After visiting historic Churchill Downs for their team dinner Tuesday, the top-seeded Jayhawks convened for open practice Wednesday in downtown Louisville’s cavernous KFC Yum! Center in preparation for their Sweet 16 showdown Thursday with the No. 5 seed Maryland Terrapins.
In their light-hearted but spirited open practice, KU guards—especially Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonte’ Graham—looked to be locked in as they made their way around the arc, launching shots from 2 and 3 feet behind the line that consistently swished elegantly through the net. The highlight of the afternoon session was Evan Manning’s swish from half court, nearly equalled by LaGerald Vick.
“We know how it feels to take losses,” says forward Jamari Traylor, referencing opening-weekend NCAA Tournament losses the past two seasons. “We’re just a little bit more focused. When you take a loss, it sits in the back of your mind and you’re going to do anything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Terrapins are coached by former KU guard Mark Turgeon, c’87, who in 1987 became the first Jayhawk to appear in four NCAA Tournaments. As for coaching against his alma mater, the veteran former coach of Wichita State and Texas A&M coach said, “The Kansas thing is not that weird to me anymore, or unique. It was a little bit that way the first time we played them, but being at Texas A&M, we played them a lot. You get used to it.”
Turgeon did, however, disclose that one boyhood sports loyalty will never fade: “I literally can’t go to bed at night,” Turgeon said, “until I get a Royals’ score.”
KU alumni, fans and friends are invited to gather for a pregame party starting at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Cascade Rooms A, B and C. The KU spirit squad, mascots and band will lead a pep rally at 6:15 p.m.
Miami and Villanova open the South Regional’s Sweet 16 action at 6:10 p.m. (Central) Thursday. The KU-Maryland game follows at approximately 8:40.
The two teams advancing to the Elite Eight will play Saturday (time to be determined Friday), with a trip to the Final Four in Houston on the line.
“I hate that it’s Kansas.” – Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, after his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Amen to that.
At our house, we cheer passionately for two college basketball teams: the Jayhawks of Kansas (my alma mater) and the Terrapins of Maryland (my husband’s).
Most of the time, this is fine, especially in the era of the DVR. Sometimes at home we do wardrobe changes—including shoes— between games. (More on that later.) We’ve found ourselves at Allen Fieldhouse or Xfinity Center in College Park watching a game on a cellphone at halftime. But nothing too crazy.
We did once watch Maryland play in the old Wooden Classic in Anaheim and then drive to San Diego to watch Kansas play that evening. And in 2001, we flew back and forth between Anaheim and San Antonio, watching three NCAA tournament games in two cities in three days. It would have been four games in four days, but alas, Kansas lost to Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen.
Did I mention we’re passionate about college basketball?
Our schools aren’t in the same league, so it’s mostly a good thing, not competitive. We’ve learned new cheers and traditions. I never knew before that Maryland also calls itself the Free State, because it abolished slavery in 1864. Kansas, of course, was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1861. Three years earlier. Now, what was I saying? Oh, embracing new traditions and cheers. Rick mastered the I’m A Jayhawk clap in record time. Even the double-time part.
Rarely do our interests conflict. The Jayhawks and Terps have played only one regular season game in the time we’ve been married. (Maryland won.) Some years, they’ve been on a collision course in the NCAA tournament, but the bracket was busted before they met. The exception was 2002, when Maryland beat Kansas in the national semifinal game in Atlanta. We were at that game, but did not sit together. The marriage survived.
Then the brackets came out this year and the selection committee placed Kansas and Maryland in the South region. When both advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, we started getting messages of concern from friends. What would we do?
Well, we’d go to Louisville, of course. We’ve been focused this week on travel plans and ticket acquisition. No trash talk.
Everything is arranged. Now all I have to do is pack.
When we were in Lawrence for the Kentucky game, I bought a pair of Jayhawk sneakers. I have worn them for every game since. As you may know, the Jayhawks have played well during that time. Undefeeted, as Rick puts it.
During that streak, he decided I needed a pair of Terp sneakers. Even Rick acknowledges, though, that the Crimson and Blue shoes are cuter than the Red and White and Black and Gold pair. (Yes, Maryland has four colors, and yes, I can explain why, but it’s a long story and not that interesting.)
The Terp sneakers haven’t been nearly as lucky as the Jayhawk pair, which I will wear Thursday in Louisville.
I will tuck the Maryland pair in my suitcase for the Elite Eight in case I need them. I hope I won’t.
Marriage is all about give and take, and I think it’s the Jayhawks’ turn.
—Shawna Seed, j’85, lives in Dallas and is the author of two novels. Find her on Twitter @shawnaseed.
The KU men’s basketball team earned the No. 1 overall seed in the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, marking the seventh straight season that the Jayhawks have earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and the 12th time overall that Kansas has been a one-seed.
The team opened tournament play against No. 16 Austin Peay State University on Thursday, March 17. No luck was needed as the Jayhawks handily beat the Governors, 105-79, to advance to the second round and a matchup against No. 9 UConn.
