Some schools have scrapped their season-opening Late Night basketball celebrations in recent years, in large part because of lack of fan interest near the midway point of the football season.
Canceling Late Night in the Phog at Kansas University — 6:30 p.m. Friday at Allen Fieldhouse — has never been an option in these parts, with the celebration seemingly gaining in popularity with each passing year.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 fans were turned away after a near-scary incident in which a batch of fans stormed the gates once they opened, pushing aside some who had been in line for hours.
It was not only steamy outside the building as fans waited outside on an 80-degree Oct. 4 day, but hot beyond belief inside a structure that is not air conditioned.
The heat actually stole last year’s show.
“It’s hot in here. Oh it’s hot in here,” coach Bill Self exclaimed to the spectators after grabbing an usually hot microphone at a Late Night held two weeks earlier than usual in accordance with new NCAA rules.
“I didn’t switch clothes because I spilled anything on my shirt. It was that I soaked it.
“Obviously you are excited,” he added to a throng that didn’t seem at all inconvenienced.
“How many places in America are over 25,000 people waiting to get in a 16,000-seat building .... other than Lawrence, Kansas?” Self asked, to roaring applause.
KU’s coach was amazed at the fan interest prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
“It was ridiculous out there,” Self exclaimed of long, winding lines around the fieldhouse, lines that were already long when he arrived at work at 9:30 a.m.. “I feel terrible for those people who couldn’t get in. I know we have the fire marshal and codes. It shows the interest level, though.”
Those nestled snugly in the building were treated to some comedy, courtesy of host Rob Riggle as well as Jayhawk players and coaches who enacted scenes from movies “Old School,” “The Hangover” and “Anchorman.”
“I love this place, so much you have no idea. I used to watch every game in that section there,” Riggle told the fans, pointing to the northwest bleachers, upper deck. “I used to sit there and dream that one day I'd be carried into Allen Fieldhouse on a white throne in a white tuxedo to ‘Thunderstruck.'"
Self stole the show as egotistical anchor Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend of Bill Self.
”I’m kind of a big deal around here. People know me,” Self said, mimicking Burgundy to laughter and thunderous applause.
He also played a drill sergeant character screaming at his pledges/players — one being KU broadcasting legend Max Falkenstien — in Old School.
“I got into character, without question, at least I thought I did. I thought I was a better actor than it looked on the big screen,” Self cracked, indicating the only negatives of the evening were his acting and KU’s play in a 20-minute intrasquad scrimmage in which the Blue team drilled the Crimson, 66-40, behind 14 points from Perry Ellis and 12 from Andrew Wiggins.
“I was really disappointed in our play, awful. That was brother-in- law ball. I don’t know who told them to do that. Obviously the veterans said, ‘This is how we do it.’ We’ll get that corrected in the next few days,” Self added, noting forward Tarik Black (10 points, 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds for winners) played “harder than anybody else.”
Freshman sensation Wiggins hit six of eight shots and had various dunks.
(click year for archive story)
It was a banner that stole the show on a night hundreds of fans had to be turned away, the fieldhouse packed to capacity.
A 9:14 p.m., unveiling of KU’s 2012 Final Four flag, located in the rafters just north of the center videoboard, had the fans stomping their feet in a roar 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,” Self said.
As far as skit highlights ... Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford , Kevin Young and Jeff Withey wore powder blue sports jackets, white shirts, black bow ties and sunglasses in dancing to Internet hit “Gangnam Style” by artist PSY.
KU’s freshmen players performed a dance number in which they wore all black outfits, with black KU caps worn backward. The number ended with Perry Ellis and former Jayhawk Zach Peters picking up walk-on Tyler Self and throwing him into the air in a gymnastics-like dismount. It was a successful Late Night. KU landed Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid, who were on official visits.
No party-pooper, Self has been willing to wear whatever wacky costumes the producers of Late Night have presented him. For the 27th annual season-opening proceedings, KU’s coach, who was decked out in an all-black leather jacket and chaps, drove a custom-made motorcycle onto James Naismith court.
“What’s happening, Jayhawks?” Self bellowed to the cheering fans, revving the motor of the bike to ear-splitting levels.
“Just so you know, I did not pick this outfit out. I am not a wannabe member of the Village People,” Self added, noting it was the first time he’d ridden a motorbike since a “Suzuki 50” in the third grade.
“A Suzuki 50 is this high,” Self added, placing his hand near his knees in explanation.
