the Jayhawks having another top-10 defense. That, and the fact that Bill Self has produced top-10 defenses (according to adjusted efficiency) for seven straight years, a run that's nearly as impressive as his streak of eight straight Big 12 titles. KU has some problems to solve -- like figuring out who's going to actually take shots now that Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are gone -- but defense will keep that Big 12 streak alive.
SI Winn Power Rankings
3. Will Kansas ever lose a Big 12 title? That was supposed to happen last season, when the Jayhawks were supposed to be in a rebuilding campaign. Of course, that “rebuilding” year ended with Kansas in the national title game. This year, Bill Self loses Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor -- and while the Big 12 is deep, it's down at the top. Nine in a row? Looks like it. -- Jeff Borzello
CBS: 68 things to watch in 2012-13
ESPN: Big 12 non conference schedule analysis
ESPN: 10 toughest non-conference schedules (Kansas #6)
ESPN: 10 weakest non-conference schedules (OK State, TCU, TT make the list)
5. Is there one sleeper player or team we should jump on the bandwagon for?
Brennan: Kansas State. I know the Wildcats' talent won't jump out at you, but this was a very good, hard-nosed team on the defensive end and the glass last season. With the exception of Jamar Samuels, everyone is back, and the squad seems perfectly predisposed to excel under new coach Bruce Weber, who is at his best guiding players who commit fully to the his stringent man-to-man system. In a Big 12 with one overriding favorite and plenty of question marks, I'd buy K-State stock.
ESPN: Five Big Questions
SMU coach Larry Brown said on our ESPNU College Basketball podcast Thursday that he was going to open up his practices. He has nothing to hide. Kentucky has had a practice shown on ESPNU last season. Indiana’s practice Friday is slated for ESPNU and Duke’s practice at Fort Bragg on Monday will be on ESPNU. But no school is taking the transparency to another level like Oklahoma. Coach Lon Kruger signed off on the Sooners live-streaming all of its preseason practices beginning with Friday’s at 5 p.m. CT. The Sooners do need a gimmick or two to generate consistent fan interest on a football-crazed campus. But this could be a model for others to follow. Kruger is using the technology to interact with the fan base, possibly recruit and more than anything allow anyone interested to see how a team develops.
ESPN Katz: Big 12 3pt shot
Big 12 Composite Schedule
SI Seth Davis 10 burning questions
CBS Preseason Bracketology
College basketball, of course, has built its reputation on such unexpected thrills. The end-of-the-season madness is a three-week love letter to bedlam. Bryce Drew, Mario Chalmers and, of course, the late Lorenzo Charles will live forever because of it.
But I'm all for paying homage to our new lust for the immediate. Why wait until March for chaos? Let's have it all season.
Let's go into this season with wild and wacky Final Four picks -- I've already seen UNLV, Gonzaga and even Butler mentioned -- and enjoy them for their disparity.
Let's embrace a non-consensus No. 1 and trash the term "prohibitive favorite."
Let's actually see how the season plays out, who emerges and gets better, who buckles and falls apart.
Let's say as of today, the unofficial start of the season, that everyone has the same chance, that nothing is guaranteed and that the slate is clean.
And let's actually mean it.
ESPN Dana O'Neil
“I was excited. It was crazy,” Pressey said of the banner-raising. “… I just can’t wait to put a national championship up there. That’s what I’ve been working for.”
As preseason rankings were released earlier this week, Sporting News ranked the Tigers No. 10 and ESPN ranked them No. 11.
“I’ve never really come out and said we have a chance to win a national championship,” Bowers said on Thursday at the team’s media day, “but I feel, with this team, we really do.”
A 25-year-old man was stabbed Friday night at the Carrier Dome during the annual Orange Madness event, an open practice that marks the beginning of the Syracuse University basketball season.
The victim was taken to Upstate University Hospital in stable condition, said Syracuse police Sgt. Tom Connellan. The stabbing occurred around 9:30 p.m. in the concourse area of the Dome, near the concession stands, as did other fights, Connellan said.
