2017 Rock Chalk Roundball Classic full of light-hearted, feel-good moments
The last time Kansas basketball coach Bill Self saw his son, Tyler, hit a 3-pointer as a Jayhawk, the KU coach smiled slyly but did his best to maintain his composure.
Self knew then, of course — during the Jayhawks’ 100-62 victory over UC-Davis in Round 1 of last season’s NCAA Tournament — that the cameras were rolling and, because of that, sportsmanship was a high priority.
Thursday night, at his son’s old stomping grounds of Free State High, Self again watched Tyler knock in a 3-pointer during the ninth annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, won 104-101 by the Crimson team over the Blue. This time, however, Self sat in the stands, and, as a proud parent, leapt to both feet and threw both arms and fists in the air after the former KU walk-on knocked down the open jumper.
Many in attendance at the sold-out event caught Self’s reaction — partially genuine and partially over the top — and appropriately roared with laughter.
That was merely one of the dozen or so light-hearted moments that made this year’s Roundball Classic, like all of the others before it, such a memorable and enjoyable evening for so many former Kansas players and their adoring fans.
Here are a few others:
• At halftime, when one lucky fan received an opportunity to shoot a half-court shot for a new car and six young fans were plucked from the crowd to play a quick game of knock-out, KU director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard was called to the court to advise the half-court heaver. Bechard, of course, is the reigning half-court shot champion, having knocked in half-courters in back-to-back years at Late Night for tuition money for one lucky KU student. Bechard’s advice to the man was simple: Don’t leave it short. He didn’t, but it was off to the left and missed the rim by a foot or two.
• More from the younger Self. Although he didn’t play a ton of minutes, he did make the most of his opportunity to entertain, first knocking down that open jumper and twice later overreacting in dramatic fashion to fouls called against him. The first came when he fouled Sherron Collins on a 3-point attempt. And the other came when he bear-hugged Cole Aldrich in the paint. Each time Tyler Self threw both arms high into the air in the direction of the officials to protest the calls. Not long after, a smile of pure joy quickly filled Tyler’s face. One thing that really hit me during these exchanges was how much fun it must’ve been for him to participate in this game. Sure there were a couple of guys out there, like Wayne Selden or Perry Ellis, who Tyler was teammates with. But the good majority of them, especially those from that 2008 team, were better known as guys he once looked up to and, perhaps more importantly, the crew that finally delivered his dad a national title. Cool stuff.
• At the point in the night when the members of the 2008 national title team were asked to come to mid-court for a group photo, Roundball Classic leading scorer Ben McLemore (32 points), who played just the 2012-13 season at Kansas before turning pro, jokingly jumped out there to try to get into the picture. “Yeah, you seen me try to go out there,” McLemore said after the game. “I wish I could’ve won a championship. But it was great playing here for the University of Kansas and it’s always a great feeling to come back here.”
• During one timeout in the second half, when event organizer Brian Hanni was introducing a young boy named Cade, who last year was an honorary coach at the game and this year is on pace to complete his cancer treatment with a prognosis of a victorious battle on his side, Hanni learned that Thursday also was Cade’s birthday. With the teams mingling more and strategizing less, Collins grabbed the mic and led the Free State gym in a singing of “Happy Birthday.” He was no John Legend, but Collins definitely pulled off the role of lead singer with a passing grade.
• A couple of funny quick-hitters from the game itself: At one point, after Mario Little blocked a driving shot attempt by Tyshawn Taylor, Mario Chalmers waived the Dikembe Mutombo finger Taylor’s way; Late in the game, with both sides competing harder in an attempt to snag the victory, Collins asked the scorer’s table how many fouls Taylor had. The scoreboard operator was not keeping track, but Collins was sure that Taylor had six fouls and should no longer be on the floor; During one timeout midway through the second half, Collins, on the Crimson team, looked over to the Blue bench and told J.J. Howard, son of Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard, that he was with the wrong team and that he should, “Come over to the good side.” J.J. stayed put; During a two-on-none late in the first half, as Wayne Selden and Drew Gooden raced toward the unprotected rim, an easy opportunity to throw an alley-oop presented itself. Instead of tossing it to Gooden, however, Selden fired it off the glass to himself and finished the play with one of the more impressive jams of the night. Rather than call him out for not giving up the rock, Gooden simply ran back on D with a huge smile and a look on his face that suggested he might be thinking, “Yeah. Good idea.”
• Finally, on a night designed to celebrate several former Jayhawks and honor the brave fights of a handful of young cancer warriors and their families, it’s worth noting that several members of the current Kansas basketball team showed up to enjoy the event. Those spotted in the crowd on Thursday were: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett, Dedric Lason, Charlie Moore and the entire KU coaching staff. Several former players mentioned in throughout the postgame festivities, but this truly was a family affair.