March Madness can create some unlikely rivalries, and KU’s feisty first-round match against Austin Peay produced some good natured trash talking on Twitter this week. The admissions offices from KU and Austin Peay exchanged shots that were too good to miss. Check it out. These loyal staffers work hard and play hard. Let the games begin!
This year, thanks to a partnership with Miles Schnaer’s Crown Automotive in Lawrence, there will be no missing the KU Alumni Association on the ‘Road to the Final Four.’ Catch our staff in this one-of-a-kind Jayhawk Car, if you can!
The Crown Jayhawk Car is a Scion tC, and take our word for it, this Jayhawk can fly. If you’re lucky enough to spot it on the road, or if you scored tickets to see the Jayhawks play in person, look for the Crown Jayhawk Car and post a pic. According to our friends at Crown, the car has been a fan favorite among Jayhawks and auto enthusiasts young and old.
Follow the ‘hawks throughout the postseason on our ‘Hawks and Hoops page, with the latest information on tournament games, pep rallies, shoot arounds and watch parties around the country. Plus, look for special benefits just for proud Association members. No matter how far our Jayhawks go in the tournament, you can bet we’ll arrive in style!
In a blog post titled “One Bad Loss” Paul Pierce shared his memories of the one that got away in 1997, and for Pierce, ’99, KU’s epic upset loss to Arizona still stings.
“Our team was just about unstoppable that season — we started the year 22-0,” Pierce noted. “ESPN was calling us the national title favorites. Our only loss during the regular season was against Mizzou in double OT, and we beat them by double-digits the next two times we faced them.”
The 1996-97 Jayhawks featured a line-up many consider the best in KU’s storied history, including future NBA stars like Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, along with Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Hasse, Ryan Robertson and Billy Thomas to boot.
“We entered the 1997 NCAA tournament that year as the No. 1 overall seed and won our first two games convincingly. In the Sweet 16, we were set to face No. 4 Arizona. We had beaten them the previous season in the Sweet 16, so I felt like we were ready.”
But fate has a funny way of manifesting itself, and as KU relished the role of Cinderella in ’88, it would experience the madness of March in ’97 running headlong into eventual NCAA Tournament Champion Arizona, which had a date with destiny. Despite a thrilling comeback, KU would fall by three points, as a last-second shot clanged off the rim. As bad as the loss was for the rest of the team to take, it might have been harder on Pierce. Like all champions, Pierce wanted the ball in that clutch situation, and he remains haunted by those final seconds in which he never touched the ball.
A University Daily Kansan clipping captured the heartbreaking loss
“Coming all the way back from a big deficit and me not having a crack at the final shot made it hurt that much worse. I just remember crying in the locker room after that game. All of us were crying — the entire team was completely devastated. To us, it was a wasted season.”
KU Alumni and fans also shed tears along with Head Coach Roy Williams, who would call it the most painful loss of his coaching career. But as Pierce concluded, that’s why they call it March Madness.
“The tournament is unforgiving. If you have one bad game, that’s it. Throughout my career I’ve had many losses, but all these years later, this is one that still stings.”
Pierce’s full post, including pictures and video clips, can be read online at theplayerstribune.com. Danny Manning’s reflection on the ’88 championship, titled “It’s Over,” was featured earlier this year.
The NCAA Tournament depends, in part, on the annual rite of building up the underdogs; David versus Goliath is a March Madness mantra that never grows old. So when second-seeded Kansas faces No. 7-seed Wichita State University, it might be expected that anybody who’s not part of the crimson and blue crew in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center will be rooting for the Shockers.
Objection! That’s assuming facts not in evidence, advises Omaha attorney Rick Putnam, c’77, l’80, chair-elect of the Alumni Association’s board of directors.
While the Sunflower State storyline has been hotly coveted by WSU fans since NCAA brackets were revealed last Sunday, the game won’t be contested on a strictly neutral court: CenturyLink is the home arena of the Creighton University Bluejays, a fierce Missouri Valley Conference rival of Wichita State.
“There’s a lot of bad blood between Creighton and Wichita State, a lot of bad blood,” Putnam said during KU’s official pregame rally, hosted by the Alumni Association in partnership with the Williams Education Fund and Kansas Athletics, before Friday’s NCAA opener. “There’s going to be a lot of blue in here cheering for the Jayhawks if we face Wichita State, and it won’t be only our blue. Creighton blue will be here to root for KU.”
Sunday kicks off with the Association’s pregame rally, set to begin at 12:30 p.m. on the second floor of the CenturyLink Center. Game time is 4:15 p.m.
“It will be a big game for our state,” said KU coach Bill Self, “without question.”
When Alumni Association president Kevin Corbett, c’88, took the stage to welcome Jayhawk alumni and fans to the official rally before Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, he told the gathering that he and other members of the Association staff weren’t sure what to expect.
With a rally that began at 8 a.m., ahead of an 11:15 a.m. tipoff, they worried the early hour would keep fans from showing up in time for a gathering of the flock.
“And next thing we know,” Corbett noted to the crowd of about 1,000 Jayhawk faithful, “there’s a line outside the door to get in. Welcome to the Big Dance.”