None of the people involved were students or affiliated with the university, Connellan said. The victim has not cooperated with police and no suspects are in custody.
After the stabbing, police and university officials decided to end the event about a half hour early.
ESPN Tip-Off Marathon schedule
2012-13 Early Season Events List
Joel Embiid, one of three uncommitted high school senior basketball prospects who attended Friday’s Late Night in the Phog, on Sunday listed Kansas University as his current leader in recruiting.
Embiid, an unranked 7-foot, 220-pound senior center from Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., told Rivals.com: “I had a great visit. I’m going to visit Virginia, Florida and one other school to compare those schools to my visit to Kansas.”
…“Had a great time this weekend,” Embiid wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
Also on hand for Late Night: No. 5-ranked Aaron Gordon, 6-8 from Archbishop Mitty High in San Jose, Calif., and No. 23 Wayne Selden, 6-5 from Tilton (N.H.) School.
“KU was tight! Rock chalk is kinda on point haha,” Gordon wrote on Twitter on Sunday. Gordon is considering KU, Arizona, Washington, Kentucky, Oregon and California. Selden is considering KU, Arizona, Washington, Kentucky, Oregon and California. Selden is considering KU, Syracuse, Florida, Missouri, UCLA and Ohio State.
In many ways, you can mark the history of Late Night by what recruits Bill Self was able to convince to visit Kansas. Some day, that may be the case for Friday.
KU hosted three seniors on official visits, including Aaron Gordon, a power forward from San Jose, Calif., and Wayne Selden, a 6-foot-5 guard from Tilton Prep in New Hampshire. Gordon is the No. 5-ranked player in the class, according to Rivals.com, while Selden is rated No. 23.
Aside from No. 1 overall recruit Julius Randle, Selden and Gordon represent two of the highest recruits left on KU’s board. On Friday, Gordon and Selden entered the building midway through the proceedings and flanked current KU commit Conner Frankamp, a Wichita guard, in the first row behind the KU bench.
If everything holds to form, Kansas, which already has three commits, has two official scholarships to give in the Class of 2013. The Jayhawks also played host to senior Joel Embiid, a 7-foot center from Florida.
Of the six schools Tyler Roberson is considering, Rutgers is the lone school to which he will take an unofficial visit.
As the local, in-state school, Rutgers is close enough for him to have made an unofficial visit this weekend.
“It was fun,” the 6-foot-8 Roberson out of Roselle (N.J.) Catholic told SNY.tv Sunday.
“I went to the Midnight Madness and that was exciting. It was fun. There was a dunk contest [won by Vincent Garrett] and they scrimmaged a little bit.”
Roberson would be a huge get for head coach Mike Rice, who is still seeking his first commitment of the 2013 class.
“They would use me,” Roberson said. “I’ll make an impact with the team right away. They want me to play on the wing. They’ll use me in a lot of different ways on the court.”
He added: “It would be nice to go to a big school and stay home. I think it would be exciting to do something like that.”
Kansas University’s latest two women’s basketball commitments — twins Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez of Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho — attended Friday’s Late Night in the Phog in Allen Fieldhouse as part of their official recruiting visits.
The two 6-foot guards chose KU after receiving recruiting interest from Washington, UCLA, Stanford, UNLV, Auburn and others.
The twins are the daughters of former KU standout Angie Snider, a former high school phenom at Roeland Park’s Bishop Miege High.
“We love the coaching staff, the players, the style of play. My mom went there. We’ve got to hold up her legacy,” Dylan Gonzalez told KPVI-TV in Idaho. “We bring a lot of passion, a lot of energy. Our defense is what got coaches to start recruiting us.
“They’ve got a great trainer there. We’re excited to work with her,” Dylan added of Andrea Hudy. “I think she can turn us into All-Americans. The coaches there will make us better players.”
My 2012 KU Alumni games, 2011-12 Border War, Legends of the Phog, KC Prep Invitational & Jayhawk Invitational Videos, Late Night in the Phog, and more now on YouTube