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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Leap into KU lore

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Lew Perkins peered into a shiny glass case, pointing enthusiastically at a rare Kansas University basketball artifact.

"Those are Dr. (James) Naismith's glasses," Perkins, KU's athletic director, marveled on an impromptu tour of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, which today opens to KU-Nebraska ticket holders at 12:30 p.m.

"Look there," he intoned, "that's Gale Sayers' helmet. Over here are Phog Allen's shoes."

The Hall, which was made possible through more than $5 million in gifts from the children and grandchildren of the late Gilbert and Betty Booth, spans 26,000 square feet -- space occupied with exhibits on all of KU's sports with a heavy dose of men's basketball, appropriate considering the building is located at the front entrance to (Phog) Allen Fieldhouse.

Fans, in fact, today will file past the statue of former KU coach Allen as they enter. Once in the Hall, their eyes are sure to be drawn to the original Jayhawk mascot, standing tall in a huge trophy case.

"It is a real museum. It's a real Hall of Athletics," Perkins said. "If you don't get chills walking through this place, you've got problems."

As Perkins spoke, Paul Pierce's image flashed on a massive TV screen hanging from the rafters high inside the entrance. A pair of second-floor meeting rooms are for alumni and prospective student-athletes.

"I would say based on the little I've seen -- I've not studied each exhibit yet -- I'd say the original court," KU basketball coach Bill Self said of his favorite part of the hall, the original fieldhouse court, which is propped high.

"Think of how many pictures will be taken (by fans) in front of that," Perkins said.

Also, Self especially likes, "the wall of Dr. Naismith and Dr. Allen."

"That is pretty special," Perkins said of images of the founder of basketball and legendary coach.

Other Hall highlights include kiosks with documentaries of such events as the 1988 hoops championship and a hallway protecting the original "Beware of the Phog" banner in a trophy case.

"It's quite a deal, even better than I thought it was going to be," Self said of the Hall. "I have a hard time imagining something when it's bare. Looking at it with all the pieces together, I think it's terrific."

Self said the Hall of Athletics -- which includes a gift shop -- not only would be popular with fans.

"I think it will be a recruiting tool, not just for basketball but all sports," Self said.

Perkins said, "It will be great for recruiting. Bring a kid in early, before a game, show him this, it's impressive."

Associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said athletic department officials were thrilled the hall was open today, eight months after groundbreaking ceremonies.

"I think people, as they walk through, will be proud they are Kansas fans," Marchiony said, adding, "I think the most important thing to realize is this Hall will be continually evolving.

"Even though it's 99 percent complete, it'll look even better a couple months from now. With all the history here, we believe this will be a destination for not only Kansas fans, but college sports fans in general.

"It's awesome and long overdue with the history and tradition Kansas has. It touches everybody."

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