Prior to a scrimmage, which was highlighted by Tyshawn Taylor’s 17 points and Travis Releford’s 16, there was a surprise appearance by actor Rob Riggle, who served as a judge in a boxing match between KU staff member Barry Hinson and professional boxer “Vicious” Victor Ortiz, a KU fan. Ortiz, of course, won.
Self’s solid-gold outfit, in his words “a takeoff on cheap silk,” arguably drew the most laughs of a three-hour show that concluded with a scrimmage highlighted by Marcus Morris’ 14 points and eight rebounds and Taylor’s nine points and two assists.
Self’s job as Vanilla Ice was to introduce KU’s mimickers of “New Edition” — that is Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, the Morris twins and Travis Releford.
Emcee was former KU and NBA power forward Scot Pollard, who showed up wearing a tuxedo, white shirt and bow tie. Pollard ripped off his coat and tore open his shirt, revealing a black fake-tuxedo shirt.
The 25th-annual Late Night included KU one-and-done player Xavier Henry making his hoops debut and dance debut. He wore a huge afro wig during a number. An all-star cast of recruits watched the action, including Royce Woolridge, Josh Selby, Josiah Turner, Doron Lamb and Harrison Barnes. Mario Little may have been the best-dressed Jayhawk in a number with slick black slacks, a bright red shirt and suspenders. Jeff Withey wore old short-shorts in a 1988 skit.
KU unveiled its national championship banner to the delight of the fans. The thunderous ovation during the banner presentation had to be one of the loudest moments in fieldhouse lore.
Players were driven to the fieldhouse in a Corvette, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, BMW, Hummer, Avalanche and stretch limousine onto a Red Carpet for interviews with “Survivor” winner and KU grad Danni Boatwright. Later in the evening, Jayhawk fans enjoyed a stomp show by the KU women's team before being serenaded with a performance of "New York, New York" by the men's seniors.
The junior class of Jeremy Case, Sasha Kaun, C.J. Giles, Darnell Jackson, Russell Robinson and Rodrick Stewart “waltzed” their way to an American Idol dance competition victory over the Jayhawk sophomores, who “tangoed,” and freshmen, who twirled to the “swing” in front of judges Self, Danny Manning and Aaron Miles.
“I don’t know if dancing can be a highlight, but I think the guys actually did a pretty good job dancing with the young ladies,” cracked KU coach Self, not enthralled with the squad’s 20-minute intrasquad scrimmage won by the Blue team, 26-23.
“The waltz, the jitterbug, the tango. We just try to educate our guys. You get the full cultural experience at Kansas,” Self added.
For the first time ever, the festivities started at 6:30 p.m. instead of 10 or so according to new NCAA rules.
Tuxedo-clad seniors Keith Langford, Michael Lee, Miles and Wayne Simien bowed their heads reverently while grasping KU’s 1988 national-championship trophy at the conclusion of a dramatic skit.
“It wasn’t like it was a fun thing. It (skit) was a serious matter,” KU senior guard Miles said of the Fab Foursome answering a series of questions from 1988 title winners Manning and Mike Maddox before being allowed to touch the trophy.
The Jayhawks hoped it’d be a sign of things to come, another national title. Didn’t work out as planned.
Bil Self’s first Late Night took on the name, “Late Night in the Phog.”
Of changing the name, Self explained: “Basketball at Kansas is bigger than any individual. It is bigger than coach (Roy) Williams. It is bigger than Dr. (Phog) Allen. It is bigger than Larry Brown. It is bigger than Dr. (James) Naismith. It is about a way of life, no matter what."
The fans also rocked the building when the 1988 title team, led by coach Larry Brown, was introduced.
KU seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich stole the “Mardi Gras”-themed show, Collison playing volatile Texas Tech coach Bob Knight in one skit and Hinrich portraying Missouri coach Quin Snyder in another.
“It was the most fun I had in my four years,” Collison said.
Freshmen Simien, Lee, Miles, and Jeff Hawkins serenaded their mothers in a song and dance that coach Roy Williams didn’t enjoy.
Williams said he couldn’t hear anything because of a faulty fieldhouse sound system. Late Night had a patriotic theme coming a month after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. The sound system was improved by the next October, by the way.
Drew Gooden sat in a canoe with John Crider as the canoe was pulley-ed across the fieldhouse floor. Jeff Carey, who showed with a wavy head of hair instead of his trademark crewcut, had teammates shave his head under the south goal. The canoe bit was funny, but took longer than expected to shave Carey’s moptop.
Big men Eric Chenowith and Carey played electric guitar as Collison sang vocals for the Limp Bizkit song, “Faith.” They were joined by a drummer in the KU band.
