A warm welcome: Despite loss, fans show support as team returns

Town wonders, 'What happened?'

Sunday, March 19, 2006

So whoever this Bradley guy is, he wasn't so popular around Lawrence on Saturday.

"Where is Bradley?" asked Kansas University senior Colin Gonzales, of Kansas City, Kan., as he perused Henry T's Bar & Grill on Saturday afternoon.


"We hadn't really seen them play," John Amyx said while snipping hair at his Downtown Barber Shop on Saturday. "They were a lot quicker than we thought they would be."

OK, so Amyx and Gonzales were talking about Bradley University, the Missouri Valley Conference private school from Peoria, Ill., that enrolls about 5,000 undergraduate students every year and whose men's basketball team blasted the Kansas Jayhawks out of the NCAA tournament Friday night 77-73.

And around town, for the first time since early in the Big XII conference season, it wasn't much fun to be a KU fan.

At the Jock's Nitch, 837 Mass., two clerks folded shirts slowly Saturday, and both said they didn't want to think about the game, let alone have a conversation about it.

Up the street at Joe College, 734 Mass., the story was much the same. Blue KU T-shirts hung from the walls, but with the basketball season hitting an abrupt wall Friday night, no one had much crimson or blue pride to speak of.

"I thought they didn't show up to play," Jeremy Ward said as he watched a second-round game on a TV behind the counter. "It was like the first game of the season."

Ward had watched the game with some buddies at his place, and after the Bradley Braves shot lights-out all night, his night of celebrating St. Patrick's Day - and an expected KU victory - hit the brakes.

"It was the end of a long day," he said.

Ben Mitchum watched the Jayhawks' long day end at the Phoggy Dog, 2228 Iowa. Mitchum's a serious basketball fan, and he knew all about the Braves coming into the game.

Here are some things he knew: They were good. But all season long, they didn't shoot particularly well beyond the three-point arch.

Things were different Friday. It was different against the Jayhawks.

"I didn't expect them to shoot three-pointers like that," Mitchum said. "They sure shot well last night."

The Braves shot KU out of a tournament many - including big shot ESPN honchos - thought they would thrive in. But mixed among the criticism and praise of Bradley on Saturday were kind words and hope for a better team next year.

"It's a young team," Gonzales said. "This one will be a little bit easier to smooth over."

At the Jet Lag lounge, Deb Drummet mused the baby jays should be all grown up next year, especially come tourney time in March.

"It's just sad, but they're young," she said. "They did a heck of a lot better than I though they would."

And that was generally the praise heaped on Coach Bill Self as well Saturday. Sure, it was his second year of bowing out early in the NCAA Tournament. But the Big XII regular season and tournament crowns glowed still.

"I don't want to blame it on him," Mitchum said as he sipped a drink at Jefferson's Restaurant, 743 Mass. "People say we got outcoached. We just got outplayed."

But even with all of the accolades - Big XII Coach of the Year included - will people blame Self for the double-dip of first round bummers?

"I hope not," said Sherry Warren, of Baldwin.

Sitting at Jet Lag, Todd Grigg, a KU graduate from Wichita, simply didn't want to hear all that talk.

"Tell everyone to leave Self alone," he said.

What the fans were saying saturday after KU's loss to Bradley:

"They were making so many dumb passes and not taking care of the ball at all. They need to work more on the fundamentals." - Mathews Athiyal, Olathe, 2004 KU graduate

"I think it's worse than last year. I thought we kind of would slip under the radar. I thought we'd surprise some people." - KU senior Colin Gonzales, Kansas City, Kan.

"It's just the experience. I mean, most of these guys didn't play against Bucknell last year - even the sophomores." - Chris Barnes, Overland Park, 2003 KU graduate

"It's just sad, but they're young. They did a heck of a lot better than I thought they would." - Deb Drummet, Lawrence