The early risers soaked in the complete crimson and blue experience. With the giant inflatable Jay towering over the ballroom and D.J. Scott Simpson, ’85, cranking out the tunes, fans frolicked with Baby Jay, found themselves interviewed by television crews and scored official gear from KUStore.com, all while greeting old friends from near and far.
“We’re thrilled to have everyone back in Omaha,” said the Association board’s chair-elect Rick Putnam, c’77, l’80, a local attorney. “Every few years we get to see all of our KU friends return here for the tournament, and it’s always seems to work out well.”
The Jayhawks launched their 2008 national championship run in Omaha, and did the same on their way to the NCAA Tournament title game in 2012. Should they be fortunate enough to advance to the tourney’s second weekend three years from now, the Jayhawks could return again to Omaha, which will host NCAA regional play in 2018.
“Here we are again,” Corbett told the crowd, “ready to begin another run.”
Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, told the KU faithful about a few minutes he spent in the locker room with assistant coaches while coach Bill Self met with the media after the Jayhawks secured their 11th-consecutive Big 12 title. The coaches, Zenger said, thought back to the 72-40 drubbing by Kentucky Nov. 18; from that disappointment emerged 26 victories entering NCAA play, another outright conference championship, a trip to the Big 12 Tournament’s title game and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“The coaches said to me, ‘We’d have taken that and run,'” Zenger recalled. “What a job coach Self has done.”
Noting that KU is in its 26th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, Zenger closed with, “This is what we do, and nobody does it better.”
With the Spirit Squad and basketball band kicking the festivities into high gear, fans sang along with fight songs, the Alma Mater and, of course, the Rock Chalk Chant before descending in droves to the arena below.
The Big Dance had begun.
Check out our photos from today’s pregame party and pep rally in the slideshow below.
While Alumni Association staff busily prepared for Friday’s 8 a.m. pregame rally on the second floor of the convention center in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, the KU men’s basketball team met with the media and went through a public shoot-around practice in advance of Friday’s 11:15 a.m. NCAA Tournament opener against New Mexico State.
The second-seeded Jayhawks (26-8) say the memories of last year’s opening weekend exit after suffering an upset by Stanford remains fresh in their minds.
“Last year went by way too fast,” said sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. “Just like that we were done. This year we’re trying to take a different approach, focusing in on the little details.”
Coach Bill Self said junior forward Perry Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, “looks a lot better than last week.” Ellis sustained a knee injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season, March 3 against West Virginia, and missed two games before returning for the Big 12 Tournament’s semifinal and championship games.
“He’s been terrific,” Self said of Ellis’ performance in practice this week. “He hasn’t winced once, and hasn’t had to come out. … I think he’s going to play great.”
The Aggies of New Mexico State (26-8), a No. 15 seed, have won 13 straight games, including an 80-61 victory over Seattle University in the WAC championship game. The tournament title followed a regular-season conference championship for the Aggies, who are known for a tough zone defense with varied looks.
Self said he expected the experienced Aggies, with three seniors in the starting lineup, to enter Friday’s game with “an unbelievable sense of urgency.”
As for his own team, Self said that unlike last season, when the Jayhawks “were a team in flux” entering the NCAA Tournament, he and his club are eliminating distractions. Despite inconsistencies across the season and even within games, Self has high hopes for his team’s performance.
“My expectation,” Self said, “is that we are going to play our best ball.”
Watch our slideshow below to see a few pictures from Thursday’s open practice. Photos by Dan Storey and Chris Lazzarino.
All KU alumni have special memories of KU’s magical run to the 1988 NCAA Championship– even those who played in it. Danny Manning, now head basketball coach at Wake Forest, remembers exactly how it felt to “seal the deal” and secure the Jayhawks’ first NCAA title since 1952. The former NCAA Player of the Year and number one pick of the 1988 NBA draft opened up about his championship experience in The Players’ Tribune, a blog featuring the voices of professional athletes from a first-person perspective.
In Manning’s post titled “It’s Over,” he vividly recalls the moment he put the game away, hitting two free throws with five seconds left, and the euphoria that followed. Yet the most memorable moment for Manning came during a quiet moment after the celebration.
“Sitting in the locker room with my teammates after winning the national championship, we talked about our season, which was my senior season. We talked about the tournament. And that’s when it hit us: That was the last time we’d ever be together on the court as a team. It was a somber moment for me, but also a very satisfying one knowing that I was a part of a group that was able to win a national championship.”
Manning’s team finished the 2015 season–his first as head coach of the Deamon Deacons–with a 13-19 record, placing 12th in the ACC conference and will miss the Big Dance this year. But don’t count Manning out. He aims to be back, because he knows what it takes to get there, and he can still recall exactly how good it feels to reign supreme as NCAA Tournament Champion.
“It’s a gamut of emotions that hits you at that point, but lastly, there’s a sense of calm after the storm, and all that’s left is the joy of what you’ve accomplished with your teammates.”
Never fond of the moniker ‘Danny and the Miracles,’ Manning reflected on the sheer joy of playing with his teammates in what he emphasized is a team sport.
“We weren’t the most talented and we weren’t the most athletic, but we played together and we played for each other. That’s what made us great. It wasn’t “Danny and the Miracles.” It was just the Kansas Jayhawks.”