The theme was “Night at the Naismiths” — an awards show in which guest judges rated acts and presented not an Oscar, but a “Naismith’’ to the winners.
Ever-athletic Kenny Gregory rammed several windmill dunks during a warmup drill. The show may have been a bit corny, but nobody told that to KU coach Williams, protective of his Late Night skits.
A transfer from LSU, Lester Earl wore a black leather jacket in a spoof of 1950s music. Earl had some vicious dunks, as did Gregory and Paul Pierce in a pre-scrimmage dunk-athon. Also, Ryan Robertson had a big role in a skit as host of the game show, “The Price Is Right.”
Pollard became the first basketball player in KU history to score 14 points, grab seven rebounds and block four shots while wearing bright red polish on all 10 fingernails.
“Revlon Vixen” was the eccentric player’s color of choice.
That’s the night Pollard proposed marriage to his girlfriend, who accepted, by the way.
Fans showed early for the Saturday night event which started when former KU football coach Glen Mason took the court and yelled, “Live from Allen Fieldhouse, it’s Late Night With Roy Williams.”
Mason has said one of his favorite moments at KU involved the reception he received at that Late Night. Earlier that day KU had won a football game during a 10-2 season.
Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett and golfing great Tom Watson joined ex-Royals’ center fielder Brian McRae and ex-KC Chief defensive back Deron Cherry as honorary coaches. Brett and Watson appeared to have a blast, not minding the late hour. It’s the only year guest coaches were used.
Fans dressed as their favorite TV sitcom characters before the scrimmage. The Lone Ranger, Silver, Tonto, Gilligan’s Ginger and Granny Clampett all were on hand. This Late Night marked the debut of freshmen Jacque Vaughn, Pollard, B.J. Williams and Nick Proud, as well as Cal transfer Jerod Haase. Proud didn’t last long at KU, but the other guys were part of many victories.
Nobody has had more fun at Late Night than 7-foot-2 giant Greg Ostertag, who showed up in a Frankenstein monster outfit. Roy Williams’ entrance was followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new fieldhouse floor. Even though Late Night was televised, the TV show drew poor reviews.
Williams decided Late Night would be better suited on a Friday night, not Monday, the first day KU could practice in accordance with NCAA rules. Controversial move at the time, but a smart one, made so he could bring recruits to town for the made-for-recruiting event.
The fans responded, packing the building. The announced attendance was 15,800. Pre-scrimmage hoopla was highlighted by freshman center Ostertag, who lip-synched a Garth Brooks tune.
More than 13,000 fans showed to see the Jayhawks dance and scrimmage after a long Sunday of pro football, including a Chiefs’ home game against Detroit. During the scrimmage, Rex Walters scored 16 points and amazed the crowd with some violent dunks.
A $5 admission fee was charged to pay for two bands, who performed on a massive sound stage. Maddox, Rick Calloway, Freeman West and Jeff Gueldner lip-synched the song, “Simply Irresistible,” which was big-time funny because of a truly huge sound stage in the north end zone.
A lot of fans came to see the bands evidenced by the smell of marijuana during the concert portion of the show.
Suffice it to say, admission was never charged again and no bands besides the KU pep band, ever played at Late Night again.
Williams’ first Late Night — it was called “Later With Roy Williams” — drew 10,000 fans. Alonzo Jamison brought down the backboard on a pre-scrimmage dunk, thrilling the attendees, but delaying the proceedings. After the new goal was in place, Milt Newton led the Blue team to a 36-35 victory as he scored 16 points.
Amazingly, Williams, a rookie coach in ‘88, became a Hall of Fame inductee less than 20 years later.
Manning and teammate Scooter Barry sang The Temptations’ song: “My Girl.” The normally reserved Manning was willing to grab center stage prior to his senior season.
KU went on to win the national title.
“Late Night With Larry Brown” became a major happening in 1986, thanks in large part to its namesake, Late Night With David Letterman. One-time Letterman foil Larry Bud Melman visited Lawrence for the early Wednesday morning scrimmage, first signing autographs at 7 p.m. at the Burge Union.
KU’s inaugural “Late Night With Larry Brown” was not a big deal.
It attracted 6,000 fans.
“It was fabulous. I was thrilled with the students,” Brown, now coach at SMU, said of the fans who showed at 12:01 on a Tuesday morning.
Many of the students wore T-shirts that read, “Late Night With Larry Brown. Starring the 1985-86 Kansas basketball team … all the way to Dallas.”
That KU team, prophetically, did reach the Final Four in Dallas. Current Jayhawk coach Self was a grad assistant on that team.