NCAA Tournament

KU has a tradition that can’t be stepped on

It was there before they arrived in Ames. By the time they reached Manhattan. Waiting for them at the Sprint Center.

And it’ll precede the Jayhawks to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, site of their Friday showdown against Michigan in the Sweet 16.

Few in the Kansas locker room knew where the little white rug that bears the school’s familiar Jayhawks logo came from, but they all know that it accompanies KU men’s basketball team on every road trip. Has for years.

KU players, coaches and staff are also well aware that no one is allowed to set foot on the 2-by-3-foot chunk of carpet once it’s laid down in the middle of the locker-room floor.

“I just know that the seniors have said don’t step on it,” said first-year forward Perry Ellis.

Visiting and don’t know the rules? Even the freshmen, guys such as Evan Manning and Tyler Self, will break it down for you.

“Hey, hey — watch the rug,” Manning scolded a foot-dragging cameraman on Friday.

“We try to keep everybody off it,” Self explained Sunday.

If only the rug could speak for itself. Gallagher-Iba. Bramlage. Maui. The Alamodome … The stories it could tell.

But since textiles can’t talk, players are left to protect its sanctity.

“Man, you’re not allowed to put your feet on it, knock it over, anything like that,” said sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe.

Jeff Withey, the team’s 7-foot senior, explained its origins.

“It’s a tradition from our old locker room,” Withey explained. “Before we got it renovated, it had a Jayhawk in the middle, and no one could step on the Jayhawk.”

A school official said the rug was made long ago by a woman who presented it to the team as a gift. Several years ago, she saw a photograph of the rug on the Internet and stepped forward to identify it as her handiwork.

She was shocked that the ritual continues. Heck, it thrives.

“It’s identity, tradition for all the teams that have been here,” senior forward Kevin Young said, looking around the locker room. “It just shows how much history is in here.”