Allen Fieldhouse was full, just the way Bill Self likes it at Late Night in the Phog, when he grabbed the microphone at center court and spoke to Kansas’ 16,300 basketball-hungry fans plus a horde of recruits and their families on Saturday night.
At 8 p.m. sharp — following a video highlighting KU’s winning 12 straight Big 12 crowns — Self, entering his 14th season as KU’s coach, told those assembled many things they assuredly wanted to hear.
“The only thing better than 12 straight as you know is 13 straight,” Self said. “This is an awesome, awesome night.
“It’s so good to not only coach here, play here and go to school here because you are at the most historic basketball arena the world has ever known right here in Allen Fieldhouse,” he added to a thunderous ovation.
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“I know we are all excited about this upcoming season. What a great way to kick it off tonight,” continued Self, who was wearing a blue blazer, blue striped shirt, black pants and gray and blue adidas Yeezy shoes.
“Last year we went 33-5 (and) it ended a little bit short. As excited as you were last year,” he added to the fans, “I can’t think of a reason we can’t be better this year. Enjoy the night. Remember this is the greatest place in the world to play, Rock Chalk!” Self exclaimed.
Minutes later he was happily writing out a check for $10,000 to sophomore Jordan Stiers of Independence. She selected KU director of basketball operations Brennan Bechard to launch a halfcourt shot, which Bechard sank for the second straight year. Self, who also was subject of a “Bill Self for President” video taped in his office, had put up the prize money out of his own checking account and happily scribbled the check to Stiers right on the court.
“I was hoping my name wouldn’t be called to be honest,” Bechard said, “just because of the (possible) letdown. I’m glad that student got the 10 grand.”
Asked how he could possibly hit a halfcourt shot two years in a row, Bechard said: “Just those competitions (after practice every year with Tyler Self and Evan Manning) and doing it a lot, just trying to put it up there soft and hope for a good result.”
Bechard was swarmed by KU’s players for a second straight Late Night.
“After Udoka (Azubuike) about crushed my rib and I got out of the pile, she (Stiers) was kind of surrounded. I gave her a hug and told her congratulations,” Bechard said.
Self said he didn’t mind offering up $10,000.
“I was actually happy,” Self said. “It’s great obviously for Jordan, the young lady that won it. It’s bad for Brennan because whatever his (summer) camp check is next year, we’re just going to subtract 10 grand off it, so it’s not that big a deal. I’m joking,” Self added, insisting he’ll pay the full $10,000.
Video coordinator Jeremy Case wasn’t as lucky for a male student contestant, missing both a practice shot and a halfcourt heave for the money.
“I’m surprised the guy didn’t pick Brennan to shoot it again. He’s 2-for-2,” Self said.
The KU men’s players then had some fun in a “Dancing With the Jayhawks” competition in which the players were split into three groups. The group of Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, Devonté Graham and Clay Young wore white shirts, white bow ties and black slacks.
The newcomers — Evan Maxwell, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Malik Newman, Tucker Vang and Josh Jackson — wore red and blue vests and white slacks.
The seniors — Frank Mason, Landen Lucas and Tyler Self — who ultimately were deemed the winners, had silky red shirts and black slacks for their dance number. The emcee was senior women’s guard Jada Brown, whose brother, Troy of Las Vegas Centennial High was one of the men’s recruits on hand.
In the 20-minute scrimmage, which ended in a 48-48 tie, Bragg scored 18 points and Newman 12 for the Crimson team, while Mason and Vick had 12 apiece for the Blues.
“I asked our guys the other day who they thought would lead us in scoring,” Self said. “Frank had five votes, Devonté had four, Josh had three, Carlton had three, Landen had two. The bottom line is we could have six or seven guys lead us in scoring at different times.”
Freshman sensation Jackson scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds in his KU debut.
“I told Josh in the locker room I don’t know how many people would have predicted Tucker Vang would have scored a basket at KU before Josh Jackson,” Self joked of the walk-on who had two points and a rebound.
The women’s portion of the night was highlighted by former KU and Los Angeles Sparks player Tamecka Dixon speaking to the fans who streamed into the arena at 4:50 p.m., and had all seats full by 6:20.
Dixon said: “On behalf of both teams, women’s and men’s teams, we appreciate all you do, screaming at the top of your lungs. We hear you. I’ve been all over the world. The best place to play is right here in Allen Fieldhouse.”
Women’s coach Brandon Schneider told the fans: “(Lynette) Woodard, (Wilt) Chamberlain, Dixon and (Danny) Manning … they chose to come here because this is where it all started. It is referred to as the cathedral of college basketball. We have the most fantastic fan base in the country.”
There also was a women’s scrimmage and performance by rapper Tech N9ne, who was decked out in KU gear.
“I thought it was one of the best ones we’ve had,” Self said, summarizing Late Night.