Omaha, Neb. As strange as it might sound, an air sickness bag has as much as anything to do with T.J. Pugh's decision to attend Kansas University.
Pugh, a 6-foot-10 senior at Omaha, Neb., Creighton Prep, was wooed by the likes of Stanford and Nebraska before he signed with the Jayhawks back in November.
The ingenuity of KU assistant coach Matt Doherty won Pugh over.
"It was always great," Pugh said. "All those letters looked the same -- 'We have won so many games, we have done this and that' -- but coach Doherty's were different."
Like the time Doherty sent Pugh a single match with a note attached that said, "We think you and KU are a perfect match."
Or the air sickness bag inscribed with, "We'll be sick if you don't pick Kansas."
"I felt comfortable with all the coaches from all his final schools," T.J.'s mother, Jan, said. "But I absolutely fell in love with Matt Doherty. He sent the funniest recruiting letters. I thought that was so ingenious."
Of course, the mother was leaning toward KU all along.
"California is going to fall into the ocean. It was his decision ... but I didn't want him to go to Stanford. I was always leaning toward Kansas," she said. "My thinking was -- and it's hard to get your point across when you're a woman in a house full of men -- but my thinking was, he was going to go to Stanford for four or five years, he'd meet a girl, get married, have kids and all my grandchildren would be in California. So I was pulling for Kansas."
So was Sandy Buda, a former KU football lineman and next-door neighbor of the Pughs.
T.J. Pugh remembers Buda, a Creighton Prep alumnus, as the guy who would yell out his window telling T.J. to knock it off, midnight was too late to be playing basketball and wouldn't he please go to bed?
But at the same time Buda was trying to get Pugh to quit the wee-hours basketball, he was sending letters to the KU coaching staff on Pugh's behalf.
"I never even knew he went to Kansas," Pugh said of Buda. "The first time I knew about Kansas was before the (1988) championship game and I asked who he wanted to win. He almost freaked out."
The arduous recruiting process nearly had the Pughs freaked out.
"At first it was great, getting all these phone calls from people you only see on TV," T.J. Pugh said. "But after awhile, it got to be annoying. It's important enough that you have to put it off until you're positive ... but, at the same time, you just want to make a decision and get it over with.
"It's gotta be something that you're sure of. There's a saying at school, 'College is the second biggest choice in your life,' with marriage being the most important. It's a big step."
It was a step that Pugh often talked over with another Prep standout, Tim Ridder, a 6-foot-8, 284-pound offensive lineman. Ridder, a basketball forward, has committed to play football at Notre Dame.
"I called and talked to him," Pugh said. "I think we played in every game since high school, except for the one he missed to go on his recruiting trip. We've always been pretty close."
Ridder's decision to leave Nebraska for South Bend, Ind., didn't sit well with Nebraska faithful. Nor did Pugh's decision to spurn NU and Creighton for Kansas.
"I expected it a little bit. It happened to people before. But I knew they just didn't understand. It meant people supported their school, but they don't have to go there for four years," T.J. Pugh said.
"T.J. and (father) Tim were calmer," Jan Pugh said. "I wanted to go get a hitman. I expected it, too. It happened to other people, too, but they played football. I thought maybe they wouldn't pay attention since it was basketball."
Of course, Pugh's basketball opponents pay attention, and he has caught his share of grief for picking the Jayhawks.
"When you get in the paper, other teams say something," Pugh said. "A lot of guys talk, trying to get into your head. You just can't let 'em."
And if you can get 'em back, why not?
"There was one game where everybody was lined up, and he was shooting two," Jan Pugh said. "I guess three of 'em were giving him a lot of junk about going to Kansas. Without changing his expression, he hit both free throws and looked at 'em and said, 'Rock Chalk Jayhawk.' I was so proud of him."