LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Only at a place like Allen Fieldhouse would they turn the simple act of players running onto the court into a cherished team tradition.
Emerging from their locker room in the 55-year-old basketball showplace, coaches and players trot past exultant fans, through a short tunnel and then emerge on the floor to pulsating music, foot-stomping racket and the booming cheers of 16,300 adoring fans. Above, a huge scoreboard shows video of great plays and storied players from the Jayhawks’ hallowed past, from Wilt Chamberlain to Danny Manning to the miracle shot that sent the 2008 NCAA championship game into overtime.
The whole scene is so intimidating that Baylor coach Scott Drew once took his players back into the visitors locker room until the Jayhawks and their fans were done with their earsplitting love fest.
No one knows if Texas A&M-Corpus Christi coach Perry Clark will similarly shield his players on Tuesday night.
Perhaps he should.
If the No. 7 Jayhawks (3-0) get past the Islanders, they will notch consecutive home victory No. 63, setting a school record and adding one more bit of history to a beloved old building where tradition already seeps from the rafters.
“I’m proud of the streak. I think we all are,” said coach Bill Self. “I’d rather win six in a row in the NCAA tournament than 63 in a row at home. But yes, the streak is something to be proud of. The building has been a big part of it. But I’ve always said the best home courts in America are the ones that have the best players playing in them.”
In seven-plus seasons as the Jayhawks’ head coach, Self’s had a multitude of good players. He’s an almost unbelievable 116-6 in what generations of Kansans have called, with reverence, “the fieldhouse.”
He hasn’t lost a home game since Texas A&M’s All-Big 12 guard Acie Law hit a dramatic 3-pointer in the final seconds for a 69-66 victory on Feb. 3, 2007. Four days later, the Jayhawks beat Kansas State 97-70 and launched what will culminate on Tuesday, barring an upset, with a team-record 63 home wins in a row.
Several former players, including many who took part in the 62-game home streak from 1994-98, will be in the crowd.
“It’s a huge deal. We want to win, especially for all of the players that came before us,” said sophomore forward Thomas Robinson. “To tie it is a big thing, but to be the team that broke it is a big deal for us. We want to be known as the team that broke the streak. That’s a lot of games to win at home, especially with the competition that we have every year.”
The Jayhawks have sold out 150 straight games. They have led their conference in attendance the past 24 years.
“You can ask guys who played here long before I got here, and they’ll tell you one of the biggest thrills is running out of the tunnel,” said Self. “Just entering the court has become a big deal here. There could be snow, hail, sleet, wind, cold. But almost every time you run through that tunnel, there’s 16,000-plus to greet you, saying, in effect, ‘Hey guys, where you been? We missed you.’
“I don’t think players get that at very many places.”
Seated close to the floor, fans put up a noise that can be deafening in every sense of the word.
“Sometimes it gets so loud,” former Kansas guard Ryan Robertson once said, “you can’t feel your feet hit the floor.”
“There have been numerous games where we could have easily gone the other way,” said Self. “I really think the fieldhouse and the fans—things that were external from the players—had a lot to do with giving us the energy to pull those games out.”
Lesser players would never have won 62 in a row in any building.
Still, it’s a special place.
“I don’t know—there’s just something about it,” said senior guard Tyrel Reed. “When we come to the fieldhouse, I don’t feel like we can be beat. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. I don’t care if it’s an NBA team, we’d come out here and play hard.”
Senior guard Mario Little recalls the first time he ran through the tunnel.
“There were all these people screaming, and for me? I didn’t really get it. But I get it now. It’s just a different feeling to run out of the tunnel and all the fans are chanting your name and rooting you on. It’s a different feeling.”