Archive for Sunday, December 23, 2001

Kansas guard treated like prince in palatial Engelstad

December 23, 2001


Grand Forks, N.D. Every time Raef LaFrentz wore a Kansas University basketball uniform in Hilton Coliseum, he was booed unmercifully by Iowa State partisans because he spurned the Cyclones for the Jayhawks.

When Kenny Gregory played in his native Columbus, Ohio, last season, he heard a mixed chorus of boos and cheers because Gregory had chosen Kansas over Ohio State.

And it's safe to say when KU freshman Aaron Miles plays a game in his home state of Oregon one of these years he'll hear boos, too.

Not Jeff Boschee. Never before and perhaps never again will a Kansas University basketball player receive an extended standing ovation during player introductions and another when he is removed from a road game in the waning moments.

Boschee returning to his native North Dakota was like well, the last time I saw anything like it was when Wilt Chamberlain returned to Kansas University a couple of years ago. If you can remember what that Chamberlain love fest was like, then you know how special North Dakotans think Boschee is.

Obviously, Boschee's situation was different than LaFrentz and Gregory because those former Jayhawks came from states with NCAA Div. I schools. North Dakota has none. Thus Boschee was the prodigal son because he had taken a giant step into the big-time.

"This is North Dakota," UND coach Rich Glas said. "These are people of good character. Jeff Boschee made the decision to go to Kansas, and the people don't hold that against him. It's a special place."

Grand Forks is special, all right. Yes, it's cold in the winter Saturday night's low was projected to bottom out at zero but the denizens don't live in igloos. Yes, it's flat. In fact, eastern North Dakota makes western Kansas look like the Ozarks, but hills aren't good for much except sledding, and around here who needs to sled when you have UND ice hockey?

I'm pretty sure I've never seen a basketball game played in an arena built primarily for hockey, but that's what UND's Englestad Arena is. UND's basketball team has just three games scheduled in Englestad because Ralph Englestad, the Las Vegas gambling mogul who donated $100 million to build the state-of-the-art facility, pinpointed hockey as the primary sport for the venue.

No, that wasn't a typo. Englestad gave one hundred million dollars. Not one million. Not 10 million. Look at it this way. Missouri received a donation of $25 million to build a new basketball arena and the state legislature came up with another $35 million, and still Mizzou's new showcase will cost $40 million less than Englestad Arena a breathtaking barn with so many amenities it makes the first-time visitor utter just one word. Unbelievable.

"This place is absolutely gorgeous," said Kansas University athletics director Al Bohl, a man never at a loss for words. "But we still want Allen Fieldhouse."

In truth, Engelstad Arena makes Allen Fieldhouse look like a corn crib, but you can't put a price tag on tradition. Still, if someone wants to contribute less than $100 million to renovate the Home of the Jayhawks, fine. Like enough money to strengthen the roof to install a new scoreboard with four video screens and ear-pleasing acoustics. Just like Englestad Arena.

"I love the scoreboard here," Bohl said.

Bohl, it goes without saying, would also love to have the arena's 48 luxury suites and, my favorite, the 900-foot seamless video fascia ring that wraps around the entire arena between the lower and upper bowls. Then there are the lazer lights and the marble floors and the well, I could go on and on.

To put it another way, few people in Kansas, when they heard the Jayhawks would be playing at North Dakota (at North Dakota????), realized the game would be played in a hoops (and hockey) Taj Mahal.

In a long season full of basketball games that sometimes seem to run together, it's always nice to have one to remember in a way that has nothing to do with the final score. Thus Saturday was indeed special.

"It was a memory day," Glas said. "It was one of those days you can tuck away and never forget."

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