Kansas sophomore forward Carlton Bragg, who performed a six-minute medley of songs on a baby grand piano at his first-ever Late Night in the Phog, won’t say if an encore is coming Saturday night in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Last year I gave it away. This year we’ll see,” said Bragg, unwilling to reveal plans in the press as he did prior to the 2015 season-opening basketball celebration, eliminating what could have been a big surprise for 15,500 adoring fans.
So far, just one musical act has been confirmed for the 32nd annual Late Night, which will run from about 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tech N9ne, from Kansas City, is the headliner and will rap at least a few selections.
Bragg, who says his genre of music most resembles that of John Legend, is among the select few KU basketball players who have played an instrument at Late Night. The others? Luke Axtell, Eric Chenowith and Jeff Carey, who all strummed the guitar.
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“If they get desperate for skits I’m sure I could get ‘Three Tall Guys and a Drummer’ together for a performance,” Chenowith said. “It was me, Jeff Carey and Nick Collison (vocals) with Bobby Hapgood of the KU band the drummer (at 1999 Late Night). The next year we fired Nick and hired (Jeff) Boschee to sing. We called ourselves ‘Blink 7-foot-3.’”
Axtell, who played at KU from 1999 to 2001, released an album his senior year at KU. His country/easy listening tunes proved more soothing to the ears than numbers from Chenowith’s ensemble.
“Three Tall Guys and a Drummer” performed a “Limp Bizkit” heavy metal song to the dismay of former coach Roy Williams, who preferred players lip-sync artists’ songs rather than play their own.
“There’s nothing like Late Night,” said Chenowith, who now works as an insurance producer for Parq Advisors in California. “As soon I got back from summer break, Late Night was in the forefront of my mind. It’s a celebration of Kansas basketball, an opportunity for recruits to see and experience the atmosphere.
“It’s fall in Lawrence, which is beautiful. Basketball season is starting. You worked really hard to prepare for the season. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, like the song goes.”
Late Night consists of highlight videos, half-court shooting contests, player skits and dance acts and short men’s and women’s basketball scrimmages.
“There are obviously some corny parts, (but) I think the players love it,” said Mexico (Mo.) High boys basketball coach Nick Bradford, who played at KU from 1996 to 2000. “There’s the feeling basketball is here. I loved every bit of it, the days leading up to it. It’s hanging out with the fellas and getting the season started.”
Current KU senior Frank Mason has enjoyed his first three Late Nights.
“The skits are always funny,” Mason said. “I think the dance moves are hilarious and us trying to fit in with the dancers. It’s always a good time. I’m looking forward to having a great time with my teammates for the last time.”
Freshman Josh Jackson, a 6-8 guard from Detroit, may enter feeling a bit nervous playing before what figures to be a packed fieldhouse. Last year’s crowd was just under capacity.
“I’ve had the opportunity to come to a couple games, be there and cheer for Kansas. The environment in there is just so electrifying and there is so much energy. I’m just glad to finally have the opportunity to be able to play in there,” Jackson said. “Just finally being able to be on the court in Allen Fieldhouse with all the fans.”
KU coach Bill Self, who sometimes wears costumes — he was Vanilla Ice in 2010 — and most of the time doesn’t, always seems to have a good time along with the high school prospects in the stands.
“It’s not fall break this year. School is in session. The football team is not playing since we played Thursday and there’s no Friday night football,” Self said of being one of the only activities in town. KU’s volleyball team plays Baylor before the usual sellout crowd at 1 p.m. Saturday in Horejsi Center.
“I’m encouraging people to come. I think it should be a fun, festive atmosphere,” Self added. “It’s supposed to be a beautiful day as well.”
Admission to Late Night is free. Doors will open for students at 5 p.m. and for the general public at 5:30 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. show, which concludes with the men’s scrimmage after 9 p.m.
The men’s scrimmage will feature Jackson, who entered college as the No. 1 recruit in the country according to Rivals.com and 247sports.com.
“He is one of those guys who respects those that have come before him, but still yet he’s going to put his stamp on the program,” Self said of Jackson, a McDonald’s All-American expected to be a one-and-done player. “He’s not scared of his own voice. He doesn’t do everything perfect, nobody does, but he is so pleasant to be around. He’s led by example and by mouth, which is very unique with young kids.”
Late Night will also mark the debuts of transfers Malik Newman and Evan Maxwell, junior walk-on Tucker Vang, as well as freshmen Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike will be able to dance, but is not expected to compete in the scrimmage as he recovers from a strained groin.
Here are the high school seniors scheduled to be in town for Late Night as part of campus visits.
Trevon Duval, a 6-2 point guard from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who is ranked No. 3 nationally by Rivals.com; Collin Sexton, a 6-1 point guard from Pebblebrook High in Mableton, Ga., ranked No. 7; Billy Preston, a 6-9 forward from Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va., ranked No. 8; Troy Brown, a 6-6 shooting guard from Las Vegas Centennial, ranked No. 12; Cody Riley, a 6-7 forward from Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, Calif., ranked No. 34 and Tremont Waters, a 5-11 point guard from Notre Dame High in West Haven, Conn., ranked No. 36.
Juniors to attend on unofficial visits: Immanuel Quickley, a 6-4 point guard from John Carroll High in Bel Air, Md., ranked No. 12 in the Class of 2018; Bol Bol, a 6-11 forward from Bishop Miege, ranked No. 14; Brandon Williams, a 6-1 point guard from Crespi High in Encino, Calif., ranked No. 25 and Keenan Fitzmorris, a 6-11 forward from Lenexa’s St. James Academy, ranked No. 109.
Sophomores to attend on unofficial visits: Matthew Hurt, a 6-9 forward from John Marshall High in Rochester, Minn., ranked No. 5 in the Class of 2019; Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a 6-8, forward from Bishop Miege, ranked No. 18; Grant Sherfield, a 6-2 combo guard from North Crowley High, Fort Worth, Texas, ranked No. 19; plus unranked Markese Jacobs, a 5-11 point guard from Uplift Community High in Chicago and unranked Zach Harvey, a 6-3 shooting guard from Topeka Hayden.
If there are any player protests during the national anthem at Late Night or at KU games this season (such as Colin Kaepernick’s before San Francisco 49ers games) they will not catch Self by surprise.
“I certainly am not going to tell them (Jayhawks) not to do anything. I am not going to tell them to do anything, but I will tell them before we do anything we should talk about it,” Self said Thursday morning on KCSP (610 AM). “I think that is important that there is open dialogue, because sometimes things are sold and seen with a certain perspective and not seeing both sides. By no means are we encouraging or discouraging. We just want to talk to our kids about it so we are all on the same page.
“We probably have a much better place to live than in the past. It’s just we have big problems (in our country) and they are magnified right now. Let’s address them and fix them. What’s going on right now is sad on all levels. It’s sad for everybody. Our country is too great to not get to the bottom of it and try to make it better.”
Late Night in the Phog
When: 6:30 p.m. to about 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Admission: Free (Just Food will accept non-perishable food items and monetary donations at entrances)
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and ESPN3
Doors open: 5 p.m. for students; 5:30 for general public. A Phog Festival featuring food trucks, interactive displays, live DJ and giveaways will be held on the front lawn of the fieldhouse from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
What to expect: Videos, skits and dance routines from men’s and women’s basketball teams; short scrimmages from both teams; musical performance by Tech N9ne